The Los Banos City Council, at its June 21 meeting, approved by a vote of 4-0 the annual budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, which includes the creation of 20 city jobs. Councilmember Deborah Lewis abstained from voting on the approval of the budget.
Before the approval of the budget, Lewis said she believes there should have been a budget workshop prior to this meeting. “It’s not that I disapprove of the budget,” Lewis said, “but as a legislator I think I’m due the proper time to evaluate this, and to ask questions, and to have the public here as we casually go over a budget hearing.”
The council also approved the 2023/2024 fiscal year Gann Appropriation Limit of $121,861,461, the “spending limit for the amount that the city can legally tax the citizens of Los Banos,” as described in the meeting’s agenda packet.
Interim Finance Director Brent Kuhn, leading the presentation on the proposed budget, described it as “responsible and fiscally sound.”
“This budget wasn’t much different from the previous budget,” Kuhn said during the budget’s public hearing. “We are, in essence, taking last year’s budget and moving it into this one because we are going to execute on actually performing those things.” The budget for the previous 2022-2023 fiscal year was $101.6 million.
According to staff’s presentation, some of the highlighted capital projects within the new budget are $2 million dedicated to the Shaunessy Village and Sunrise Ranch Park development construction, $620,000 for the Highway 152 Traffic Signal Synchronization Project, $300,000 for Seventh-Street Ballpark improvements and an “ambitious” $6.2 million for street improvements.
Kuhn noted that the budget is a “living document” and is subject to change throughout the fiscal year.
A significant feature of the budget was the creation of 20 city jobs. Some of the new positions include an assistant public works director, a facilities manager, two firefighters, a fire captain, two attendants at the animal shelter and an assistant city manager.
“These positions were created in order to [provide] increased services to the city and to help, especially with public works, complete a copious amount of projects that were placed in front of them for this upcoming budget year,” Kuhn said.
There were also changes made to the salary schedule in the budget, including cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increases of 2% for all miscellaneous or underrepresented employees’ classifications, 2.75% for Police Officers Association and 2% for the Firefighter Association, Public Works unit and all Dispatch and Community Service Officers.
At the opening of the budget’s public hearing, resident of Los Banos and Planning Commissioner Katherine Uhley asked exactly how much money will be spent on the Animal Shelter. “It’s $1 million total for the animal shelter,” City Engineer Nirorn Than responded.
Kuhn added that the additional $700,000 of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds that Uhley inquired about relate to pickleball and recreation.
In his comments on the budget, Mayor Paull Llanez said, “I believe the funds should be programed to benefit the city, that’s why people want to pay their taxes. He complimented Kuhn, “So, I applaud you, because that’s all I see in this.”
Councilmember Kenneth Lambert said that“98% of this was what the city needed five to 10 years ago. “We’re bringing infrastructure back up to our times now to help our city.”
During the public forum Refugio Llamas, former member of the city council, came forward during the meeting’s public forum to voice discontent over the absence of a budget workshop.
“This year, in deviation from previous years, and in contrast to good governance practices, the budget workshop was abandoned,” Llamas said. “The budget workshop allowed for a longer period of time for the public to be informed as to the proposed expenditures, new items, and generally allow for proper oversight of taxpayer funds.”
Following its approval, the council and City Manager Josh Pinheiro thanked city staff for their work on the annual budget.
July 1 marks the start of the new budget year and the updated employee salary schedule.