Mayor Robert Garcia released his suggestions for the upcoming fiscal year’s budget at a conference held at City Hall today. He stressed the importance of passing a financially responsible budget while at the same time looking for ways to improve the city.
Helping offset what’s been projected to be close to a $30M deficit facing the city in coming years due to increased payroll and retirement costs from city employees. Additionally, creating a more accessible government and continuing the city’s development were of major concern for the mayor.
Echoing the theme of suggestions made by former Mayor Bob Foster, Garcia stated that its imperative that the new city council come together and pass a budget that will meet the city’s needs but not overextending its resources.
“We have learned a lot of lessons from the past, over the last few years," Garcia said. "Now it’s about moving forward, not spending more than we can afford and making sure that the budget stays responsible, that it stays prudent and that over these next few years of increased challenge, that we stay on track with what we need to do."
In an effort to help close the gap of funds needed to meet the costs of retiring city workers, Garcia suggested that in addition to the $3.1M allocated from the projected surplus from the 2015 fiscal year budget, that upward of $2M from any other budget surplus going forward be placed into a reserve for the California Public Employees’ Retirement system. The CalPERS stabilization fund, which is projected to cost the city over $30M annually by 2021.
“We’re going to have to deal with that deficit either now, or in the future, so we might as well start dealing with it now,” Garcia said.
Garcia also agreed with Foster’s assessment that changing the benchmark price of oil, which currently sits at $70 per barrel, would be irresponsible and potentially damaging to the city in the eyes of bond rating agencies.
Where the mayor disagreed with Foster was on the topic of outsourcing certain services to private contractors in an effort to save money and find more efficient means of keeping up the city. At Foster's press conference where he outlined his recommendations to the new mayor and incoming council members, he said it would be “criminal” for them not to consider this avenue as a means of shaving dollars of the city budget and to potentially provide better services to its citizens.
However, Garcia believes that a solution can be found by looking inward at the existing employees. Using street-sweeping as an example, Garcia said improvements can be made by shortening the time window of operation from four hours to two hours, which would benefit residents in parking impacted neighborhoods as well as looking at improving the fleet of vehicles that keep the city streets looking clean. By shelving this portion of Foster’s proposal, the new mayor wants to remain dedicated to current city workers, making note that just because something is less expensive doesn’t necessarily mean its better for the residents.
“I want to make sure that we give our employees who work really hard the opportunity to [solve the issue themselves before turning to outside resources],” Garcia said.
Picking up where he left off with at the education summit he spoke at last week, Garcia said that technology and investing in education are things that will be vital to the city’s future. He proposed a one-time infusion of $200,000 to supplement the Library materials and supply budget, taking the funds intended to fix Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems because the projects aren’t ready to commence which is providing the city with additional planning time to allocate future dollars. Garcia said the library about to open in North Long Beach “needs to be world class.”
Restructuring city government to make it more digital and accessible and efficient through the development of a new Technology and Innovation Department is also on the mayor’s agenda. He pointed out that the implementation of the Go Long Beach Smart Phone app has helped the city open and close over 30,000 cases. The mayor also hopes that his suggestion to reestablish the Economic and Property Development Department, the consolidation of duties for preserving the city’s efforts to preserve its history to one dedicated position as well as the continued efforts of the city to provide residents with affordable housing options.
Before concluding the conference, Garcia acknowledged that recommendations are simply that: recommendations. He said that whatever budget is eventually passed will be a conglomeration of what has already been proposed combined with each councilmember’s assessment of their own individual district’s needs. A more representative budget, though, will be better for the city as a whole.
“Whatever is presented is never what’s adopted,” Garcia said. “So there will be changes along the way and I think that’s okay. I think it’s important that those changes reflect the council members that are there hearing from their constituents every single day so they’re going to I think have the best idea of what their needs are.”