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Weste takes charge as Santa Clarita's new mayor

Her hefty agenda includes finishing cross valley connector, building new library

Posted: December 8, 2009 10:05 p.m.
Updated: December 9, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
After outgoing Mayor Frank Ferry handed the gavel to new Mayor Laurene Weste, the Santa Clarita City Council expanded the city's budget by $30 million, and set aside more than $2 million to fund the second phase of streetscaping in Old Town Newhall.

Elected by the council, Weste was sworn in as the new mayor before Tuesday's meeting. It is the third time Weste has served as mayor, having held the gavel in 2001 and 2006, she said.

Councilwoman Marsha McLean was voted mayor-pro tem, Weste's previous position.

The next year will be rough, Weste said, as the city tries to complete several projects -- including the cross valley connector in March and building a new library in Newhall later in the year -- during an economic recession, she said.

Weste said she is confident she is up for the work ahead of her.

"I'll have to say goodbye to my husband for the year," Weste said in an inteview.

She told the council she wants to keep expanding the city's land preservation projects, and finish HealthySantaClarita.com.

Before stepping down, Ferry gave each member of the council a DVD he thought best represented their personality. Weste pumped her fist in the air after Ferry gave her a copy of "Rocky." Ferry said he thought the DVD suited her because she has fought for projects on the City Council for years.

"I had a lot of funny (DVDs) for them, but they're inappropriate, so I'll give those to them another time," Ferry said.

Once the swearing-in ceremony finished, the council got back to work and passed an updated budget.

The new budget includes an additional $36 million in city revenues.

About $20 million comes from state and federal grants Santa Clarita has been awarded throughout the year, said Deputy City Manager Darren Hernandez.

City staff reviews the budget every year to determine what adjustments need to be made. Depending on how much money the city is making, combined with current economic conditions, staff has to re-prioritize how money is spent on city projects.

The city has set aside more than $2.5 million for the second phase of streetscape construction in downtown Newhall.

The second phase will overhaul city blocks from Main Street to Lyons Avenue. The new streets are currently being designed, city officials said.

The additional $30 million is relatively minor, considering Santa Clarita's budget this year is about $250 million, Hernandez said.

Santa Clarita also will have to spend millions of dollars covering the increased costs of running the city - a product of the recession and increased utility costs, Hernandez said.

The city's development revenues are projected to be $800,000 less than expected, Hernandez said.

Santa Clarita has also received about $200,000 fewer in property taxes, he said.

The city is spending an additional $10 million to pay for routine maintenance, increased electricity costs and animal control services provided by Los Angeles County.

The price of electricity increased by 12 percent after Santa Clarita passed its original budget, meaning Santa Clarita will have to spend about $400,000 more to keep streetlights on.

Los Angeles County also increased the cost for its animal control services by more than 50 percent this year. Santa Clarita has to pay the county $400,000 more than last year to clean up roadkill and collect stray animals.

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