Long Beach Council seeks restorations among cuts

PN14-Fireopenhouse2TRLONG BEACH, Calif. — Fewer police officers, higher fees and a reduced firefighting force are among the expected effects of Long Beach’s proposed, and vastly scaled down, city budget on which council members will put the final touches Tuesday. However, after last week’s meeting, some of those cuts will be restored, particularly in public safety and youth programs. The council will have a budget hearing at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, followed by a closed session at 4:30 p.m., the regular council meeting at 5 p.m. and a final budget hearing scheduled to begin no later than 7 p.m. The meetings are open to the public and can be viewed live on Charter Communications Channel 8, Verizon FiOS Channel 21 or online at www.longbeach.gov. Last week, the council approved 11 of 18 agenda items that are needed to complete passage of the 2010 fiscal year budget, which had to be cut back to eliminate a projected $38.3 million deficit that will reduce the general fund to $380 million. Under the City Charter, the council must approve the budget by Sept. 15, which is this Tuesday, or City Manager Pat West’s proposed budget will automatically go into effect Oct. 1. Furthermore at last week’s meeting, after much negotiating and compromising, two council factions came to an agreement on which of West’s proposed cuts to restore. The most high-profile change under the council’s plan is the restorationto full strength of Fire Station 1 downtown and Fire Station 18 in East Long Beach, as well as adding a sixth firefighter to Station 14′s proposed reduced “light force” crew. Under West’s proposed budget, Fire Station 1 and Fire Station 18 would share a fire engine, which would leave the downtown station understaffed at night and the Eastside station closed during the day.

Station 14 near Recreation Park would also lose firefighters under the original budget proposal, forcing a five-person crew to run an engine and a ladder truck as a single unit. To help pay for the council’s service restorations, Fire Station 19 east of Long Beach Airport would cut personnel, creating another six-person “light-force” unit operating an engine and a ladder truck. Fifty percent of the funding to operate a Marine Rescue boat also would be restored under the council plan, as would partial funding for beach patrols and a quarter of the funding for the police J-Car juvenile truancy patrols and the police Youth Services Division. The police also saw some funding for night auto theft detectives, the nighttime vice team and Civic Center security restored. Originally, more than 30 police officers were expected to be laid off under the proposed budget, and the number of firefighters on duty at any given time would have dropped from 137 to 130. Citywide, every department was forced to make cuts, eliminating 312 positions from the budget under West’s original budget plan and laying off 161 workers. Actions uncertain However, it is unclear how many positions will be cut now as a result of the council’s decision last week. City management is expected to return a revised budget to the council Tuesday that takes into account all of the restorations. This should make clear whether the council members’ calculations balance out, whether all of the restorations can in fact be made, and how Long Beach’s staffing and services will ultimately be affected. Other changes proposed by the council included reducing cuts to the Department of Parks, Recreation and Marine from 8 percent to 6 percent; restoring some funding for Rancho Los Alamitos and Rancho Los Cerritos; increasing sidewalk and infrastructure funding; restoring part of the funding for the Arts Council of Long Beach; and leaving $169,000 for operations at the Long Beach Museum of Art, rather than eliminating the entire $569,000 budget as proposed by Mayor Bob Foster. To balance the budget restorations, the council listed new revenue sources such as the possibility of contracting in fire dispatch services for the cities of Compton, Downey and Santa Fe Springs; initiating an accident debris program to collect the costs of cleaning up after vehicle accidents; collecting more towing fees; charging a fee for private haulers; eliminating vacant positions in several departments; reorganizing and relocating the office of the Citizen Police Complaint Commission; and transferring water quality testing costs from the Tidelands Fund to Public Works. Other cuts already proposed under the budget may reduce services for the public in everything from libraries, which will maintain their hours but have reduced staff, to public works. Looking for $18 million While all of these cuts will eliminate $20.3 million from the general fund deficit, the elimination of another $18 million is still uncertain. That piece hinges on city management renegotiating contracts and scheduled pay raises with five employee associations. Two weeks ago, the Long Beach Police Officers Association agreed to a new contract that gives officers an 11 percent raise spread out over five years instead of the nearly 9.3 percent raise they were due Sept. 30. The deal, which the council will vote on Tuesday, will save the city $7.6 million this year and $15 million over the next five years. Still, West has said that next year’s savings fall $2 million short of what is needed to avoid further layoffs or the implementation of furloughs. He told the Press-Telegram last week that he is still working out how to eliminate that remaining deficit. After all of the council’s negotiations last week, it may possibly need to eliminate even more from the budget. Meanwhile, the city’s largest employee union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, has indicated on its Web site that it isn’t happy with negotiations. According to the site, the union’s bargaining team offered the city $8.5 million in savings by pushing back raises for one year, similar to what the police union negotiated, but that city officials indicated it wasn’t enough. Union members are planning to rally outside of City Hall before Tuesday’s meetings. Other budget business that is pending before the council Tuesday is a likely contentious discussion and vote on how to equalize council members’ office budgets, as well as a vote on the proposed schedule of fee increases, which council members said last week they wanted more time to examine. Beyond the general fund, other departments that are typically self-sustaining also are being hit with budget cuts. Most notable is the Health Department, whose budget is dropping from $51 million in the current fiscal year to $46 million for the coming year, mostly because of a drop in state funding. The Healthy Kids program, a prenatal clinic, a drinking driver program, a substance abuse program, HIV programs and the Senior Health Clinic are being eliminated, while other programs, including those for the homeless and the elderly, are being reduced.

Story By: Contra Costa Times

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