Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

With the first reading of the updated Zoning Ordinance behind it, City Council moves from one incredibly important and potentially boring topic to the next.

It’s budget time.

Santa Monica’s public budget is constructed and voted on every two fiscal years, with updated information and tweaks coming every six months.

The proposed budget, which would start on July 1 and be considered by council on Wednesday and Thursday, totals more than $1.1 billion over the next two years.

More than $564 million would be set aside for fiscal year 2015-16 and $614 million in fiscal year 2016-17.

The second year’s significant increase is the result of to capital improvement projects funded through bonds and settlement proceeds, city finance officials said in a report to council.

City officials are also reporting an improved financial outlook. In January, they predicted that City Hall would hit a structural deficit by 2017 that would increase to $2.9 million by 2019.

Thanks to more recently calculated parking revenues and savings related to early payment to employee retirement funds, revenue projections are up one percent and the deficit projection has been erased until 2019, when city officials expect it to reach $1.9 million.

A best-case scenario would result in a positive balance over the next five years, with a $7-million surplus in the last year.

Worst-case scenario would result from lower than projected revenues and a continued increase in worker’s compensation claims. This would lead to a $3.3 million deficit this year, with a $13.2 million budget gap in 2019.

City Hall has several large financial arms, the most substantial being the General Fund.

“The financial status of non-General funds remains relatively stable,” city officials said in the report. “However, the Housing Authority and Cemetery Funds continue to require General Fund subsidies through the end of the forecast period. The Pier Fund will also require subsidies as operating and large capital expenditures are outpacing the growth of revenues during the forecast period.”

The new budget focuses on, among other things, the arrival of the Expo Light Rail. Big Blue Bus is realigning itself with the train (and bumping its fare by a quarter) while a new bikeshare system is expected to roll out as early as the end of the summer.

The police and fire departments will get staffing boosts to “to respond to higher call volumes and the additional visitors and circulation changes resulting from the opening of Expo Light Rail, and training resources for the joint dispatch center,” city officials said.

Meanwhile, at the Santa Monica Airport, city officials will work to eliminate aviation uses on the non-aviation land, change leases, and study the expansion of Airport Park.

The budget also prioritizes open data and improving civic engagement.

Council will hear presentations from about half the city departments on Wednesday and the other half Thursday.

Public comment will occur both nights, according to the report from city officials.

A budget adoption hearing is scheduled for June 23.

dave@www.smdp.com

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