Temecula residents can expect a spending surge in the next fiscal year and beyond due to a sales tax increase that voters narrowly approved at the polls Nov. 8.
The surge will come in public safety programs as well as several major capital projects that had been mothballed or delayed for years due to a budget squeeze.
The budget, which was formally approved by the City Council June 13, marks a major uptick in the city’s financial outlook.
In May 2016, city staff had warned of pending service cuts if the Measure S sales tax increase was not put on the November ballot and approved by city voters.
“Thanks to Measure S our future is very, very bright,” Mayor Maryann Edwards said at one point during the budget reviews.
Most of the discussion of Temecula’s $73.3 million operations budget – believed to be the largest in the city’s history – unfolded in a May 31 workshop that lasted nearly three hours. The final review was shorter and it ended with a unanimous approval by the council.
The operations budget will net a sharp revenue increase from the $69.8 million spending plan for the fiscal year that ends June 30. The operations budget pays for police and fire protection, public works, planning and many other city services.
The city’s capital improvement program, which builds city infrastructure and public works projects, will receive a similar funding surge in and beyond the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The past year has seen Temecula’s population grow by 1.8 percent to 111,024 residents, according to data collected by the city. The number of households grew 1.2 percent to nearly 35,000. The number of jobs based in the city grew by 1.8 percent to 51,700 positions.
About 10 audience members commented during the recent budget workshop. Many of those speakers urged the council to target an array of perceived needs that were not funded in the city’s operations budget or its capital improvement program. There were no public comments on the budget during the June 13 hearing.
Councilman Jeff Comerchero said the city has not ruled out funding some of the needs identified by the speakers, especially the construction of a second Old Town parking structure. But those decisions must come after careful planning and budgeting, he said.
“We have to make sure there’s a logical priority to what we’re doing,” he said.
As it stands, the council agreed to spend $1 million to further study Old Town’s future parking needs and proceed with the site selection, design work and environmental reviews.
Approval of the budget cemented a previous council decision to fill three vacant police positions and create seven more. That hiring spurt took effect in April, and it has allowed the city to meet its target of one officer per each 1,000 residents.
Boosting police staffing was one of the key goals identified by the city when the council scheduled the tax increase measure.
Opposition was stiff, and the tax increase passed by fewer than 800 votes, a slim 2 percent margin. Passage came after a contentious campaign, and foes were vastly outspent by such advocates as the Temecula Valley Chamber of Commerce.
It is predicted that the measure will pump an additional $23 million a year into city coffers. The city began receiving income from the sales tax increase April 1. That new revenue is expected to total $5.75 million by the June 30 close of the current fiscal year. Public safety needs will tap about 25 percent of Measure S revenues in the upcoming fiscal year. That share will increase to 43 percent, about $10.4 million annually, by the 2021-22 fiscal year.
The election was prefaced by about two years of warnings by city officials over a looming budget shortfall. City staff warned that rising operating costs could force the council to make crippling spending cuts to police patrols, paramedic squads and other key services.
City and business leaders argued that Temecula’s quality of life would plummet if Measure S did not pass. Measure S foes had countered that the city should further tighten its belt before seeking a tax increase.
The decisions on the budget and capital improvement program will breathe new life into a trio of city projects that had been halted or delayed by the budget crunch.
A community center renovation project was stopped in its tracks in October 2015, and a $3.3 million fire station has been mothballed since 2006. A proposed teen center was stalled in the planning stages for a decade or more.
Measure S has brought those three projects to the fore.
In addition to the purchase of a replacement ladder truck, the tax measure will enable the city to open and operate a mothballed fire station that flanks the Roripaugh Ranch subdivision.
A contractor was hired to build the fire station – the sixth intended to serve portions of the city – in October 2004. More than 90 percent of the work was completed by spring 2006, when construction was suspended because the subdivision developer ran out of money to build homes and extend roads and utilities into the tract.
The city will spend $75,000 to install furniture, fixtures and other equipment in the new station. The council also allocated $868,030 to open the station in January and staff it for the rest of the fiscal year.
The city’s capital spending plan also sets a new course for another stayed municipal facility.
In 2013, the city acquired a recreation-oriented building located in Margarita Community Park. The move came about four years after a cash-strapped YMCA chapter spent $4.8 million to build and open a recreation center and indoor pool on land it leased from the city.
The city took over the building after the local YMCA chapter filed for bankruptcy and shut it down. The city toyed with renovating the deteriorated property, but halted that plan due to the high improvement costs and the lack of funds needed to staff it as a community center.
The funding surge from Measure S has prompted city officials to craft a plan to raze the existing building and construct its replacement. That project cost is estimated to total nearly $5 million, and construction work is expected to begin sometime in the 2018-19 fiscal year, according to city documents.
It will cost the city about $730,000 a year to staff, operate and maintain that 6,000-square-foot recreation building.
Measure S funds will also be allocated to a teen center that has been stalled on the drawing board. The teen village complex will cost an estimated $8.7 million and be built in the Ronald Reagan Sports Park along Rancho Vista Road.
The complex will include a 6,820-square-foot center and include several outdoor amenities as well as improvements to an existing skate park and amphitheater.
The need for such a facility was questioned by one audience member during the council’s budget workshop. Councilman Comerchero responded by saying the city’s teen needs have not been adequately addressed over the years.
“We do a woeful job with our teen population,” he countered.
Comerchero said Measure S will address many unmet needs for decades to come, but he warned that it doesn’t give the city a blank check for all projects. All spending decisions must be carefully weighed and prioritized, he said.
He said city leaders “should all be very thankful to our citizens” that they agreed to raise their taxes to help meet Temecula’s future needs.