San Luis Obispo could boost city staff with 13 new positions

Over the next two years, San Luis Obispo will add 13 new jobs to its payroll and convert 11 temporary employees to permanent positions if the city’s preliminary budget gets approved.

The staffing increases are driven by various factors: a desire for more rangers to patrol city open spaces; a surge in development applications as the economy has improved; and a new rental housing inspection program that includes hiring two code enforcement officers and a supervisor to run it.

The San Luis Obispo City Council tinkered with its 2015-17 fiscal year plan Tuesday in the first of several budget meetings, with more hearings scheduled for Thursday and June 16.

The overall $122.7 million budget for 2015-16 could be adopted as soon as June 23. Within that budget, general fund revenues of $56 million and expenditures of $55.7 million are projected for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

In 2016-17, the overall proposed budget jumps to $211.6 million because of $78 million in upgrades planned for the sewage treatment plant on Prado Road, with most of it paid through debt financing. General fund revenues of $57.3 million and expenditures of $57.9 million are projected in 2016-17. That funding gap will be filled by the general fund reserve.

The council policy is to maintain a reserve fund of 20 percent of operating costs, and the reserve is currently above that, officials said.

Most of the money for the new hires will come from fees paid to offset services, such as water and sewer charges, development fees or fees for the new rental inspection program.

About $318,604 will come from the general fund in 2015-16 to pay for another public safety dispatcher and a ranger, and to offset startup costs for the rental housing program, said Jason Stilwell, interim director of information technology and financial planning.

The city’s top three revenues sources for the general fund — sales tax, property tax, and bed tax — are all projected to increase over the next two years. Sales tax revenues are boosted by Measure G, the local half-percent sales tax measure that’s estimated to bring in more than $7 million each year.

But city officials will have to balance those increases with the escalating cost of retirement and insurance programs, and the need to address deferred maintenance.

The council will discuss its proposed capital improvement program for the next two years during Thursday’s budget hearing.

On Tuesday, the council’s budget workshop includes water and sewer rate increases. So far, about 610 valid protests have been received against the rate increases, City Clerk Anthony J. Mejia said. More than 7,500 protests would be needed to prevent the rate hikes.

The budget also reflects projects and programs designed to meet the city’s major goals, which the council set in January: protect and maintain open space, encourage different types of housing and improve alternative forms of transportation.

On the open space goal, the proposed budget includes a slew of new trailhead improvements at various open space areas and hiring a new ranger maintenance worker.

On Tuesday, the council decided to add two more temporary employees at about 30 hours a week each, at an estimated cost of $75,000 a year, to improve the city’s ability to maintain, improve and patrol open space areas. An additional $50,000 could go toward an additional vehicle.

Currently, the city has one full-time supervisor, one full-time maintenance worker and three part-time temporary employees in the ranger services division.

“I think this would be very robust, and we would see terrific results,” Parks and Recreation Director Shelly Stanwyck said when asked whether the new hires would be sufficient to meet open space goals.

In addition, council members agreed to try to find $206,000 for the Land Conservancy’s Octagon Barn Center project — a significant increase over the $50,000 that staff had recommended the city contribute — and $22,000 toward the removal of an elevator from the historic Jack House in San Luis Obispo.

City staff had recommended taking money for the Octagon Barn away from funds earmarked to implement the city’s bike transportation plan, but council members heard from bike advocates who urged them not to do so. Land Conservancy trustees also said they didn’t want their project to take away from other projects.

“I urge you to prioritize projects that support student safety,” said Jonathan Roberts, a San Luis Obispo resident who accompanies his son on rides across town to school. “I know you’re looking at many competing factors and that $206,000 for the Octagon Barn project seems like a deal ... but I urge you to think of projects that fully connect routes through San Luis Obispo.”

The council’s spending requests totaled about $355,000 in 2015-16 and about $75,000 the following year, said Wayne Padilla, the city’s finance director. City staff will now delve back into the budget to find ways to redirect money toward those costs.