After initially determining a budget last year, the Santa Maria City Council voted to increase the city’s total operating funds by an additional $7.6 million at its regular Tuesday meeting.

Last year, the council approved two one-year budgets but planned to do a midcycle review. This being the review, the city reassessed operational needs and re-evaluated  state and local economies and decided to increase spending.

Overall, the city’s appropriations went from $150.9 million to $158.5 million, with about 75 percent of the increase going toward the general fund.

One way the city will cover the additional expenses is to borrow from a Local Economy Augmentation Fund (LEAF), which will cover $3.6 million toward the general fund. That will leave the LEAF Fund, which in the 2007-2008 fiscal year was $11.7 million, down to $2.7 million.

A good portion of the increase funds has been determined for previously negotiated salary and benefits enhancement. The city staff will be up to 490 full-time and 81 part-time employees in 2015-16.  The newly approved budget will cover seven new full-time employees, including three new police officers.

Other notable projects to be put into motion under the new budget changes are a $2.5 million dispatch and records system for the Santa Maria Police Department; $100,000 to replace the heaters at the Paul Nelson Aquadic Center; $75,000 to improve the restrooms at Oakley Park; and $103,000 from the city’s Business Attraction Loan Fund to build a monument sign to welcome people to the city.

After the budget changes were presented by City Manager Rick Haydon, the council approved the budget with little discussion.

The council did, however, express particular support on another budgetary concern, and that was whether to put $25,000 toward the reopening of the U.S. Customs office at the Santa Maria Public Airport. The airport used to have such an office from 2006 to 2009, according to a city report, but it closed down due to the Great Recession, poor exposure and the limited number of international flights coming in.

The city cited an improved economy, combined with a request from Windset Farms to make the move to support its employees who fly internationally.

“There are some pretty heavy hitters around that are flying in and out,” said Councilman Bob Orach. “It would behoove us to be the guys that can service them coming in and out of the country, so I’m certainly in full support of that issue.”

Windset Farms wrote in a letter to the city that it would contribute $75,000 annually toward the project.

“Over the next few years, we are intending to expand our operations in a meaningful way” David Wesley, director of projects at Windset Farms, wrote. “Not only have we built a business here in the valley, but many of us have made Santa Maria home. Windset Farms is a frequent user of the airport with regular trips to and from our operations in Canada, Mexico and the United States.”

The office would cost $185,000 annually, and a combination of money coming in from flights, revenue from the office and support from the Airport District would cover the rest of the cost.

“I think this is a good effort and I think $25,000 is good money that will turn a lot of things around in Santa Maria so I’m definitely in favor,” Councilwoman Etta Waterfield said. 

June 16, 2015  Santa Maria Times