Six months after the devastating impact of the Woolsey Fire, it appears city staff and council have found a way to keep Malibu’s budget balanced going into the 2019-20 fiscal year, which begins July 1. 

This was a feat, since the fire ended up costing the city an estimated $1.2 million in expenditures in this budget—including loans the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to pay back very slowly.

One of the toughest hurdles in finalizing the budget, according to Feldman, was meeting council’s goal of waiving permit fees for those seeking to rebuild after the fire. 

Achieving this goal was especially impressive, considering the waiving of the fees punched a $2.6 million hole in the city manager’s already tight budget. If the fees had not been waived, the city would have made $1.4 million in licenses and permits and $1.2 million in service charges. 

“I just wanted to thank all of the city staff and our department heads who really took what the council had asked us to accomplish in waiving fees to heart and went through, line by line, in their budgets to cut where they could to make this happen,” Feldman said at the meeting. “It’s been a difficult process to make it work but we really owe that to staff and to [Assistant City Manager] Lisa [Soghor] for making it happen.”

According to the budget presentation given by Soghor, staff was able to meet council’s goal of refunding 100 percent of permit fees for those seeking to rebuild their homes—but those who bought (or will buy) burned-out properties will still be on the hook for the permit fees, which could ring up a price tag of $13,165 or more per homeowner, according to staff estimates.

The formal resolution waiving the fees and refunding those already paid is expected to be signed by council at a meeting in June.

In this coming year, the city will also spend $9.1 million on its top-priority item: public safety. Other items in the budget were moved by council according to their priorities.

“Significant changes have been made to the proposed budget,” Soghor described. Aside from the waiving of permit fees, the top change—one suggested by council in May—is the postponement of the $1.8 million City Hall solar project. The city’s general fund grant program was also shrunk by $30,000—for a total of $160,000 allocated in the upcoming budget. Zuma Beach FM Emergency & Community Broadcasting (KBUU News) revoked its approved application for $15,000 from the city; that money will be reallocated by the administration & finance subcommittee.

Council did request a $200,000 Coastal Vulnerability Study be undertaken; they also requested the city opt in to 100 percent renewable energy for city properties.

In order to keep the budget balanced, $2.99 million will be appropriated from the general fund undesignated reserve to help keep the city afloat; after all, as Council Member Rick Mullen quipped, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”

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