Prioritized budget items head to council

For a host of projects waiting in line for funding, it’s not as simple a matter as just taking a number.

The City Council Administration and Finance Subcommittee assigned priorities to an array of potential budget items proposed by commissions, community groups and individual citizens at its annual budget priorities meeting this month. Subcommittee members Joan House and Walt Keller, joined by City Manager Harry Peacock and Administrative Services Director Bill Thomas, spent nearly three hours addressing and prioritizing more than 40 items the full council will consider in the next few weeks.

Though noting many of the items appeared to warrant a high priority, House prefaced the meeting by saying, “The money we have to work with is less than zero,” adding, “[Keller] and I would like to fund everything. They’re all great ideas, but we have to get down to hard numbers.”

Representatives of the Santa Monica-Malibu PTA implored the council to grant emergency funds to the school district, which continues to struggle with budget constraints. They noted the city of Santa Monica had already earmarked around $3 million in emergency funds and urged Malibu to follow suit, especially as Malibu’s contribution to the school district reportedly constitutes a smaller percentage of the general city budget than does Santa Monica’s.

Community leader Laure Stern requested funding for an after-school “clubhouse” at Malibu High School. The committee weighed her idea in depth and suggested a temporary trailer could provide an inexpensive clubhouse so long as it adheres to school-grounds building codes.

Keller and House voted to give highest priority to the school-funding proposal and the after-school facility.

At a proposed cost of $500,000, a local septic dump was the most expensive item before the subcommittee. Though the proposal did not detail the dump’s location or efficacy, House seemed particularly enthusiastic about making a “tacit agreement” to contact Tapia’s water treatment facility to see if it could accommodate the infrastructure of a septic dump. Such a move could liberate Malibu homeowners from the prices dictated by far-away dumps and may also reduce the cost of transporting septic refuse. Keller and House did not speculate on the total cost or benefit; however, Peacock suggested such a project could be covered by a bond issue.

“The cost of pumping continues to rise,” said Thomas. “This could put a cap.”

Public Works requested $120,000 for construction of stormceptors at Cross Creek and Civic Center Way; grants would add $480,000 to complete the project. The subcommittee favored the project and supported its referral to a “benefit assessment district.” Parenthetically, Peacock noted this was only “the camel’s nose” of a larger issue regarding storm drains throughout the city.

Depending on future state water-control mandates, Malibu may “have to seriously develop citywide storm water maintenance,” which, Peacock said, has the potential “to bankrupt the city.”

The Department of Parks and Recreation proposed several large-scale items, including a new recreation facility on the current Caltrans property in Winter Canyon. The construction of a park would require Caltrans to vacate the property first, and the subcommittee gave high priority to the preliminary step of determining how to compel Caltrans to relocate to another site. It did not discuss the cost of the project.

The Environmental Review Board, represented by city biologist Marti Witter, presented several items designed to improve the quality of the local ecosystem. Though several items, such as beach erosion monitoring, called for spending on personnel and infrastructure, many simply asked for the city’s symbolic support of several environmental issues. All received highest priority.

The subcommittee discussed several other proposals:

The Telecommunications Commission, represented by Ephram Fader, presented several items geared toward increasing community access to production facilities and to increasing the city government’s presence on cable access. The $107,000 cost of a filming studio was on the agenda, but a franchise operator is expected to absorb that cost. Other Telecom items received the lowest priority.

A weekday farmers market was on the agenda; however, the council had already approved it and expects a licensee to begin operations in the spring. Keller said local merchants who had once opposed the encroachment of a farmers market now support it.

Though several commissions, including Public Works and ERB, requested aerial mapping and an expanded GIS database for the city, the subcommittee pondered many public and private uses for the system but said it found too few means of recouping the $150,000-plus cost for a nonessential item and assigned it the lowest priority.

The subcommittee determined several street-maintenance proposals are already covered by the current maintenance program.

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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