Budget may not balance

first_imgThe City Council is scheduled to begin its review today of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s $6.78billion budget, up just 2percent over last year. While most city departments were asked to cut spending, there has been surprisingly little dissent, and most council members appeared Wednesday to be in lock step with the austerity. “This is the tightest budget we’ve had in the last four or five years, and it’s going to be difficult for everyone in the city,” said Councilman Bernard Parks, who heads the council’s Budget and Finance Committee, which will review the proposed spending plan. “I want to make sure we are taking care of the basics, and the only area we will see an increase is public safety.” In releasing the spending plan last week, Villaraigosa said the city is concerned about a slowing real-estate market that is sapping property and documentary transfer-tax revenues. The city also is closely watching a lawsuit that could jeopardize up to $270million coming from the utility-users tax on telephones. As Los Angeles braces for one of its tightest budgets in years, city officials warned Wednesday that they may have to cut even more because revised projections show as much as a $30 million shortfall. A chief legislative analyst review found that several fee hikes might not kick in by July1 – the start of the budget year – leaving the mayor and council with less to spend. There also is some concern that the mayor’s revenue projections could be too optimistic and that he may have underestimated by nearly $30 million how much employee pay raises and police and fire overtime will cost. “There is a great deal of risk in the proposed budget due to uncertainties in the economy, threats to major revenue sources and other assumptions,” according to the chief legislative analyst’s review. While the mayor’s budget increases spending for the City Council by 3percent, it leaves little room for members to fund their own priorities or special projects. “We don’t have a lot of wiggle room this year,” said Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, vice chairwoman of the budget panel. “It is a lean budget, to say the least. We are going to take a close look at each department and look at how well they did in meeting our goals and if they appropriately spent all the money they were allocated. “We are going to be looking to make cuts whereever we can. When departments come in and say they need more money, we want to make sure they have done what we asked of them.” Council President Eric Garcetti said most council members agree with Villaraigosa’s efforts to eliminate the structural deficit – estimated at $143million. Garcetti also noted that trims might be needed to deal with the shortfall if the new fees are not enacted by July1. “Since the mayor developed his budget, new figures have come in on the expected loss of revenue,” Garcetti said. “The mayor and the council are committed to making sure we eliminate the deficit, and that will mean cuts everywhere.” Parks said the council is working with the Mayor’s Office to determine how to incorporate the lower revenue projections. “A lot of it is checking to make sure the revenue projections all add up. Part of the problem was in projecting a full year’s worth of revenue from higher fees that we will only get for six or nine months. We have to adjust for that.” Waiting on fee hikes Villaraigosa has proposed increasing fees for several items including brush clearance and city response to burglar alarms. Chief Administrative Officer Karen Sisson said she’s confident the new fees can be implemented quickly. “The assessment we have is that if the council acts and the mayor doesn’t veto them, we could get action taken by July 1,” she said. As he has in previous years, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo is complaining the loudest about cuts to his budget. Delgadillo said the $3.7million he is being asked to trim will affect everything from anti-gang efforts to after-school programs. But Villaraigosa aides said some of the programs – including Operation Bright Future and Kid Watch – are simply being shifted to the Department of Children, Youth and Families, which has lower salary costs. Meanwhile, the Department of Animal Services has said it will seek to get $300,000 restored to maintain an administrative-hearing program dealing with barking and nuisance dogs. Most department heads, however, have accepted the proposed reductions. City Controller Laura Chick, whose office is scheduled to take a 15percent, or $3.5 million, hit, said she can live with it. “I want to be a team player,” said Chick, who has pushed city agencies to be more cost-conscious with her often-scathing audits. Still, Parks and Garcetti said they are concerned about whether the budget provides enough money for the city to deal with infrastructure problems including aging roadways. “When you come down to it, that is the basic service of the city – streets and sidewalks,” Garcetti said. “We have to deal with the basics before we look on to the more lofty goals like the homeless and gangs.” Open to cost cuts Garcetti said if any social programs are expanded, they will have to be financed with help from the state and federal government. “That’s where the mayor’s trips are so important,” Garcetti said. “If the budget grows, it will be because we are getting more of our fair share in state and federal money.” The mayor has proposed reducing the Bureau of Street Services’ budget by 11percent, or $18million less than its current spending. The cut means the city will resurface 25 fewer miles of streets than last year, but in exchange it will slurry-seal 100miles of streets to extend their life. The budget also calls for trimming fewer trees, pushing the cycle from a trim every nine years to a trim every 10 years. But Parks made it clear he thinks all city programs are open for cuts – including the mayor’s plan to increase funds for the L.A. Police Department to hire 780 police officers. Villaraigosa has made police hiring a top priority, with the goal of a 10,000-member force by 2011. He has proposed a $1.9billion budget for the LAPD this year, up nearly $53million over last year. “Public safety takes up 64percent of the city budget,” Parks said. “If we have to make cuts to bring the budget in balance, we can’t make them immune.” [email protected] (213) 978-0390160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more

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