After the Buellton City Council hashed out changes to the proposed first biennial city budget at its May 11 meeting, council members on Thursday agreed to carve out $75,000 for trail construction and a water conservation program.
Of that total, $50,000 will be set aside for construction of the Santa Ynez River Trail, which staff said is several years away, while $25,000 will go to continue the Cash for Grass program that helps residents convert turf into low-water-use landscaping.
The money was pulled together by reducing the amount allocated to a score or more budget line items — $500 here, $4,000 there — as requested by Mayor Holly Sierra.
In fact, adding the fund reductions made Thursday to an unanticipated reimbursement and money to fill a position that has not become vacant, pushed the previously anticipated $122,000 operating surplus to more than $340,000.
The unanticipated reimbursement was $250,000 from the Santa Barbara Council of Governments for work on Highway 246.
A total of $80,000 was set aside to pay for filling the planning director’s seat, but City Manager Marc Bierdzinski doubles in that capacity and said he had no plans to leave.
He said the money had been set aside — but not spent — every year just in case a new planning director should be needed, and council members appropriated that money as well.
Finance Director Carolyn Galloway Cooper said the excess operating surplus, minus the $75,000, will be directed into the reserves for use on capital improvement projects.
The second revised budget was approved on a 4-0 vote, with Councilman John Connolly absent.
The final budget reflecting all the changes will be brought back to the council — likely at the June 8 meeting — along with a letter summarizing the changes, Galloway-Cooper said.
Only one person addressed the council during public comment on the proposed 2017-18 and 2018-19 budget.
Peggy Brierton asked the council to allocate more money to trails and bike paths, saying the $20,000 that was allocated for planning and environmental work for each fiscal year was “just not enough.”
She said developers are not actually building sections of the trail along their properties but only marking the route.
“We have to build that,” she said, suggesting the city use some of its 17-percent property tax increment related to improving the city’s “walkability” or pulling money from reserves.
But Sierra had already been working on coming up with trail funds.
“I’ve been nitpicking the budget because I think we need more money for the trail fund,” she said. “Also, Cash for Grass, which seemed popular with the community.”
She said the city finally has access to a long section of the trail, rather than just fragmented bits of it.
“We’re actually in a position where we could start something,” she said. “I think the residents are tired of hearing this is in our vision but then, like the Avenue of Flags, it takes forever.”
No funding was proposed to continue the Cash for Gras program, and Sierra didn’t want assistance for residents to convert their landscaping to end.
“People were so excited to do that, and the yards look so nice,” she said.
Councilman Ed Andrisek agreed: “Cash for Grass benefits the aesthetics of the city.”
Sierra had already highlighted line items in the proposed budget that she believed could be reduced to come up with $50,000 for trail construction and $25,000 for Cash for Grass.
Council members and staff agreed to most of her requests, although in some cases staff argued for smaller reductions than she wanted.
For example, Sierra wanted to cut or eliminate $4,500 to install partitions in the Finance Department and $9,000 for new desks for the Planning Department.
But Bierdzinski lobbied for the partitions because of a need for privacy and because the noise level makes it difficult for staff to concentrate, and eventually funds were left in the budget for that purpose.
Other funds went under the knife.
The City Council travel and training allocation was cut from $12,000 to $8000, the city clerk’s miscellaneous fund went from $1,000 to $500 and the operations and maintenance allocation for the Recreation Department was slashed from $12,000 to $7,500.
Public Works Department reductions included cutting $5,000 from vehicle maintenance funding, $2,000 from sign replacement, $1,000 from travel and training, $1,500 from operating supplies and $1,000 from the telephone allocation.
Funds to purchase chemicals for the Parks Department were cut from $1,000 to $250, and the safety equipment allocation for the Water Department was halved, from $3,000 to $1,500.