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Encinitas approves scaled-back city spending plan

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North Leucadia undercrossing project won’t gain funding in the coming fiscal year, but initial planning discussions will occur

A scaled-back city spending plan for the coming fiscal year approved by the Encinitas City Council on Wednesday, June 24, won’t include money for planning or building a much-desired, railroad undercrossing for pedestrians in north Leucadia.

But, council members said, there’s no doubt that there’s a keen interest in the proposal given how many emails they’ve recently received. Even though the item won’t be listed for any itemized funding in the coming year’s spending plan, Encinitas will start taking some initial steps to pursue the project, including hosting community meetings, the council decided.

“I will continue to dedicate myself to finding a way to build a crossing in north Leucadia,” Councilman Tony Kranz declared, calling it his “summer project.”

Mayor Catherine Blakespear said the project was “100 percent in line” with the council’s priorities of improving pedestrian and bicycle routes, but said that given the coronavirus pandemic now is not the time to be adventurous when it comes to budgeting.

However, she said, " I would hate for a whole year to be going by” without making any progress, so she suggested that the city begin exploratory discussions. Among other things, the city can begin collecting residents’ opinions on the best location for an undercrossing and it can look into grant funding options, Blakespear said.

Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze said she was glad the project was listed in the coming year’s budget, even if it was only mentioned as an “unfunded” item. This puts it next in priority and encourages the pursuit of grant funding, she said.

Unlike some cities, Encinitas does its budgeting on a two-year cycle, approving a two-year spending plan and then revising that plan just before the start of the second year. That’s the stage the city is in now, the start of its second fiscal year begins July 1 and the proposed budget revise was up for a vote Wednesday, June 24.

Because of economic fallout related to the pandemic, city employees had to do more budgetary reworking than is typical. The final version of the newly approved general fund budget calls for Encinitas to collect $2.2 million less in revenue in the coming fiscal year than what was originally forecast a year ago. The city also is forecast to spend less, an estimated $742,000 less than what was originally proposed.

General fund revenue is now expected to total $77.6 million in the new fiscal year, while expenditures are expected to be $71.2 million. The general fund budget is the city’s main spending plan, covering everything from the parks department to policing expenses.

The city also has a multi-year budget for large-scale construction projects. It currently is forecast to spend $55.3 million over a six-year period, stretching from the current fiscal year through fiscal year 2024-25. Out of that total, $14.8 million is scheduled to be spent in the coming fiscal year beginning July 1.

Before the council’s vote on the proposed spending plans, city employees read aloud roughly two-dozen public comments submitted via e-mail. Nearly all of them called for the city to fund a railroad undercrossing between La Costa Avenue and Leucadia Boulevard in the coming year’s budget.

“By any rational reading of the evidence, we have not been your priority (in the past),” one e-mailer stated and asked for this to change now.

In other action Wednesday, June 24, the council:

Agreed to raise city garbage collection rates. The 35-gallon, mini-can rate will increase by 42 cents, from $14.08 to $14.50, while the 95-gallon can rate will increase by 65 cents, from $21.50 to $22.15.

Authorized a City Hall renovation project that includes a $689,010 contract with Firestone Builders to overhaul the building’s fire sprinkler system, upgrade the council chambers, repaint the common areas and improve security features. The city also will purchase new carpeting and furnishings at a cost of $217,512.

Bill Wilson, city senior management analyst, told the council before the vote that the fire sprinkler system improvements and other repairs are much-needed. The carpeting in City Hall is nearly 20 years old and the chairs in the council chambers date from the 1990s, he said. Council members said the money for the project had been set aside long ago.

-- Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune


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