In a session that stretched into the early morning hours on Wednesday, the Long Beach City Council passed a roughly $3 billion budget for 2019 that boosts funding for areas including public safety, language services, youth and arts programs and legal defense for undocumented immigrants.
While the council ultimately voted to pass the budget for fiscal year 2019, which begins on Oct. 1, some of the debate focused on additional funding for youth programs and legal services for undocumented immigrants facing deportation.
Under Mayor Robert Garcia’s recommendation, the budget includes $250,000 for a legal defense fund for immigrants, putting Long Beach on par with other cities including San Diego, Sacramento and San Francisco.
Councilmembers Suzie Price and Stacy Mungo were the two opposing voters for the legal defense fund, with both expressing concern over how the program would be run.
Mungo said the city should consider working with local nonprofits and existing services, like the Long Beach Bar Association, while Price, an Orange County prosecutor, balked at using taxpayer money.
“I don’t believe taxpayer dollars should be used to fund individuals’ legal expenses,” Price said.
The council also approved $200,000 for a Long Beach Children and Youth Fund that will support local youth programs, as well as an extra $100,000 in funding for senior programs.
The city was originally facing a $15 million shortfall for the coming fiscal year but was able to plug the hole in part by freezing some open positions, raising parking fines by $10 and increasing ambulance fees to match county rates.
The council approved all of the mayor’s additional recommendations, including finding new revenue sources to restore Fire Engine 17 in East Long Beach with 12 new firefighters and a team of six new police officers for bike patrol.
The budget includes four additional Quality of Life Police Officers, $1.9 million for the Neighborhood Safe Streets Initiative, $3 million for second police and fire academies and $2 million to upgrade the police department’s records system.
With help from the Measure A sales tax, the city is continuing its $120.8 million Capital Improvement Program this coming year with $37.9 million for street repairs, alley improvements, and sidewalk improvements and $1.2 million in funding to water city parks, which are facing severe drought conditions.
The budget has also allocated a total of $200,000 in enhancements for Long Beach Museum of Art and MOLAA, and $200,000 to help expunge low-level marijuana convictions.
While city officials called the 2019 budget one of the most exciting in years, tough choices remain in the face of rising pension costs and lower-than-expected revenue.
City officials are projecting a $9.3 million shortfall for 2020, followed by an $800,000 surplus in 2021.
The shortfall is largely due to pension obligations, officials said, and the surplus is largely due to debt service that will be paid off in the next few years.
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