Liset Marquez, Staff Writer
Created: 06/27/2012 12:22:34 AM PDT

ONTARIO – Despite the blow of losing its redevelopment agency, and an economy that won’t turn around, the City Council has approved a $396 million operating budget that includes the addition of a new $6 million emergency operations center and replacing 33 police vehicles and three fire engines.

But in order to do so, the city dipped into special reserves – $5.9 million this year – set aside to deal with economic downturn.

“With this budget, and through this economy, you will be able to maintain the same level of service that you always have. And in this economy, which is one of the worst that we’ve seen since the Great Depression,” City Manager Chris Hughes told the council last Friday during a special one-hour council meeting.

To date, Ontario has not had to cut services or lay off staff.

The city’s financial stability is a credit to actions the council took in 2006 when it began setting aside reserves for its five-year Budget Action Plan.

Mayor Paul Leon credits the city’s situation to having a vision and policy in place.

“Through the boom time we did not blow into our income. We stayed steady and lived well within our means while funding our future as much as possible. That’s why we are in the situation that we are in – even with the loss of RDA,” Leon said.

This marks the fourth year of a five-year Budget Action Plan developed by the city to use reserves to deal with the unstable economy.

There is currently a $17 million balance in the reserves.

With the loss of the redevelopment dollars, Ontario expects a $5 million fiscal impact to the city and as a result may extend its five-year action plan by an additional two years, ending it in 2015-2016. Officials expect the economy to recover by then.

Because of that, Hughes warned the council to continue to take a conservative fiscal approach and continue to reduce costs in the city in case the economy does not grow as projected.

Councilman Alan Wapner said there are still a lot of positives in the recently approved budget.

“Our sales tax revenues are projected to be $56 million, that means we have $5 billion taxable sales worth in our city. That’s huge. And that’s in a recession,” he said.

“That’s because our staff did a good job bringing business to the city.”

Ontario’s budget includes spending:

$2.6 million for the San Antonio Avenue Water Transmission Main project

$6 million to develop a new Emergency Operations Center in City Hall Annex

$600,000 to replace the roof at Fire Station No. 1

$180,000 to replace the parking lot light foundations at the Police Department.

The city is not shying away from infrastructure improvements either. It will spend $27 million on capital improvement projects.

Of that, $6 million will be used on street projects such as pavement rehabilitation along Guasti Road, Milliken Avenue, Philadelphia Street, Airport Drive, Rockefeller Avenue and Francis Street.

More importantly, Wapner said the improvement projects equates to job creation.

“I don’t know how many jobs will be created because we are putting putting this money back into the economy to build new infrastructure,” he said.

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