August 1, 2012
Fifth District Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske today issued the following statement in response to Mayor Bob Foster's release of his Fiscal Year 2013 Budget. The City Charter requires the Mayor to give his budget by August 1 so that the City Council can pass a balanced budget not later than September 15th.
"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.
Here are the links to the Mayor's budget message and the budget documents released today:
Mayor's Proposed Cuts and Budget Message
Please contact me with your questions and concerns.
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.
My Prior Budget Message:
Participatory Budgeting Process
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.