Cyclists ride their bikes down Fourth Street in between parked cars and buses. When it approved a roughly $553 million budget Tuesday, the City Council set aside $25,000 for bicycle safety education and $72,000 for child care. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — With sharp decreases in revenue because of the recession, cities across the Southland have had to make tough decisions about cutting programs, dropping projects and laying off employees.

In Santa Monica, where the City Council on Tuesday adopted a roughly $553 million spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, the decisions were far less painful.

Though City Hall had to cover a $13.2 million deficit with fee increases, spending reductions and reserve funds, the approved budget called for no layoffs and no radical shifts in spending priorities.

Instead of cuts, members of the council on Tuesday mainly discussed how to spend their $300,000 “discretionary fund” — one-time money the council typically uses to make small grants to community organizations.

The overall spending plan the council adopted contained only minor revisions from the $255 million general fund budget they were presented with in May (the general fund does not include enterprise funds such as the Big Blue Bus and the beach fund).

Changes included a $4.5 million increase in projected revenue, the addition of funding for an animal control position and two fire inspector positions, and a $500,000 reduction in the employee bonus pool.

The adopted budget called for spending $2.7 million in reserve funds, leaving $5.5 million in an “economic uncertainty” account City Hall established to cope with the recession.

Lieutenants restored in budget

In a win for the Santa Monica Police Officers Association, the council voted 6-1 to restore two lieutenant positions that Police Chief Tim Jackman and City Manager Rod Gould had proposed eliminating.

In a compromise, the positions, which cost $500,000 per year to fill, will remain “frozen” until revenue increases.

Gould had urged the council to eliminate the positions permanently, arguing that they weren’t needed to maintain service. The SMPD has 13 lieutenant positions, and even with 11 lieutenants Santa Monica’s ratio of lieutenants to officers would compare favorably with the ratios at other comparable departments, Jackman and Gould argued.

The union’s chair, Sgt. Jay Trisler, said he was pleased with the council’s decision to keep the positions in the budget.

“We’re very appreciative of the council. It shows that public safety is a priority,” he said.

The POA — a powerful player in local elections — believes the two lieutenant positions are justified based on the department’s workload, Trisler said, and will ask that the positions be filled when the city’s financial outlook improves.

Mayor Bobby Shriver, who is not up for re-election this year, cast the only vote against restoring the positions.

Council funds childcare, other priorities

In a series of votes to doll out discretionary funds, the council decided to set aside funds for low-income child daycare ($72,000), Solar Santa Monica ($75,000), leaf blower enforcement ($55,000), Styrofoam ban enforcement ($48,000), bicycle safety education ($25,000), youth violence prevention ($25,000), and video taping City Hall board and commission annual reports ($7,000).

Several of the discretionary items, including the bike safety, leaf blower enforcement and youth violence prevention allocations, were made in case the council elects to create new programs that would require funding. If no new programs to serve those purposes are created, the allocated money would become budget savings. The daycare funding was allocated as a zero interest loan that would not have to be re-paid if the state of California follows through on a proposal to cut funding for the program.

Shriver dissented on each of the votes to allocate discretionary funding, saying he believed that in a budget year when reserve funds are being spent to cover basic city services the council should not dip further into reserves by spending discretionary money.

Councilman Richard Bloom seemed to speak for the majority on the council when he said the discretionary allocations are worthwhile because they support worthy programs that are community priorities.

The council also approved $12,000 from its 2009/2010 discretionary fund to pay travel and living expenses for members of Santa Monica High School’s national champion Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship team, which is heading to Capetown, South Africa to compete in a global competition.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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