Following several community budget meetings where councilmembers heard the concerns of citizens regarding essential cuts, the Long Beach City Council approved the budget for the upcoming fiscal year Tuesday night, nearly two weeks shy of the September 15 deadline.
The attempt to close the $17.3 million gap in the general fund—which includes all monies dedicated to City services such as police, fire, parks and rec, libraries, senior and youth programs, as well as city maintenance—was largely lead by the Budget Oversight Committee, a group chaired by Councilmember Gary DeLong with Councilmembers Patrick O’Donnell and Dr. Suja Lowenthal. Since the City’s proposed budget was released in early August, the BOS as well as individual councilmembers have reached out to the community in order to best handle the cuts and fund allocations.
The details within the $400 million passed budget do not necessarily equate to what will actually be enacted October 1, the deadline at which the City must begin its FY2013 budget. The approved budget still needs to go back to Mayor Bob Foster for final approval—and he has the power to veto any line-items within the budget before September 25.
While many line items were swiftly passed in the initial portion of the budget hearing, it was the Mayor’s proposed funding recommendations paired with the recommendation of the Budget Oversight Committee that were the key items of the evening.
New revenue garnered via oil money and other funding sources such as fees—about $2.1 million—will be used to restore social programming throughout the city, including reinstating staffing at the libraries and El Dorado Nature Center, extending the proposed cutting of pool hours and restoring certain senior and disabled recreational programs.
In a move that is considered to be high risk, $4.3 million in day-to-day expenses—such as youth programs and gang unit funding—were allocated via the use of one-time monies. In other words, funds allocated for one-time uses were infused into structural costs, a proposal which Director of Financial Management John Gross was highly critical of at a community budget hearing last week.
“In the past, the policy of using one-time money only for one-time expenses has kept us out of a great deal of trouble,” stated Mayor Foster, who went to be highly critical of a particular choice by the Council: to raise the price floor of oil by $5 per barrel, in which the excess monies from the hike are to be used in structural expenses rather than one-time expenses.
His concern, once again echoing Gross, is that structural costs—that is, expenses that occur day-to-day—cannot be exchanged for single-use costs. The fact that oil prices are infamously unstable puts the City at risk of being unable to cover costs if the cost oil on the global market drops.
“While it is is a judgement call—moving [the costs of a barrel from] $65 to $70,” Foster stated, “But you have two things going on: a volatile price and diminished amount of oil every year. And you can move it to $70 but you’re taking a chance and I would like to see some reserve around that.”
Al Austin was one of the most adamant of speakers against moving forward so steadfastly on approving certain items—”We do not have to vote on this budget this evening”—as well as asking for clarification on specific things that were not being contextualized. He first spoke out against the cuts proposed to the Water Department, calling them counter-intuitive given the department has “robust” performance; nonetheless, the cuts were passed with Austin being the only dissenting vote.
When the resolution regarding the amendment of the Master Fee and Charges Schedule was brought up, Austin was wary of passing the adoption when the fee schedule had yet to be released. When Gary DeLong explained that further alterations can be made down the road and they must move forward, Austin asked, “Are you alluding to the fact that we’ll be passing the budget… this evening?” DeLong succinctly replied, “Yes.”
“We didn’t have a public discussion,” stated Councilmember Gerrie Schipske when expressing concerns over the steadfast voting. She put her thoughts succinctly albeit sarcastically when she said, following criticism of the proposed fire reduction and the lack of review by the Council over a new paramedic model, “That’s a kinda interesting way to budget: we’ll get the details after we pass the budget.”
Later in the evening, Councilmember Steven Neal echoed concerns at moving forward so quickly, motioning to delay the vote until next week that was seconded by Austin. “It behooves us to put it off for one more week and maybe we can address all of the issues better than we can tonight,” he pleaded, noting that legally the Council has another week before it is required to pass the budget.
DeLong, however, urged his colleagues to act swiftly. “I would encourage you to just vote for this tonight—there are no perfect solutions,” he said, with Lowenthal supporting his encouragement to move forward.
The budget vote for the Long Beach Harbor Department was moved to next week.
NOTE: It was originally stated that the entirety of the $2.1 million in new revenue was garnered from oil money; only $1.3 million of that amount was from oil money.
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