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Big expenditures loom as city holds public budget workshop

UPDATED: Recent talk over looming big-budget expenditures in the city of Claremont was not enough to draw large numbers to the first of two city budget workshops on Monday night.

Participation in the biannual workshops has been historically low with a total 124 respondents, less than one percent of the Claremont population, taking part in person or online in 2012. A majority of those participants were 55 or older.

It was the same tune this time around. About 13 community members showed up to the Hughes Center, only about 3 of which were below the age of 55.

Low attendance at the city’s budget workshops is not uncommon, Councilmember Larry Schroeder noted. However, with multi-million dollar items on Claremont’s wish list—a water system acquisition, new police facilities and updated senior center and park among them—Monday night’s turnout did come as a bit of a shock to the Claremont councilman.

“We want to get as much community input as possible, and it’s important to have transparency of government,” Mr. Schroeder said. “We tried.”

Regardless of the sparse crowd, the nearly two hour meeting was filled with locals’ opinions on the city’s future spending. Much of the discussion, as expected, centered around residents’ thoughts on using bond measures to pay for big-budget items like the water system, a new police center and Larkin Park expansion.

A majority of those present said they were in support of all three—86 percent said they would support a $40 million to $50 million bond for the construction of a new policy facility, even if it meant the annual cost for a Claremont resident was $200 to $300. A slightly smaller 67 percent of the group said they would support a $12 million to $15 million bond for the expansion of the Joslyn Senior Center if the average annual cost was $100 to $200. And, while officials claim the city has enough money to afford up to $80 million for a water system purchase, 69 percent of residents said they would support up to $120 million for the acquisition of the city’s water system even if the additional monthly cost to a residents’ water bill was $21 to $31 (86 percent said they would support water system acquisition overall).

Noting the importance of also expanding the parking at the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park, Claremont resident Dennis Smith maintained building a new center for the city’s public safety officers and expanding the senior facilities at Larkin Park are his top priorities.

“If you spend any time at all down at the police department, you know it’s wholly inadequate. It’s not even ADA compliant,” Mr. Smith said. “As far as the Larkin Park expansion is concerned, I’m very adamant about that because over 30 percent of our population currently is in the senior population and that is growing faster than any other segment of the city.”

In addition to the city’s priority projects, Monday night’s discussions centered around preparing for costly state requirements such as the newly adopted Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System Permit (MS4). The permit further regulates the treatment of storm water runoff that recedes into the waters of the San Gabriel Valley Watershed, providing for water conservation among many other benefits. To date the city has no funding source for the MS4 regulations, which have been estimated to cost the city nearly $400,000. Despite the state mandate, residents have turned their sights to more important financial ventures.

“Let the state give us money to mandate it,” said Claremont resident Richard Weiner of MS4.

Claremont residents who wish to add their input on the city’s 2014-2016 budget still have time. The city will host a final budget workshop at the Blaisdell Community Center (400 S. College Ave.) on Monday, February 10, at 6:30 p.m. Those unable to attend the meetings may participate in the interactive survey on the city’s website at www.ci.claremont.ca.us.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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