The Long Beach City Council moved one step closer to formally approving the city’s 2018 fiscal budget Tuesday night when it voted unanimously to advance alterations to the document for a final reading next week.
Procedures wrapped up with the last two departmental presentations to the council with the city’s harbor and water departments laying out their proposed fiscal budgets, the most impactful of the two presentations being the rate changes for Long Beach water customers. Water rates will increase by 4 percent and sewer rates by 2 percent amounting to an increase of about $2 per month, according to the Long Beach Water Department General Manager Chris Garner.
Nearly $2.6 billion in funding, which pays for everything from the city’s sewer lines to paid holidays for city employees, advanced to a final reading September 12 where the council will vote again to approve the budget. The budget remained largely unchanged from the proposed departmental expenditures which were presented and discussed over the past month as the council wound its way to approving the next fiscal year’s expenditures.
However, with shortfalls projected in fiscal year 2019 ($10.4 million) and 2020 ($8.7 million) measures to ensure the city is planning for those rainy days were also implemented. While Mayor Robert Garcia pointed out this budget meets the city’s needs and is balanced, state law requires that municipalities pass balanced budgets. So, ensuring that next year’s is also balanced has put the city on a collision course with potential cuts to remain in compliance in the coming years.
Last week, Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo and Vice Mayor Rex Richardson submitted a proposal to the council that targeted, mandatory savings goals be implemented in this year’s budget to help account for the shortfalls next year and beyond.
Using a reference from HBO’s Game of Thrones, which the vice mayor is a self-professed fan, the two wrote in an op-ed in The Press Telegram that “winter is coming”, and the prudent thing to do is to be proactive in establishing a savings model.
The targets that would apply to the city’s general fund are to be carried out at the “maximum level possible” without leading to cuts to jobs or programs. The general fund encompasses services like the city’s fire and police departments and funding for parks, road repairs and library services among other things.
“We are a young council that feels it’s more important to have the tough talks now than to push them off past an election,” said Mungo, who also serves as the chair of the city’s Budget Oversight Committee. “That’s not what residents want. Residents want us to make the hard choices.”
Those hard choices will undoubtedly be tougher if Mungo and Richardson’s plan is not implemented. The savings generated by asking each department to set proportional savings targets—departments with smaller budgets won’t be asked to save as much as those with larger ones—will go toward offsetting anticipated cuts in the coming years.
What those numbers will look like have yet to be determined but the agenda item introduced by Mungo and Richardson calls for mid-year progress reports of the savings efforts to be given to the council. While that time frame would likely put the first report sometime in Spring, Mungo said she thinks those figures could come as early as the end of the year.
The changes made to this year’s budget mostly included one-time expenditures allocated through surplus money in the Uplands Oil Fund and estimated election costs savings.
The total of about $700,000 will be divided up to address a variety of needs like improving business corridors ($150,000 each for the Anaheim, Carson and Pacific corridors) as well as additional funding for the health and human services department to implement the My Brother’s Keeper program and to fund community health programs.
The city’s Parks, Recreation and Marine department will receive an additional $50,000 to address the findings of the city auditor with the money intended to boost the adoption rates at the shelter. Animal advocates had been a prominent presence at the city’s budget hearings, demanding more funding for the shelter and its affiliated rescues and that the city pledge that its shelter become “no-kill”.
A separate contentious issue that arose earlier this year was the idea of park equity and fairness in the level of programming at parks throughout the city. While the one-time allocations recommended by the budget oversight committee didn’t address all programming, it did allocate $54,000 for community park concerts with each district set to split that total.
One of the more interesting tweaks to the city’s upcoming budget was prompted by a settlement paid out by the city regarding an American with Disabilities Act lawsuit. The settlement wiped out funding set aside for sidewalk repairs for the next three years but the budget oversight committee was able to secure some replacement funding by transferring $1 million in surplus Tidelands funding to finance improvements at the convention center and taking Measure A dollars scheduled for the convention center and putting it back into sidewalk repairs.
“This council had to make a very tough decision several months ago in light of a lawsuit that drained all of our sidewalk funding for the whole city for three years,” Mungo said. “That was something I made a commitment to back then that I would go out and find some supplemental funding. It’s no $9 million but it’s a small step for those that have been on lists waiting for sidewalks for six and seven years.”
The city has rebounded from cuts endured during the economic downturn of the mid-2000s having raised its budget for two consecutive years after three years of cuts. However, the 2018 fiscal year still sits below adopted budgets from earlier in the decade that all sat closer to $3 billion.
With the adoption of the budget scheduled for next week, the city will take another step toward looming budget shortfalls, but this time with a plan to save now to help stave off the worst of winters.