June 23, 2014

Riverbank council to discuss growth issues, budget

Riverbank’s City Council will confront a proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, the vacancy of the city’s planning manager position and mixed-use zoning meant to encourage compact growth.

City Hall should fill its planning manager vacancy to keep pace with anticipated growth, Riverbank leaders will hear Tuesday in action tied to a proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Administrators predict a $9.8 million deficit, or the difference between $34 million in expenses and $24.2 million in income. They expect to plug the gap with reserves, reducing the city’s fund balance from $29.9 million to $20.3 million.

A budget advisory committee composed of seven volunteers has studied city finances since January and will present recommendations to help cure “current and future budget deficits.” They include water and sewer fee studies every five years, reconsidering landscape maintenance contracts, offering senior and disabled utility discounts, and recruiting teenage volunteers to spread the word about payment assistance programs.

The city’s general fund – which pays for the most visible services, such as police and parks, and over which the council has most control – should be OK in the coming year, a report says, both raising and spending about $8.2 million.

Riverbank has not had a planning leader since J.D. Hightower left a year ago after nine years. Officials in other departments, and the consulting firm J.B. Anderson Land Use Planning, have covered the vacancy, but the city will need more help to meet “renewed interest in the development community” for growth projects, a report says.

City Manager Jill Anderson wants to hire a planning and building manager, costing about $132,200 in wages and benefits, the document says.

The council is also expected to amend its zoning ordinance to make mixed-use projects more appealing in some districts, including downtown and the former cannery site, where leaders want to attract business.

Evelyn Halbert, who lives downtown, objects because she predicts the change could harm downtown homes with more noise, traffic and air pollution, and less parking. She said a previous document guaranteed that neighborhoods would be preserved, but that wording has been removed in the current proposal, and she wants more protection for “historic and nostalgic” areas.

She served on an advisory committee composed of people with interests downtown, but that panel was dissolved when state leaders extinguished redevelopment agencies throughout California in 2012, and Halbert said Riverbank has not revived its committee.

“Other cities work with their residents, but (Riverbank) is not doing that,” she said.

Creating a so-called CX-1 zoning district for mixed use would encourage more compact development, an element of progressive land-use theory that focuses on reduced driving because homes are closer to jobs and services such as shops, restaurants and offices. New rules would establish standards, a report says.

Tuesday’s council meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. in the chamber at 6707 Third St., Riverbank. For more information, see http://bit.ly/1nz6hex.

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