Make painful budget cuts or lose cityhood. These are the choices confronting Wildomar as a result of last week's passage of Senate Bill 89.
So, city staff scheduled today's special city council meeting to address the options. While many points were discussed during the meeting's open session, city council members made it clear: disincorporation is not an option.
“We are going to stay a city, one way or the other,” said Mayor Marsha Swanson.
As a result of SB 89, which was passed into law last week as a part of the state budget package, The 22 percent general fund cut came just hours before the new fiscal year began July 1.
Forgoing disincorporation, during Thursday’s meeting city council directed staff to analyze existing contracts with an eye toward cuts.
The biggest target Thursday – and the city’s biggest expense – was law enforcement.
According to Assistant City Manager Gary Nordquist, the city is contracted to spend $3.8 million this year for police services through the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department. The money buys 72 hours of police service per day, Nordquist said, explaining it amounts to “already thin service levels.”
Per the contract with the sheriff’s department, the city can make changes within 10 percent of existing services, but anything beyond that requires one-year notice, Nordquist said.
Staff will meet with sheriff’s department officials to determine where the city might trim public safety, Nordquist said.
Fire services, which are contracted through Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department, will cost the city $1.8 million this year – Wildomar’s second biggest expense. While the contract will also be analyzed, city council members expressed hesitation about cuts, especially during peak fire season.
Other contracts that will be under the microscope include one for legal services. Currently, city attorney fees range between $300,000 and $400,000 annually, Nordquist said. Suggestions from the public on ways to cut these fees included holding fewer city council meetings and curtailing litigation against legally operated medical marijuana facilities.
A contract with the city’s IT services consulting firm, Interwest, will also be analyzed.
Nordquist said staff is also looking at its existing City Hall lease. The space in the Albertsons shopping center on Clinton Keith Road costs the city $10,000 monthly through the end of 2013. Early termination of the lease, in exchange for a more cost-effective spot, is on the table.
The city’s joint powers agreement for animal control services via the Southwest Communities Animal Shelter was also a point of contention. The city is expecting to spend more than $350,000 for animal control this year.
Other ideas offered included cutting back on council member travel and insurance packages, more cost-effective ways to maintain the city’s three parks, and staff cutbacks.
“Having this money cut is almost a death sentence for us,” said Wildomar resident and former City Councilwoman Sheryl Ade. “But it won’t be forever. It’s temporary.”
Ade’s words resonated for Swanson.
“It’s temporary -- I love that idea Sheryl. This really is temporary," Swanson said, and she called on the community to come together.
For her part, Ade said she would work for the city unpaid on a part-time basis.
In addition to Wildomar, the new cities of Eastvale, Jurupa Valley and Menifee are also greatly impacted by SB 89. In total, the four new cities lost $15 million in general fund revenues. Additionally, East Los Angeles – which has been working toward incorporation – is looking at the dire impacts of SB 89 on its potential cityhood.
Regardless of what happens in Sacramento, Wildomar city officials said they aren’t banking on any money being returned to local coffers.
City Manager Frank Oviedo said, “We’re looking at it as if the money is not coming back.”