On June 27, the City Council unanimously approved a $774.9 million budget for fiscal year 2017/18 and $802.8 million for the next. Months of Council input increased the budget by $1.2 million and funneled money toward specific priorities including parks, homeless services and pedestrian safety.
“With this budget we’re allocating our limited resources as efficiently and effectively as possible to avoid steep structural deficits in the future. We’ve taken steps to control operating cost increases,” said the City’s Director of Finance Gigi Decavalles-Hughes.
Pensions and worker’s compensation present the most significant pressures on the budget in coming years. To combat those rising costs, the budget will balance the need for new positions by eliminating others, resulting in a net increase of zero full time staff members in the next fiscal year. Decavalles-Hughes predicts the City’s payroll will actually decrease in the number of employees after that.
“Staff and Council crafted a budget that covers resident and other needs while constraining costs, including a net halt on adding employees,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown told the Daily Press. “Under the hood, we’ve restructured how Santa Monica addresses community priorities, to make expenditures more effective in the long run.”
All major sources of revenue in the City are expected to grow slowly or decline over the coming years including sales tax as retail activity shifts to online sales. Most of the City’s tax revenue depends on the health of the overall economy and could be impacted by a slow-down or down-turn in coming years.
“This was a smooth budget adoption process. Council and staff were in sync on finding as many efficiencies as possible, including reducing staffing over the long term and elevating priorities such as enhancing pedestrian safety and assuring our social services are protected from possible cuts in Federal funding,” said Mayor Ted Winterer.
Fee changes, including a beach parking rate increase on Nov. 1, will increase City revenue by about $1.2 million. Two new non-standard fines for violations of the Municipal Code related to tenant harassment have been added. There are also new fees regarding the City’s recently passed Water Neutrality Ordinance.
Despite Decavalles-Hughes conservative projections, the Council increased the budget to fund several projects. Here’s where the money is going:
About $500,000 of the additional money will go toward Vision Zero, a City initiative seeking to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries. In October, staff members will present the Council will a proposed “Vision Zero Action Plan” that includes projects to increase pedestrian safety throughout the City. While several Council members stressed support for a new staff member dedicated to the initiative, a current staff member will take on the duties for now.
A $300,000 increase (not from the General Fund) will go toward new positions, including someone to handle increased Federal regulatory workload at Big Blue Bus. The Beach Manager is also being made a permanent position.
The budget includes moving $300,000 from the General Fund to extend the Homeless Multi-Disciplinary Street Team for an additional year. The team consists of four full time staff members and a part time psychiatrist who provide street care to the highest utilizers of police, fire and hospital services. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl has also agreed to provide $300,000 in Los Angeles County funds to help sustain the program. The combined money will keep the team funded through 2019. The RAND Corporation will evaluate the program after that time to see if it resulted in fewer contacts between the homeless population and local emergency services.
“I am happy that we adopted a balanced budget that reflects this City’s values,” Councilmember Gleam Davis told the Daily Press. “Our continuing investments in social service agencies and the arts reflects our commitment to the wellbeing of every resident. That priority also was reflected in the increase of funding for young children in need of quality early childhood education and family support.”