One of the most innovative, dynamic concepts to happen is "participatory budgeting" -- including residents in the process of deciding how local government should spend your tax dollars.
Most local governments give lip service to this concept because quite honestly it is cumbersome and can be painful when residents want one thing and elected officials want another.
You might want to check out the following links to websites discussing this concept and where it has been used:
City of Vallejo
City of Chicago
I am trying to bring participatory budgeting to Long Beach, so stay tuned. In order to participate, it is important that you have the information necessary to make decisions.
I will be sending out this update on a routine basis to give you the information I have about how the city's finances operate. I encourage you to participate on my Facebook group: Let's Talk Budget. Click here.
Sending a Positive, Optimistic Message
I am taking our economic situation very seriously. But we need to step back and think what type of message is continually coming out of City Hall to the community -- residents, businesses and potential businesses.
The message is negative and pessimistic. A potential deficit has been announced almost every year that I have been in office. Of course, by the time we pass the budget, it is balanced as a deficit is not allowed by state or city law. That message rarely gets out.
Residents have been told time and again that unless all city employee unions step up and agree to pension reform, serious cuts in core services -- the services delivered by these employees -- will happen. Public safety unions have agreed to pension reform -- yet their services have been cut. The non-public safety employee union is slated to also agree to pension reform -- yet the services they provide are also being proposed to be cut. These employees were publicly chastised for not wanting to help with the deficit -- they have helped and are scheduled to help -- yet cuts continue.
The City Manager and Mayor have proposed and made serious cuts to core services -- police, fire, parks and recreation and library. Infrastructure repair is behind.
Streets particularly need fixing -- but oil prices are increasing dramatically and the cost of asphalt increases significantly (as asphalt is made from oil). Yet, the City (which sits one of the largest oil and gas fields) assesses an oil (but not gas) production tax (which would help pay for asphalt) one half the amount that Signal Hill does. (The oil production tax does not impact the cost of oil at the pump whatsoever because the cost of oil at the pump is sent at the international market.) Today, oil is selling at $104 per barrel with an annual forecast that oil will reach $121 a barrel. There are 42 gallons in each barrel. The City of Long Beach's oil tax (which is a .41 cents per barrel tax and not based upon the market value) essentially charges Occidental Petroleum 41 cents, leaving the oil company $103.59 a barrel. Last Saturday, the LA Times reported that Oxy Petroleum generated a net profit of $1.56 billion in the first three months of 2012. See article by clicking here.
The City Auditor has identified 5 instances of City departments not appropriately handling and/or collecting revenue to which the City is entitled and needs. These instances include: towing, animal care services, parking tickets (two reports) and parks, recreation and marine department fees. What does this say to the community? That perhaps our "deficits" are being caused by our inefficiencies? No business would operate like this...for long.
Sadly, there are numerous other departments that need to be audited concerning their revenue collection practices. (I will write more on this because I think we need to heed the advice of the Government Finance Officers Association and to either contract out our collections activities or consolidate all these activities into one department.)
Our message needs to be changed. Now. We need to get our own house in order and make certain that the City is efficient and effective and that we are lean. The first thing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel did upon taking office was to order a 10% reduction in senior management: reduce compensation across the board or reduce the number of positions -- whichever results in a 10% reduction in the cost of senior management. This makes sense. Instead of laying off lower paid employees who actually deliver the services to the taxpayers -- cuts needs to be made where they will not impact these services.
Every City department needs to justify its existence for continued funding. Can we consolidated departments?
And my personal pet peeve I have pursued for 6 years: when are we going to get an automated time and attendance system so that we know who is at work, how long do they work each day, who is on sick leave or vacation or workers compensation? Is every hourly employee getting their breaks and lunch -- a fact we need to prove if they ever file an FLSA claim that they didn't receive these.
We employ 5,000 and time sheets are hand written every two weeks and put into the computer by 12 employees.
Okay. So we have a lot of work to do. And I would appreciate your input.
Thank you for being engaged in this important civic effort.
Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske, 5th District
P.S. Pass this along to your neighbors. Ask them to get involved.