Budget season has officially come to a close as the Long Beach City Council unanimously voted to adopt the proposed Fiscal Year 2016 budget before last night’s deadline.
The budget, first presented by Mayor Robert Garcia July 28, has undergone several public, council and committee hearings over the past month, evolving to arrive at the point upon which it could be voted. By the city’s count, that number is about 23 individual opportunities for the public to be part of the budget-making process that culminated with last night’s vote.
Under the Long Beach City Charter, the budget needed to be adopted by September 15. If it hadn’t, the city manager’s proposals would’ve been deemed the operative budget.
“It has been a long process, but I think an organized process, and I want to thank everyone for their hard work,” said Mayor Robert Garcia. “I also want to thank, on behalf of the council, the entire community, everyone that advocated, went to one of the budget community meetings, that did the budget survey online and of course, that attended any of our hearings or the BOC [Budget Oversight Committee] meetings.
Some small changes were made to the budget including an increase of over $1.6 million to the Tidelands Operation Fund and Tidelands Marina Fund as a result of the issuance of bonds to help fund the dredging of Alamitos Bay. The original budget called for $600,000 surplus that was earmarked to be used for upcoming budget deficits, due to the ongoing CalPERS retirement funding issue, one that has the city projected for budget shortfalls in the millions of dollars over the next few years.
After final calculations, the surplus still exists and was actually increased to $675,000 which will be divided among the nine council districts according to a city official.
Included in the approved budget were the mayor’s recommendations to include, among other things, expenditures on Sunday library services ($183,000), increased crime analysis resources ($100,000), a “Be Safe” summer youth recreation program ($186,000) and a previously undisclosed figure to fund two “Clean Team” trucks that will help keep city streets debris and litter free. The Clean Team trucks cost was revealed to be $95,000 for the fiscal year.
While the vote was a consensus, a lengthy conversation regarding restrictions of discretionary funds and the disbursement of city programming throughout the whole city’s footprint ensued.
Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson and Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga were the most vocal in regard to changing the way that one-time discretionary funds could be spent in an attempt to level the playing field, as far as event planning and investment go.
Speaking to the increased budgeting of funds to the city’s ranchos and its municipal band performances, Richardson said it would be great to see other projects throughout the city receive the same kind of maintenance and attention that those two have. The municipal band does not include a performance in the Ninth District, but Richardson recently helped put on a Latin Jazz Festival through the use of his office holder account funds.
“To me it’s the same thing, thousands of people show up and it’s a great way to get involved with your community,” Richardson said. “I think it’s great that we invest in the ranchos, I think it’s great that we invest in municipal band, but this is yet again two items that are geographically not located in certain portions of town. So I can support making these investments, but I would also like to hear how we can invest in our concerts in the park series.”
Uranga described West Long Beach as an island that can only be reached by crossing a series of bridges. Although he said he would support the proposed budget, Uranga said there needed to be an element of citywide responsibility when allocating future funds for programming.
“We need to have a variety, we need to diversify where the concerts in the park are held,” Uranga said. “I share a municipal band concert with the eighth district in Los Cerritos Park. I have nothing in the west side. I would love to see something happening in West Long Beach.”
The budget passed will be the last before a series of future budgetary processes that will force city leaders to operate under projected shortfalls of millions of dollars per year due to employee retirement funds. The CalPERS pension issue has been forecast to cost the city an estimated $7.5 million next year, with that number increasing every year through 2021, where it will peak in at about $35.6 million in unfunded liabilities for the city.
Although final calculations have yet to be tabulated by city staff, the amended budget calls for general fund spending of nearly $428 million, an increase from $412 million originally revealed when Garcia presented his budget proposals in July. At that unveiling, Garcia called the budget “lean” and within the city’s means, a sentiment he echoed before applauding everyone who worked on getting the budget finalized.
“No budget is ever perfect, and certainly the city would always like to have more resources as there are so many needs in our community, I think everyone knows that,” Garcia said. “But what we have passed tonight is something that I think is responsible and I want to give credit to not just the council, but a lot of our management and financial staff.”