With tax revenues improving in the aftermath of the Great Recession, city officials revealed plans Wednesday to hire five more police officers and make nearly $5.6 million in park improvements as they gave the Bakersfield City Council its first look at the proposed new budget.
As might have been expected for an area that received $630 million in federal earmarks for major highway projects, secured by former Congressman Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield, highway improvements left skid marks all over this year's budget.
The proposed 2014-2015 fiscal year budget is more than $621.6 million -- technically 12 percent less than last year's budget of more than $707 million.
It includes a $438.6 million operating budget and a nearly $183 million capital improvements budget.
Last year's budget, however, was boosted by $165 million in federal funds for the early purchase of property in the path of the proposed Centennial Corridor freeway link between Westside Parkway and Highway 58.
Without those funds, last year's budget falls to more than $542 million, and this year's budget is nearly 15 percent larger.
The proposed capital improvements budget, buoyed by road projects, is a big part of that.
Finance Director Nelson Smith said it's more expensive this year because four Thomas Roads Improvement Program projects are in costly right-of-way and construction phases.
"Beltway, Hosking, Rosedale and 178 -- those are all construction," Smith said in an interview, meaning the city expects to have all four TRIP projects under construction in the next fiscal year starting July 1.
These include widening Highway 178 and Rosedale Highway, making various so-called "beltway" improvements to area freeways, and building the Hosking Avenue-Highway 99 interchange -- which hasn't started.
On Wednesday, the council heard a general presentation from City Manager Alan Tandy and Assistant to the City Manager Chris Huot covering all this, as well as departmental presentations from Huot, City Attorney Ginny Gennaro and Smith.
It also heard where the money's coming from.
Resolving a property tax lawsuit with the County of Kern over annexations meant the city will receive about $800,000 it expected the county to withhold, Tandy said.
Sales tax revenues are projected to grow 3 percent during the next fiscal year, he said. Earlier this year, officials learned sales tax revenues jumped nearly 8 percent during the fourth quarter of 2013 compared to 2012.
City officials are also projecting 5 percent growth in property tax levels and 2 percent growth in the hotel beds tax during the next fiscal year.
"We had anticipated we would be under a hold-the-line budget process with very few if any staff additions," Tandy said. "Now, I would characterize the budget overall as being about normal, an average year."
These trends and ongoing council concerns over public safety led city staff to propose hiring five additional Bakersfield Police Department officers.
Doing so would increase the department's complement of sworn officers from 389, a historic number, to 394 sworn -- another all-time high, but still five officers fewer than Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson called for during last year's budget review.
Tandy and Huot also proposed restoring 17 other positions, including five non-sworn in the police department and seven in public works -- bringing Bakersfield's number of total staffers to 1,516.
That's its highest level since the pre-recession year of 2008-2009, when Bakersfield had 1,613 staffers.
Bakersfield parks are also due for big changes during the next fiscal year -- reflected in a 6.8 percent increase in the Recreation and Parks budget, from just over $18 million last fiscal year to nearly $19.3 million in the proposed budget.
That money will pay for everything from new playground equipment and gym equipment to the possibility of new soccer or softball fields at Mesa Marin Sports Complex.
Council members -- who received their copies of the proposed budget Wednesday afternoon -- listened but had few questions as yet.
Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell questioned the proposed capital improvements budget but said he'd have more questions later.