(July 9, 2006) -- At City Hall's 4th annual "Community Budget Summit," City Manager Jerry Miller, outgoing Mayor Beverly O'Neill and Oversight Committee chair Councilwoman Laura Richardson publicly shred the front page of the deficit-ridden FY 03 budget amid news that the proposed FY 07 budget will erase the deficit completely.
City Manager Miller and his management team credited their multi-year financial plan (implemented by the City Council starting in 2003, combines some spending reductions + new fees) with putting LB City Hall on a firmer financial footing.
At the same time, management acknowledged that its FY 07 proposed budget won't include increases to police, fire or library services...and City Manager Miller said it would consume roughly $25-$30 million per year to add 100 police officers, invest in fire dept. resources and bring libraries back to where they should be.
"As you know, we have been talking to the Council and thinking about some kind of a tax measure. We're not sure if that's prudent. We're not sure if that's going to fly. But I will say that I think if we want to kick Long Beach up to the next level and I think we have a chance to do it, we've got to find a way to grow the pie a little bit and be able to help these departments really get where they need to go. So I hope that you'll be patient with us, you'll look at these types of options, and give us a chance to evaluate them and explore them and see if there's support over time," City Manager Miller said.
In response to an audience question about a news story [first reported by LBReport.com] that a statewide parcel tax (for schools) has qualified for the November ballot, City Manager Miller said:
"We have only just read about that in the last couple days and so we have to analyze that and see to what extent that's going to have an effect on the attitudes and the willingess of voters to support a second measure, and it may not be possible. But I think that's why we have to continue to evaluate things like that. We need to do some additional outreach to the community, some additional polling. And you know it may not be that we end up doing this in November of this year. We just have to make a commitment though at some point in time that we need to find some additional revenue, to grow our police department and fire department and to get our libraries back on track."
Later in the proceedings, City Manager Miller reiterated, "To get to, for example, 100 new police officers, that's going to require about $20 million alone to hire those officers and support staff needed for them to do their jobs. In my professional and humble opinion, we need to have some new revenue source to be able to support that level of investment. And again, we don't just need the additional police officers. We could really benefit from enhancing our fire department in certain areas. And again our libraries again require about $4 million a year in ongoing revenue to be able to get to the full-service kind of a library system that we all envision. So it's not an easy solution...We're going to have to hope the citizens will agree to support us, over time, in achieving those types of numbers."
As part of management's Power Poiint presentation, one graphic stated in part, "City Staff Still In Process of Seeking Community Input. We Want To Hear From You! City Will Onlyh Move Forward With a Ballot Initiative After City Officials Develop a Fiscally Responsible Plan That Meets Community Needs."
Among those attending the July 8 event was Mayor-elect Bob Foster...from whom we sought comment about management's previously suggested tax increases [we asked prior to Manager Miller's comments on the tax above]:
"I'm very concerned [about some previously indicated tax proposals]. I want to see what exactly is proposed. The first issue on the parcel tax that they've talked about I think they they had a host of problems associated with it: equity problems [regressive impacts, same tax rate for property in Naples as for NLB], potential impacts on small business...so I don't think that was quite worked out yet. The quarter or half cent sales tax, I think that takes a lot of thought."
Under the City Charter, the City Manager is scheduled to present his proposed budget to Mayor Foster on or before August 1...and Mayor Foster will forward the budget to the City Council with recommended changes, if any, on or before August 15...a very short timeline. Mayor-elect Foster noted that as a result of the timelines involved [he'll take office just days before being handed the proposed budget] "we're not going to have a whole lot of time to examine [this budget]," Mayor-elect Foster told us.
"We had a brief briefing [from management] on the budget without much detail, basically they're saying this is now a structurally balanced budget, which I'm happy to hear," Mayor-elect Foster said, adding "I want to look at the services that were cut in previous years, particularly in terms of services that were directed towards at risk populations, libraries in particular. I want to work with a staff, we're going to put an advisory group together, a task force, to be able to help us do that, but the truth is we're not going to have a lot of time on this. We will undoubtedly make some recommendations and I just have to see what's in this budget, I can't predict right now."
Also attending today's event were Councilmembers Bonnie Lowenthal, Suja Lowenthal, Patrick O'Donnell, Tonia Reyes Uranga and Val Lerch, City Auditor-elect Laura Doud, Harbor Commissioners John Hancock and Mike Walter, LBCC Board of Trustee member Roberto Uranga...and virtually all of LB City Hall's senior departmental managament. The latter included (not a complete list) Police Chief Anthony Batts, Fire Chief Dave Ellis (members of their command staffs), Parks & Rec Chief Phil Hester, Health Dept. Dir Ron Arias (not a complete list),
As in previous years, the event format began with presentations, followed by questions (submitted on cards from the floor)...after which members of the public to approach top city management brass and staff personally in a large adjoining room, to ask whatever questions they wished and express their views one on one, face to face. Management said those views from the public will be conveyed to Councilmembers [who hold the ultimate power of the purse.]
We spotted veteran community activists Bea Antenore, Herb Levi, Dan Pressburg and others as well as some faces we hadn't seen before...but public attendance this year appeared thinner than in past years.
Most of those present appeared to be city management and staff, eager to speak with members of the public (although at times staff outnumbered the public).
City Manager Miller said that under the multi-year financial plan, 400 employee positions were eliminated but not one city employee was laid off...and added that in almost every case employees went on to better positions that paid more than the position they left.
City Manager Miller's remark drew applause from the room [containing many city staffers] but hit a sour note with at least one taxpayer...who sent a comment card to the stage (which was read publicly) expressing displeasure that this had occurred while the city had too few police and libraries were too often closed.
What about skyrocketing oil prices...and revenue from LB's Dept. of Oil Properties? Mike Killebrew, Dir of Financial Management said, "The revenue that we get in the General Fund from oil is pretty much offset by the cost of the fuel that we have to pay for for police cars, fire trucks, all the public works vehicles...The answer is, it's really good to have oil revenue and it helps us pay our fuel bills."