Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Vacaville Budget Benefit Residents

Budget should benefit residents

By Tom Hall/Staff Writer

With the approval by Vacacville leaders of a $110 million 2005-06 operating budget earlier this week, what does that mean for the city's residents?

All city departments will see spending increases for the fiscal year, which began Friday and ends June 30, 2006. The housing and redevelopment department, which is responsible neighborhood revitalization and the operation of Section 8 subsidy programs, will see the biggest financial jump.

Housing and redevelopment has a budget of $38.9 million this year. Cyndi Johnston, the department's acting director, said a good portion of the 24.8 percent increase is going toward three new full-time employees.

Johnston said the employees will be focused on increasing the pool of affordable housing in the city - something city leaders have targeted for several years as a goal.

"What it does, is it gives us the ability to really focus on improving the amount of affordable housing in Vacaville," Johnston said.

She said most of the focus will be on acquiring and renovating existing properties in Vacaville, and thus providing spaces for qualifying lower-income residents.

Johnston said recruiting for the new positions in going on right now, and they hope to add the staff - two project coordinators and an administrative clerk - in the next several months, as well as filling an existing project coordinator vacancy.

The city's public works department also will see a major spending increase of more than $5 million, or 13.6 percent over last year. Public works includes divisions focused on traffic engineering, maintenance, engineering services and utilities.

Despite the increase in the budget, maintenance staffing reductions made in the last several years will not mean a restoration of those positions this fiscal year. But the utilities divison will get four new employees to help address increasing workload, and that will contribute to the $230,000 increase in salaries and benefits department-wide.

The city attorney's office will also see a 13.6 percent budget increase over 2004-05. Most of it is the result of an $85,000 increase in salaries and benefits.

City financial manager Ken Campo said that a lot of the increases in salary costs are due to retirement costs and rising health-care premiums. He said the retirement cost increases are expected to flatten out soon, and health-care reform could help flatten the growth of costs in the next few years.

Campo said a big reason the city is in solid financial shape - there no are new taxes for Vacaville residents, he emphasizes - is that civic leaders have kept staffing costs down over the past decade.

Campo said that since 1992, Vacaville household population increased 24 percent. Meanwhile city staffing has increased 16 percent.

Looking even closer, Campo said, you can see that public safety has accounted for much of the city staffing growth. The number of public safety employees has increased 30 percent since 1992, while other the number of other city employees has increased only 7 percent.

Not everything hoped for in this year's budget was granted, however. Three firefighter positions and two maintenance worker positions that were not funded during budget cuts the last couple of years were not funded in this budget.

Campo said, however, that the firefighter positions are planned to be back in the 2006-07 budget.

Nonetheless, the fire department's budget was increased 6.7 percent for this fiscal year. The police department's budget rose 11.4 percent, and includes two previously vacant patrol officer positions and money for three officer positions previously funded by grants which are expiring.

Tom Hall can be reached at vacaville@thereporter.com.

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