Fire, police and homeless shelter will get more money thanks to budget surplus

Higher than anticipated sales tax revenue from Measure A and a $7.9 million budget surplus in the city’s general fund will lead to additional investments across Long Beach.

A staff report given to the council Tuesday night revealed that “general economic growth,” departmental savings, a rise in the price of oil and sales tax largely contributed to the roughly $8 million in surplus that the council distributed Tuesday night.

The redistribution was in addition to Measure A dollars, generated by a voter-approved sales tax increase, that also came in $11 million over budget and was partially doled out to infrastructure improvements across the city.

A surplus is not uncommon as the city’s budget office commonly uses conservative projections when crafting the budget, which sometimes results in extra money being available at the end of the fiscal year. Budgeted projects aren’t always completed during the fiscal year, which can also contribute to a year-end surplus.

The excess general fund dollars was divided up across 18 different categories, including $1.75 million to the construction of the year-round homeless shelter and $900,000 to the treatment of the city’s diseased magnolia trees as well as pension costs and the projected upcoming labor negotiation costs, which are expected to impact the current fiscal year.

“The ability to fund some critical projects is great news, but many important needs remain unfunded including the operational costs of funding the next fiscal year’s labor agreement costs currently estimated at $12 million,” said Grace Yoon, a budget manager in the city’s financial management office.

Measure A dollars, which are considered separate from the general fund, outperformed the projected budget by $11.8 million. That money was divided up among fire department infrastructure—$4.5 million was allocated to fire engine 17 in the most recent budget while $3 million was directed toward the re-opening of fire station 9—while the remainder was spread out across multiple departments.

The Long Beach Police Department will see about $1.8 million of extra Measure A dollars go toward funding its next police academy class that’s set to begin in July. Another $800,000 was allocated toward converting a former landfill in to the new Davenport Park.

The council also allocated $1.5 million to a previously approved project that will convert El Dorado Park’s soccer field into a field turf surface. That project could be completed this year, although an exact timeline was not immediately available.

While the synthetic turf has received some pushback from the public in the past, Mayor Robert Garcia said that they are heavily used and welcomed by the community and pointed to the Long Beach Unified School District’s adoption of those kinds of playing surfaces in its schools as evidence that they are safe and kids enjoy playing on them.

“The one thing that I’ve always believed in when it comes to parks is that to really activate our public spaces including parks, you have to create spaces that people want to come to and people want to enjoy,” Garcia said.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.