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Fountain Valley sees light at end of fiscal year

City hopes to overcome lost redevelopment funds through prudent spending, part-time fire chief.

June 21, 2012|By Mona Shadia

Despite the loss of $1.4 million in redevelopment funds, Fountain Valley is once again balancing its budget and is expected to end the next fiscal year with a surplus and no layoffs or major cuts of services.

The City Council on Tuesday passed a $36-million operating budget, with a projected $132,000 surplus by the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year.

"We're operating everything on a shoestring, but we're still providing all the services and we're living within our means," said City Manager Ray Kromer.

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Kromer said earlier estimates projected a deficit of $439,000 in the next fiscal year. But a few tweaks here and there, including keeping the fire department with a part-time chief and offering earlier retirements, ended up not only balancing the budget but providing an expected revenue.

"I think we're doing quite well considering the times," said Councilman Mark McCurdy.

Unlike neighboring cities, which continue to lay off employees to balance their budgets, Fountain Valley hasn't had its coffers empty since 2009 and hasn't dipped into its reserve since 2008.

It's all thanks to a team effort, which meant employees doing more than one job and agreeing to benefit reductions, Kromer said.

That same trend is expected to continue this coming year.

The city has elected to keep some positions vacant and plans to save $248,000 by offering early retirement to some employees.

Kromer said about six to 10 employees plan to take advantage of early retirement offers, but the city only needs five or six to balance its budget.

Those employees are retiring with high salaries and benefits, and while hiring is not expected to take place in the near future, the city is enlisting the help of some part-time employees, combining job titles and contracting some services, like park maintenance, to close the gap of those leaving, Kromer said.

The city also plans to keep its part-time fire chief rather than hiring a full-time one, which is expected to save $145,000.

At one point last year, city officials considered sharing fire services with neighboring Huntington Beach or contracting with the Orange County Fire Authority to save money, but opted to keep its own fire department after realizing that the response time would be delayed and employees could end up missing out on promotions.

When the state Supreme Court sided with the governor's office and ruled redevelopment unconstitutional, Fountain Valley again began reconsidering its options and, in February, started discussing sharing a fire chief, part-time nurse and training officer with Huntington Beach.

But the city decided to keep its fire department intact.

"The opportunity with Huntington Beach didn't work out for both of us at this time," Kromer said.

Former Orange Fire Chief Bart Lewis is now serving as Fountain Valley's fire chief on a part-time basis and is expected to continue for the next year.

"It's working out really well, and hopefully this will continue for the next year, which will allow us to save the money," Kromer said.

mona.shadia@latimes.com

Twitter: @MonaShadia

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