The Watsonville City Council unanimously approved the use of roughly $2.5 million to offset increased budgetary demands in various departments and special funds, some of which city staff says are fueled by surging inflation on everyday goods.
The largest budget allocation approved by the elected leaders at their Tuesday night meeting: a $580,000 infusion into Watsonville Fire Department to cover overtime costs.
Most of that overtime came from the department offering up its firefighters for strike teams that battled wildfires across the state. As such, the department was compensated by the state to the tune of $484,000 for the mutual aid. But, because of staff turnover and ongoing vacant positions, the department still logged a little more than $100,000 in excess overtime.
Watsonville Fire was also over budget in fuel ($24,000) and vehicle maintenance ($56,000) costs. Watsonville Administrative Services Department Director Cindy Czerwin, in her 2021-22 mid-year budget presentation, said those charges are largely related to the increased cost of fuel and the difficulty in obtaining materials because of breakdowns in the supply chain.
Watsonville Police Department also came in over its projected budget by $100,000 because of increased fuel costs, Czerwin said.
But, as has been the case with Watsonville’s finances over the course of the pandemic, the overall budgetary projections presented to the council Tuesday were largely palatable considering the bind other municipalities and counties across the country find themselves in after the Covid-19 shutdowns.
In nearby Santa Cruz, for instance, that municipality is facing $2.5 million worth of cuts during the next fiscal year, and if no new sources of revenue are secured projections show that city’s reserves running dry by 2028.
According to data available through Sept. 30, 2021, the portion of the county’s sales tax pool that Watsonville has received has begun to revert to pre-pandemic levels, as business restrictions have lifted and more residents have fled the city to shop, eat and play in other locations. But sales tax revenues in nearly every other category are now above pre-pandemic levels.
That includes the restaurant, hotel and construction industries, the latter of which has continued its pandemic-era boom that will help the City’s Community Development Department, according to Czerwin, bring in more than $2 million in revenue, more than $180,000 over initial projections.
In all, the City will bring in roughly $1.2 million more in general fund revenues than initially projected for this fiscal year, though much of that will go toward increased costs and additional expenses approved by the council Tuesday.
Included in the approved allocation is the addition of four full-time positions: Two in Public Works & Utilities and two in Information Technology.
One Public Works employee will be in charge of the City’s climate action plan and other environmental sustainability projects, and the other will enhance the City’s graffiti abatement efforts.