I want to thank the Mayor, the City Manager and the staff of Financial Management for their work and diligence in preparing the recommended FY 2013 budget. It is not an easy task because of the scope of services provided in this city and the complexities involved in funding these services.
The city budget is the most important policy document this city council will review as it charts the course for the city's future and maps out what we want that future to look like.
This budget must balance the need to provide core services in an economy which has reduced revenues and that has been slow to fully recover.
That being said, I listened to the Mayor and read his statement. I also reviewed the materials which were only given to the three council members in attendance after the press conference. I am concerned that for the second year in a row, there is an announced oil surplus (in excess of $17 million), yet reductions in services in police, fire, library and recreation services are being proposed. There is also a list of items on which the 'surplus' is to be spent as outlined in the Mayor's proposals.
This approach doesn't make sense. If I have debts, the very first thing I must do when I get more money than I budgeted, is to pay those debts - not to go off and buy a new car.
For the past two years, we have been told - to cut essential city services such as police, fire, recreation, and libraries - and then spend the so called 'oil surplus' on projects.
Alternatively, the budget deficit announced for FY 2013 is not a surprise. It was announced in last year's budget. So it doesn't make sense if you knew you were facing a deficit in the coming year that you would spend surplus funds. Why wasn't the 'surplus' of last year used to prevent a deficit this year?
The proposed budget cuts should be of particular concern to residents of eastside Long Beach -- especially the 5th Council District:
- A further reduction in fire department services and a major change in the staffing of medical services response units which will downgrade the level and type of staff on each rescue unit;
- A reduction of three police divisions into two and the planned retirement of 40 police officers;
- Elimination of Police Community Service Officers - civilians who help the community with numerous issues;
- The elimination of after school and youth sports programs from all 5th District parks so that they can be provided only in 'areas with greatest density, highest crime and limited alternative recreation activities';
- Cut Park Ranger patrol services of city parks to three days a week only at El Dorado Regional Park;
Reducing branch libraries to becoming 'self-service' locations with minimal library staff and the laying off of 17 positions; and
- Cutting $1 million dollars (1/3 of total amount) for sidewalk repairs (the 5th has the most sidewalks needing repair in the entire city).
I thought this was supposed to be 'one city' -- stating in a budget that programs for youth will be provided only in areas with greatest density, highest crime and limited alternative recreation activities is divisive.
I am particularly concerned to hear (and read) the Mayor's response to the increase in crimes on the eastside: Mayor Foster stated: 'No one in a policy position should get caught in a panic or rush to judgment regarding crime increases. We all should remember that crime hit 40 year lows, so recent increases in some segments are applied to a very low base.'
Excuse me? Violent crimes are up in the eastside. Residential and commercial burglaries are up in the eastside. Auto theft is up in the eastside. At every public meeting held by the Long Beach Police Department, there is a discussion that with prison re-alignment this level of crime will continue and increase. And council shouldn't 'rush to judgment?'
I will be holding a budget town hall at which I invite the Mayor and City Manager to address residents about why this budget as presented includes unacceptable disproportionate cuts for the eastside of Long Beach - especially the 5th Council District.