Paso council ponders how to spend surplus

Clarification: The five-year project list refers to total expenditures through fiscal year 2016.

Paso Robles might get enough revenue through the next five years to cover a priority list of certain city services to rebuild without dipping into reserves, according to an updated financial forecast the City Council will hear tonight.

The update to a forecast presented last year will show that an estimated influx in sales tax, hotel bed tax and other revenue could now bring the city an extra $3.7 million.

Of that, $2.7 million could go to so-called recovery priorities that are now possible without dipping into the city’s savings, which currently holds about $10 million for unforeseen expenses.

The other $1 million would bolster the general fund — which has been cut by 29 percent since 2009 — through fiscal year 2016, even after the council’s recovery priorities are completed, City Manager Jim App said.

The five-year project list, which the council can alter tonight, includes: funding more training for firefighters and paramedics for $140,000; devoting one police officer to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Narcotics and Gang Task Force for $500,000; hiring a human resources risk specialist for $280,000; hiring more part-time library staffing at $300,000; devoting more money to fix potholes for $760,000; and updating the city’s finance computer system for $750,000.

In March, the council adopted the list with the understanding that about $500,000 would come from general fund reserves. The priorities were set after the council held two public workshops in February and March to see what the community wanted to put money back into. The city’s seven department executives gave overviews on their cuts and provided wish lists on how to spend the new revenue.

All of the city’s departments dwindled during the recession to stave off layoffs and keep departments running on fewer dollars. Seventy-six positions were eliminated through attrition and a hiring freeze. Most roadwork and contracted maintenance were shaved. A teen center and a city pool were closed in 2011. And some city fees were increased.

While the pool closure upset many, the community’s main concerns have largely been centered on what is considered too few police officers and shabby streets.

Tonight, the council will also consider the wording of a ballot measure proposing a half-cent sales tax increase to Paso Robles voters in November. If approved, the hike is slated to bring about $3 million in added annual revenue over 12 years.