Buellton at ‘crossroads’ for decisions, mayor says

Buellton City Manager John Kunkel addresses community members, city employees and business owners about projects that were completed in the city in 2012.

Buellton is not only at the crossroads of highways 101 and 246, but the 21-year-old city is also at a critical point in its history, Mayor Judith Dale said last week in her remarks at the annual State of the City Address.

The next five years will determine the city’s fate for the next 50 years, she said, as community leaders seek to find the right balance between residential, commercial and light-industrial manufacturing development.

Also important is maintaining the city’s small-town and rural quality of life and determining whether the busy highways are an asset or a detriment, she told the audience of about 100 people Thursday in the Buellton Rec Center gym.

“We can make lemonade out of lemons,” she said.

During Thursday’s main address, City Manager John Kunkel said Buellton is an “extraordinary” city with potential for more.

“Together we can meet the challenge to make us an even better Buellton,” he said.

Kunkel reported an improvement in 2011-12 in revenue from “bed taxes,” one of the city’s major General Fund revenue generators along with sales taxes and the subject of a November 2012 ballot measure.

Revenue from the transient occupancy tax, also known as “bed tax,” was $1.2 million, up 3.9 percent from the prior year. For the current fiscal year, 2012-13, TOT revenues are up 2 percent, he said.

General Fund revenues pay for public safety, libraries, recreation and parks, and general government services.

Buellton also ended the most recent budget year, which ended June 30, 2012, with a half million dollar surplus.

On Nov. 6, city voters approved Measure D, which gave the council the authority to increase the 10 percent TOT rate to as much as 12 percent.

The 12 percent rate is now in place and is estimated to generate an additional $200,000 in city revenues each year.

Of the total $1.2 million bed tax revenue, the city gives 10 percent, about $120,000, to the Buellton Visitors Bureau, operated by the Buellton Chamber of Commerce, to promote and increase tourism. The allocation to the Visitors Bureau varies from year to year based on the TOT money collected.

The chamber, sponsor of the State of the City Address brunch, has proposed an allocation of 75 percent of the new revenues, $150,000, for the Visitors Bureau for better tourism promotion and economic development activities.

A decision about more funding for the Visitors Bureau will be determined during the city’s upcoming budget process.

On the same ballot with the bed tax initiative, voters approved term limits for City Council members. Measure C will restrict council members to 12 years of continuous service beginning in 2014.

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On April 25, the City Council is expected to hold a workshop on a proposed charter city measure for the November 2014 ballot, Kunkel added. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. in City Council Chambers, 140 W. Highway 246.

Charter cities, such as Solvang and Santa Maria, can adopt laws that are different from general state laws to meet their specific needs, and in many cases charter cities are not required to pay the official “prevailing wage” to contractors for public works projects.

Buellton and most other California municipalities are “general law” cities under the state Constitution.

During the year, the city hosted two inaugural events — Avenue of Flags Criterium in March and the Buellton Brew Fest at River View Park in May.

This year’s criterium, a cycling race held on a small, closed road course in an urban area, is scheduled for Saturday, June 29, and the Brew Fest, expected to sell out, is scheduled for Saturday, May 11.

Among the city’s new business are Firestone Walker’s Barrelworks, adjacent to the Firestone Walker Taproom restaurant on McMurray Road, O’Reilly Auto Parts on East Highway 246, and Ascendant Spirits distillery on Industrial Way.

Ron Anderson, Buellton Chamber of Commerce president, said Industrial Way, also home to All Sport Fitness Center, Avant Tapas & Wine, and Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co., is quickly becoming Buellton’s “E Zone,” or destination for entertainment.

A new 16-lane bowling alley, called Live Oak Lanes, is also being proposed for Industrial Way, he added.

“Businesses are literally standing in line for lease space there,” said Anderson, owner of Ron Anderson Real Estate.

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