Commerce city officials had three priorities going into the city’s 2014-2015 annual budget: improve public safety, enhance quality of life related services for Commerce residents and invest in the city’s infrastructure.
The new, nearly $55 million budget approved by the city council on July 1, invests in those priorities, according to city Administrator Jorge Rifa. The budget is close to $3 million higher then in the year prior and for the second year in a row, initial operating costs were expected to be about $700,000 less then incoming revenue.
Over one million dollars left over from the 2013-2014 budget, as well as more revenue from taxes and grants, will allow the city to increase spending in several areas, particularly in the three identified as priorities by the council.
Rather than squirrel away the surplus, city officials decided to spend much of the “extra” revenue on everything from environmental mitigation home loans to extra homework helpers at city libraries, enhancements to current services and the return of some favorite activities cut over the last few years when money was tight.
Citing increases in revenue, Mayor Tina Baca del Rio said the city is going to have “a good year.” Even with the bump up in spending, Commerce projects it will have a $250 thousand surplus next year.
Nearly $20 million in this year’s spending plan will go toward public safety, including approximately $10 million for emergency medical response or paramedic/ambulance services. The city will pay out about $6.1 million to the county for law enforcement/sheriff services and spend $2.4 million on the community services department, which oversees animal control and emergency preparedness among other areas.
“We recognize the importance of providing services to our community, for the people who live, work, travel, do businesses, or invests here,” Rifa told EGP.
“It is important to restore public works and development services to strengthen the quality of life in Commerce,” he said.
In Commerce, libraries have always been a high priority. Many of the city’s social and educational services are directed through the city’s four library system. The council has added $150,000 to the library budget, including $93,954 to fill a full-time librarian position vacant since 2009.
“Fortunately, the Library (system) has always retained its full-time Senior Librarian position in Adult Services,” who because of the vacancy had to also cover those duties or assign them to part-time employees, Library Director Beatriz Sarmiento told EGP.
The budget also contains $57,750 to hire three part-time homework tutors who will bring the total number of helpers at the four libraries to eight. “The majority of [children] coming to the Homework Help Centers are elementary and middle school students,” Sarmiento told EGP. Over 225 students currently get assistance at the city’s four library Homework Help Centers.
Rifa told EGP that $750,000 generated from the Prop AA tax will be used exclusively for public transit projects in the city.
The council also approved $6,000 to extend summer hours at Rosewood and Bristow Parks. “This means more services, staff and supervisors from sunrise to sunset,” Rifa told EGP.
Five-thousand dollars will be spent on a community clean up day sometime this year or in 2015, according to Rifa. The money will be used for “marketing and food for volunteers,” among other things, Rifa explained.
The city administrator pointed out that many of the city’s children have never seen snow, so this year he asked the council to allocate $4,000 to pay to have “snow” during the Children’s Holiday Faire. The snow may not be real, but the children will love it, Rifa said.
Rifa told EGP the city council also decided to lease rather than buy holiday decorations, at a cost of $50,000 for one year, because there is no place in the city to “safely and cleanly store” the decorations. “When they are on display they are exposed to different temperatures” and conditions, and leasing ensures the decorations will be properly taken care of by professionals.
The city’s $250,000 surplus will be set aside to address any unforeseen items that may arise during the fiscal year.