Selma begins budget talks, estimates reduced expenses

Selma City Council holds first budget workshop to discuss priorities, estimated expenses ahead of formal budget proposal for fiscal year 2024-25

Members of the Selma City Council listen to presentations during a regular meeting March 4, 2024. (Serena Bettis)
Members of the Selma City Council listen to presentations during a regular meeting March 4, 2024. (Serena Bettis)
Serena Bettis
Published April 10, 2024  • 
10:00 am

SELMA – The outline for Selma’s preliminary budget has made its way to city council, opening up the discussion on the city’s budgeting priorities as well as its future goals.

Selma city staff presented the preliminary budget to the Selma City Council during a workshop on April 5, kicking off the first public stretch of the annual budgeting process. The presentation focused on capital projects and the overall budget for each department while staff looked to the council to provide guidance on the priorities and objectives for the next year.

“As is customary through the budget season, we like to start off by having a very preliminary discussion with the council to make sure that we are … on track and that we’re incorporating the wishes of the council as far as how we’re allocating our resources, keeping in mind the resources that are available to us,” City Manager Fernando Santillan said. 

Expenditures for the 2024-25 fiscal year, which begins on July 1, are projected to be slightly lower than what was planned for the current fiscal year. This is largely due to the city’s shift in how it funds employee health care, moving away from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) to a self-funded option, which reduces overall personnel costs, Santillan said.

This means that, even with the addition of the lease-revenue bond that was received by the city for the Amberwood sewer trunk line project, the preliminary budget of $21,428,089 — which is the amount of money the city expects to spend across city services for the approaching fiscal year – from the city’s general fund is nearly 3% lower than it was for the 2023-24 adopted budget. 

The presentation focused on how much money the city expects to spend but did not provide information on how much money it expects to get, which will be included in later discussions.

Santillan said council priorities — at least, as city staff currently understand them — include public safety, infrastructure for growth and development, downtown revitalization, community engagement, customer service, staffing and parks and facilities. 

Council members did not provide direct feedback on the list of priorities presented at this meeting, though Mayor Scott Robertson said he would like to review those priorities because he did not have a chance to do so ahead of the workshop. 

Department budgets

Each department head provided a brief explanation of what they are focusing on in this year’s budget, with an emphasis placed on taking a phased and financially responsible approach to major projects. 

The projected expenditures for the administrative services and community services departments are 4.2% and 5.8%, respectively, which is less than they were for the 2023-24 fiscal year. Community Services Director Amy Smart said that while she’s had “heavy” requests for additional funding in the last two years, that it has paid off through purchasing new equipment and getting new programs off the ground.

“With that comes the ability to work with the current budget that we have and still be able to expand our programs, because now we have purchased the equipment, the footballs, all the things that we need to do these really fun events, so we’re excited about them,” Smart said. 

The police department’s expenditures are also estimated to decrease next year, by about 9.5%, Chief of Police Rudy Alcaraz said. Alcaraz called the budget “pretty status quo,” especially given that last year the city focused on making upgrades to the department’s server program to be able to support future telecommunications expansions as the city grows. 

Alcaraz said that in the upcoming year, the department is looking to upgrade its radio communications system to enhance transmissions to the north end of the city. He also wants to improve the surveillance camera program by adding license plate readers to intersections that already have cameras in place and by expanding the number of cameras placed throughout the city. 

Selma Fire Chief Jordan Webster explained that the city has four different funds for the fire department budget, broken down by administration, operation, fire prevention and ambulance services. While the administration and operations expenditures are expected to increase, the prevention and ambulance services expenditures are expected to decrease. 

For public works, department director Michael Honn said that the budget is broken up into buildings, streets and parks divisions, and he is still working on how to shift the way the department tracks its spending.

Honn went on to say some of the changes in the individual funds have to do with shifting money between the funds to meet the city’s needs; the parks division is expected to have a 23% increase because of infrastructure improvements to park facilities and the need to purchase new battery-powered equipment, such as weed eaters and leaf blowers.

Deputy City Manager Jerome Keene presented the community development department’s budget, which is also split into multiple categories, including planning, building, engineering and economic development. 

The planning division budget had a notable decrease of 28.7%  in expected expenditures due to full staffing within the city planning department, Keene said. The department had previously relied on consultants for day-to-day work, which was costly for the city.

The community development department budget will also be more solidified later on in the budgeting process, as many of the items discussed are multi-year projects with costs spread out, and so the city “listed what was budgeted in the current fiscal year, and that amount will likely go down with the kickoff of those projects,” Keene said.

Selma operates on an annual budget cycle, which means it creates and adopts its operating budget every year. The process begins well before the new fiscal year as city staff start reviewing what it costs to run their departments and bring a working draft to the city council for feedback. 

Come late April or early May, staff will present a formal budget proposal to the council for additional input and approval, followed by a public comment period and official adoption in the summer.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter