CITY HALL — The Santa Monica City Council passed its two-year budget deep into Tuesday night, approving over $1 billion in spending that will keep city services running as officials prepare to tackle multi-million deficits that loom in the future.
The budget represents a trim from nearly every department, cutting 3.7 percent from the 2013 year and 5 percent from the 2014 fiscal year in an effort to keep City Hall in the black for the next two years despite a $20 million hit from the loss of its Redevelopment Agency.
After that, finances begin to sink under the weight of employee pensions and benefits, leaving City Hall with a $5.8 million deficit in the General Fund as soon as 2015-16, the first year of the next biennial budget. That is projected to increase to $18.1 million by the 2019-20 fiscal year.
City Hall suffered from a double whammy, both because of the rich benefits offered to employees as well as changes to the California Public Employee Retirement System, or CalPERS.
The organization, which manages $257.4 billion in assets for governmental entities across the state, plans to increase employer contribution rates, settling on policies that will increase costs as much as 50 percent over the course of five years.
The City Council did not try to address those concerns, instead focusing on largely cosmetic changes.
The most dramatic switch was a $3.5 million shift from the 2012-13 budget into the 2013-14 budget to pay for a parking project that was too complex to finish in the original budget cycle, although it will not impact the bottom line.
Most of the night focused on money going to social service providers that focus on older teens and young adults, changes to the amount candidates pay to run in elections and a City Council discretionary fund for pet projects.
The council signed off on a funding plan to give Social Environmental Entrepreneurs (SEE) $225,000 to run the Pico Youth & Family Center as a drop-in and referral center for at-risk youth.
Supporters of the center protested the change, which cuts out roughly one-third of the funding that City Hall has traditionally given to the center as part of its grant program.
It also fundamentally changes the programming at the center, which currently offers case management services to its clients. City Hall has taken issue with the way that the organization is administered as well as its record-keeping, which fails to document how services help kids.
“That kind of record keeping has never been a strong suit of what happens here,” said Julie Rusk, assistant director of the Community & Cultural Services Department.
Roughly $90,000 of what was cut from PYFC’s funding would go instead to the Cradle to Career initiative’s Youth Resource Team, a multi-agency group that has worked for several years to try and address problems facing young people between 16 and 24 years old in Santa Monica. Critics of the initiative say it has shown little progress.
City Councilmember Tony Vazquez resisted giving more money to the Cradle to Career initiative, saying that the organization didn’t have a detailed enough plan or specific outcomes for the population it was trying to serve.
The council struggled a bit with the issue of fees to run for the City Council, which officials proposed to set at $25 for a candidate filing fee and an additional $300 to cover the costs of printing and handling of candidate statements.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown said it would be “pretty cheap” to require people to pay the $25 to run for City Council, and ultimately included the cost in a laundry list of items that will absorb $576,688 from funds under the City Council’s control.
Other items on that list include $100,000 to design city signage, $25,000 for an assessment of playground equipment north of the Santa Monica Pier and $100,000 to support Section 8 vouchers.