Los Al adopts $21 million budget, signs new deal with City Manager

City manager Chet Simmons

With COVID in remission at last and the economy perked up, the city’s Measure Y tax increase narrowly approved by voters has begun to fill the long financially troubled city’s coffers.

City voters narrowly approved the measure that approved a sales tax hike of 1.5 per cent, giving the city an estimated collection of an additional $4 million per year.

“For the first time in a long time, we’re talking about spending money,” said Mayor Shelley Hasselbrink, “and not talking about deficits” after the Council voted to approve the city’s 2022-23 operating budget of $21.4 million.

According to Craig Koehler, the city’s Finance Director, the city is currently operating on a two-year budget cycle and this year’s planned expenditures of $20.3 million leaves a balanced budget.

The budget reflects a $4 million increase of its previous $17 million budget and also includes a hefty $4 million in capital improvements spending, something the city has not been able to do much of before the new measure kicked in.

Like other cities, the biggest obstacles to progress is no longer the funding, but the growing difficulties of the supply-chain problem and finding enough qualified personnel to perform the work.

City manager Chet Simmons said the higher spending plan is “significantly” attributable to Measure Y, but he says the new budget reflects the city’s new “viability and its quality of life.”

He told the Council that many city employees were “wearing multiple hats” to deal with the labor shortage, saying also that he will hold off hiring an Executive Assistant for another year as he and key staff work to determine future needs.

City Council member Ron Bates asked Simmons to make sure the city can actually deliver on its capital improvement projects, noting labor shortages, supply chain issues, etc.
Simmons deferred to Development Services Director and Acting Deputy City Manager Ron Noda, who said they can indeed deliver on the projects.

Among the projects included are a Phase II of the Los Al Bucks program, visits by staff to all local businesses, creating some sort of ‘reimbursement’ plan for home or business investments, a street improvement project, creating signage for each city subdivision or community, Laurel Park tennis court project (Pickleball to come), and a business information workshop.

Noda was lauded by the Mayor Pro Tem for always “thinking outside of the box” to get things done. Simmons agreed, saying Noda “doesn’t even have a box.”
Recreation Director Emeline Noda also received praise for her department’s efforts during the pandemic, and afterwards, catering a variety of events to all age groups in the city.

“We know how to party,” quipped Noda.

First year Police Chief Michael Claborn briefly discussed his department’s $7.4 million appropriation for the coming year, saying for sure, he will try to finally bring the city’s staffing levels up to a full contingent of officers.

In addition, Claborn said he will work on a strategic plan for the department and will enhance the city police department’s long-suffering fleet.

Moreover, Claborn received much praise from the Council for the “impressive” cadre of Orange County officers, including Sheriff Don Barnes, who turned up for his formal installation at the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” said Claborn to the entire council, all of whom showed up for the event. “The City of Los Al is always being talked about being a family,” he said, and “true to form, you practiced what you preached.”

On a question from Bates, Claborn said he continues to coordinate with Los Alamitos Unified School officials to ensure school safety, saying recently that he is working up a plan to provide school resource officers that could be announced soon.

Following an annual review of the city manager’s performance, Hasselbrink said the city is well pleased with Simmons and in fact, they approved a new three-year agreement with a pay raise.

City officials credit Simmons with fully implementing Measure Y and gave him very high marks for his performance during the COVID outbreak.

The new agreement will pay Simmons $214,000 a year for three years, with annual increases of 3 and 2 percent, a car allowance and other perks.