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The Los Angeles City Council approved a $6.7 billion budget on Monday that eliminates a $485 million deficit and will preserve most city services at current levels.
The budget calls for layoffs of approximately 761 employees, but officials will be working with a coalition of unions representing city employees to try to reduce that number.
The budget was passed 14-1, with Los Angeles City Councilmember Richard Alarcon, 7th District, casting the opposing vote. The budget will now be reviewed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is expected to make a decision on whether to approve or veto it by June 1. The budget must be in place by July 1, and the city council will have one month to reduce the number of layoffs before it goes into effect. The layoffs would be spread across all city agencies except the police and fire departments. An additional 1,000 layoffs may be necessary in October if labor negotiations do not result in savings through union concessions on health care and pension reforms.
Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, 13th District, said the budget is based on real revenues, and not speculative funding, which was the case with a previous budget plan presented by the mayor that was rejected by the council two weeks ago. That plan relied on revenues from leasing city-owned parking garages, but no formal agreements were in place.
“This is a tough budget, but it protects police, parks and other critical services in addition to bolstering our reserves. It also lays out a path toward structural reform, including pension and healthcare reforms, to protect services in the long term.”
The new budget raises fees for parking citations by $5, which will be used to continue city services. It also calls for savings through 16 to 26 furlough days to be taken by city employees over the course of the next year.
Some of the services that will be preserved include on-demand pothole repair, where residents currently call in to report potholes and the city fixes them within 24-hours. The service will still be available through 311, the city’s information line, but the repairs will likely take 48-hours because of less staffing in the Bureau of Street Services. In addition, hours will not be cut at city libraries, which will remain open Mondays through Saturdays, and funding was identified to keep many of the city’s child care and gang prevention programs in place. Also included is funding for a city animal shelter that was scheduled for closure in the mayor’s proposed budget, eliminating the need to euthanize approximately 2,500 animals a year. The city council also approved a motion by Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson, 10th District, that calls for a November ballot initiative on levying a new tax on billboards.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, 5th District, said while the newly approved budget is balanced, there will be major financial problems next year if the council does not begin planning ahead. He said the biggest hurdle is the union concessions.
“We are close to resolving the shortfall, but we need their cooperation,” Koretz said. “We will be trimming trees at a slower cycle, but we will not be getting out of the tree trimming business. Our code enforcement will be a little slower, but it appears that most services will be preserved.”
Koretz added that the city will be looking into creating public/private partnerships to help continue some recreational programs at city parks or libraries, and added that city departments will have to cut back on expenditures for supplies, as well as conduct more city business online.
“We will be looking at a lot of efficiencies, places where we can make changes that will improve service,” Koretz added. “We want to systemize our collections, and are looking at doing our billing more efficiently. There are lots of things we can do to save money.”
Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge, 4th District, said he is confident the budget will keep crucial services in place.
“We had hard choices to make and we made them,” LaBonge added. “No one likes to lay people off. It’s a terrible choice to have to make, but the city is experiencing the most serious financial challenges that I’ve seen in 35 years of public service. We did what we had to do.”
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