The Long Beach City Council is expected to approve the city’s $3 billion budget Tuesday evening bringing to an end a swift process that has been propped up by federal pandemic aid money and putting off painful budget decisions to next year.
Long Beach received nearly $250 million in federal aid from the Trump and Biden administrations over the past 16 months that it’s using to maintain most public services and replenish critical reserves it dipped into to fund city services in 2020, however it still faces an uphill battle in future budgets.
The city is projecting $56 million in shortfalls over the next three years with the bulk of the issue being the $27 million in cuts the city avoided this year by using federal funding to put off budget cuts.
The move did not eliminate the problem, it just shifted it to next year where the city could have to reduce spending across all departments to close a projected $36 million funding deficit.
“Every program will be looked at,” John Gross, the city’s interim chief finance officer said last month. “It doesn’t mean they’ll be cut, or not be cut, but they’ll be looked at.”
Nearly $400 million of the city’s proposed $620 million in spending from the general fund, which funds city services like parks, libraries and street repairs, is earmarked to be spent on public safety. Over $262 million of that is set to spent on the Long Beach Police Department, a department that has been the focus of community groups who want to see the city invest in other areas of the city instead of the LBPD.
Over $60 million of the projected $74 million in Measure A funds the city intends to spend is set aside for fire and police staffing as well as investments in the two departments’ facilities. The revenue is derived from a sales-tax increase that was permanently approved by voters last year.
Despite years of calls to divest from the department and reallocate those funds to programs that would benefit the youth, homeless, renters and senior citizens, the budget the council is poised to adopt Tuesday night will spend about $16 million more on police. Because the city received about $18 million less in federal funding than initially announced it cut funding to programs to help businesses, non-profits and communities struggling with food insecurity.
However, that figure will likely grow.
The City Council has adopted a $5 million public safety plan that will give the department additional funding for violence prevention programs and gun buybacks, among other things.
The council has also signaled that it will find hundreds of thousands in additional funding to help the department keep its helicopter pilots as sworn officers rather than civilians, a budget reduction called for last year but was never implemented by the LBPD. Several City Council members supported this saying cuts to the department would be “irresponsible.”
This year’s budget process was criticized by community groups for being rushed and lacking transparency.
The city held just three meetings across the city to gauge community input and did not hold the nine individual meetings that have been historically held in each City Council district.
Departments like the city’s Public Works, Library Services and Parks, Recreation and Marine did not present budgets to the City Council as they have in the past. City management said earlier this month that the model was used last year for the first time and was effective so it went ahead with it again this year adding the departments were chosen based in part on which ones received the most federal aid.
The council postponed a hearing on the city’s unfunded liabilities, which is made up of more than $3 billion in unpaved streets, untrimmed trees and unpaid pension obligations, that was supposed to be heard at its Aug. 17 meeting.
An online community survey circulated by the city yielded 1,033 responses, which is less than a quarter of the responses the city received last year.
New additions to the top 10 services residents said the city should prioritize were maintaining natural gas and water systems in good physical condition (1), investing in mental health and domestic violence services and responses (5) and maintaining bridges and alleys (9).
Three services that fell out of the top 10 since last year were maintaining a low crime rate, maintaining and repairing public buildings and providing free or low-cost recreation programs for youths.
The council districts that make up East Long Beach accounted for at least 44% of the responses—20% either didn’t know what district they lived in or skipped the question—and residents 65 and older accounted for 23% of all respondents.