As Seaside’s 2020-21 budget moves forward, the engineering department may be a casualty. If the budget in its current form is adopted, the city’s two engineering department employees will be terminated and the department written out.
“We’re paying almost $300,000 to run the engineering department,” City Manager Mark Winstanley said at Tuesday’s budget committee meeting. “We are eliminating that cost at this point.”
The engineering department, which is included in the overall public works fund, provides technical support, preparation of bid specifications and documents, estimates for local improvement projects, design and construction management.
The public works fund will see additional requirements as a result of a reduced fund balance, increased payroll costs and a jump in costs for materials and services. Franchise fees — money paid to the city for leasing property to utilities — are bringing in less revenue than anticipated, Winstanley said.
The total public works fund will increase by about $110,000, from $709,000 to $817,000. Without elimination of the engineering department, the public works budget would have “gone negative by $190,000,” Winstanley said.
To make up for the loss of the engineering department, the city will allocate $87,000 for consultants, an increase of $62,000 from last year, but still far short of the $300,000 engineering department budget.
“That’s where we’re budgeting more money so we can hire contract engineering if we need it, to the tune of about $60,000,” Winstanley said.
With only one major project on the drawing board for the new year, improvements to Avenue S, Winstanley said it made sense to hire outside engineering contractors.
“Avenue S is very inadequate for the amount of traffic it’s going to have to carry with the new school in place, and it takes a lot more traffic than it ever used to even without the school there,” Winstanley said.
The engineering department’s elimination was considered long before economic impacts of the coronavirus were felt, he added. “I don’t think it has anything to do with the current environment. I think it has more to do with the the trend line of funding public works. There are advantages to having an in-house engineering department, but these are advantages we can no longer afford.”
The committee meets again Thursday at 6 p.m. to complete discussions before voting on the budget’s adoption.