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BIG PLANS IN TIGHT BUDGET CITY JUGGLES FUNDS TO BUY LAND, FINISH CENTER.

Byline: Heather MacDonald Staff Writer

SANTA CLARITA - The city's $129 million budget avoids borrowing heavily from the state, funds several big-ticket projects and may set aside as much as $4 million to buy open space.

Santa Clarita's 2001-02 budget was pinched by rising energy costs and a slowing economy. It is scheduled to be adopted Tuesday, a few days before the fiscal year ends on June 30.

``We've juggled some things to make it happen,'' Councilman Bob Kellar said. ``I'm optimistic we can put this thing together.''

Over the last two weeks, Kellar and Councilman Frank Ferry went through the city's 14th budget with a fine-tooth comb, proposing that $6.7 million be taken from a dozen programs and used for several infrastructure projects, including $4 million for the purchase of 38 acres of open space adjacent to the city's Sports Complex and $2.5 million to complete the city's Aquatics Center.

The city will not borrow $5 million from the state, as City Manager George Caravalho had originally proposed at the council's request. However, the city will borrow $1.5 million from the state to make road improvements to Scherzinger Lane, which council members said is a long-delayed and much-needed project.

``I was very happy that we could find areas to make adjustments to the budget so we can borrow substantially less,'' said Councilman Cameron Smyth.

In order to buy the open space the city wants, the council members are expected to use $1.4 million originally slated to be used for improvements along the under-construction Golden Valley Road and $1.1 million that was to be used to reimburse Newhall Partners, a developer, for building Golden Valley Road from Green Mountain Drive to Sierra Highway.

``The council has reserved the right to borrow money in the coming months to meet those two needs,'' Smyth said. ``But we don't need the money today.''

The City Council also plans to save $1.3 million by putting off construction of Via Princessa from Claibourne to Magic Mountain Parkway, deferring payment of $600,000 to the College of the Canyons for the third payment of the city's share of the planned Performing Arts Center, reducing the council's contingency fund by $500,000, and cutting back on the use of consultants and city travel and training expenses by $142,070.

The approval of the budget, which is expected to be unanimous, will be the culmination of five months of budget hearings that saw the City Council play an active role in shaping the voluminous document for the first time in the city's history. Those meetings were punctuated with conflicts between the council members and city staff members.

Mayor Laurene Weste often was frustrated by what she said was the insufficient information provided to the City Council by City Manager George Caravalho. In turn, the city manager repeatedly urged the council members to focus on one expensive, high-profile project at a time.

Weste led an unsuccessful effort in April to oust the veteran administrator in April.

Caravalho also expressed reservations about the City Council's push to purchase the 38-acre parcel, saying that it would place too heavy a burden on the city's cash-strapped budget.

City officials have begun negotiations with the owners of the 38 acres and are gathering information and formulating terms needed to complete the purchase agreement, council members said.

Bob Allen, one of the owners of the hilly property, has offered to sell the city the land for $6.5 million, as is, or for $8.5 million, with improvements. The proposed price far exceeds the average cost of parkland or open space that the city has purchased since its incorporation.

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SANTA CLARITA'S BUDGET

Here is a breakdown of the city's revenue and expenditures.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jun 25, 2001
Words:627
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