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051518-council-meeting

Santa Maria City Councilwoman Etta Waterfield speaks to city staff during Tuesday's council meeting.

The Santa Maria City Council adopted several budget amendments and presented its third-quarter financial report — which shows a spike in sales tax receipts driven by higher fuel prices and the opening of new businesses at the Enos Ranch Development — during its Tuesday meeting.

Sales tax receipts are approximately 9.2 percent, or $1.46 million greater, compared to the last fiscal year when $15.84 million was collected, said Finance Director Mary Harvey, who prepared the third-quarter report.

Harvey pointed out that the high sales tax figures might not be sustained long-term.

“While the increase in sales tax is encouraging and the city expects to receive a steady stream of sales tax from Enos Ranch, it is important to note that initially those revenues will likely spike for the first six months to a year before coming down to a more realistic level,” Harvey said.

The council voted unanimously Tuesday to pass four budget amendments recommended by city staff. Those amendments included a $15,000 increase in appropriations for the General Fund to purchase Taser upgrades for parks officers, authorizing the purchase of a landfill service truck for $100,000 with money from the existing Utilities Department budget and increasing the Public Nuisance Abatement account to cover litigation expenses associated with a lawsuit the city filed against landlord Dario Pini.

While the report — which focused on the city's general and enterprise funds — showed property and hotel/bed tax earned greater revenues compared to the 2016-17 fiscal year, there was a marked decrease in the amount of money raised through permits.

Around $2.07 million was collected from licenses, permits and other fees — roughly $1.87 million less than received at the same time during the previous year. City officials attribute the drop in revenue to be a leveling off from what was an unusually high number of permits issued for the Enos Ranch development during the previous year.

“This reduction was expected,” Harvey said.

With three-quarters of the year complete, the city’s revenues are at 66 percent of projections while expenditures are at 70.8 percent of what was appropriated, Harvey said.

In the Measure U Fund, both Fire and Police departments are over budget due to three pay periods occurring in March, Harvey said, adding that the Measure U Fund is expected to have a positive balance at the end of the fiscal year.

The report notes that revenues are less than the budget partly because the city has yet to received the second installment of property tax in-lieu amounts, which are received in January and late May. The first installment received earlier this year was $4.2 million.

In other business, the City Council awarded Senior Parks Officer Casey Stone the Going the Extra Mile (GEM) Award for his work to curb illegal activities by the city’s homeless in the city’s parks and public areas. Stone is the 34th recipient of the award since 2006.

Park officers — also called city rangers — patrol public areas like Simas Park, the Santa Maria Transit Center and city-owned parking structures. Stone and other parks officers are credited with implementing new strategies to reduce loitering, graffiti, public intoxication and other criminal activities.

“His strong experience and insight allowed him to be able to manage this changing environment,” Stilwell said. “He has been instrumental in working with the rangers in being able to engage homeless individuals at the individual level, where he can really understand their issues.”

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed

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