Its Budget Under Control, Montebello Invests in Streets

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

A tanking economy, loss of redevelopment funds and years of poor budget decisions forced Montebello to cut funds for street and sidewalk repairs. But now, following years of financial uncertainty, city officials say it’s time to get to work on much needed infrastructure repairs.

Garfield Avenue, Montebello and Washington Boulevards top the list of streets Montebello officials say they will repair now that they have a handle on the city’s budget.

A large boost in sales tax funds and a revenue swap have given the city its second balanced budget in a row, as well as a $600,000 surplus in its 2014-15 budget.

Montebello projects it will bring in $48 million in revenue during the next year.

Street improvements begin on Flotilla Avenue near the Montebello-Commerce Metrolink station. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Street improvements begin on Flotilla Avenue near the Montebello-Commerce Metrolink station. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

According to Councilman Jack Hadjinian, the city plans to take advantage of the upward bump in revenue and start making repairs to streets that have in recent years been neglected and allowed to fall into disrepair as the city struggled to get its finances in the black.

“Although I never want to neglect [other departments], right now the focus is on infrastructure,”  Hadjinian said. “The most common complaint we get is the condition of our streets,” he said.

Montebello will undertake many more street improvement projects this year than in previous years, explained Danilo Batson, the city’s director of public works.

“Residents will see a noticeable difference in tree trimming, sidewalk repairs and street pavement [fixes] this year,” he said.

The majority of the $5.8 million slated for street repairs will come from federal grants, Batson said. However, with no major transportation projects on the horizon, city officials felt they could do more with less restrictive revenue than their full allocation of Proposition A transportation funds, even if the monetary value was lower.

“We were able to exchange some prop money to put more money into our infrastructure,” said Hadjinian. It’s a decision Batson said is “really helping.”

Montebello officials say the 2014-15 budget makes good on their promise to budget more revenue for street repairs and other capital improvement projects.

The list of projects includes improvements on heavily traveled streets with uneven pavements and potholes. The repairs to Garfield, Montebello and Washington combined are estimated to cost $3 million.

City staff will also be meeting with contractors to see how many trees they can trim, added Batson. About $350,000 in funding for that will come from the general fund.

“The goal is to have one out of every four trees in the city trimmed,” Hadjinian said,

He said a slight recovery in the economy and a boost in spending by consumers has made the projects possible.

According to city staff, sales tax revenue is expected to reach $12 million in Fiscal-Year 2014-15, a historic amount that exceeds even pre-recession 2007-2008 levels.

The added revenue has also been a plus for public safety, according to the city. The rise in sales tax revenue has made it possible to increase the budget for the fire department, which hired seven new firefighters last month. The new firefighter will allow the city to maintain its quick response times, said Fire Chief Dominic Hebert in a statement announcing the hiring.

“By growing our department, we’ll be able to continue providing the high level of fire response that Montebello residents expect and deserve,” Hebert said.

The city it continuing to look for ways to expand city services and has no plans to make new cuts to community services or staff, Hadjinian said.

“The only thing we’re cutting are trees.”

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July 3, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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