City Hall is seeking six community members to serve on the task force that will decide how to trim $3.5 million from its 2020-2023 budget.
The city is planning to reduce spending over the next decade as it grapples with sky-high pension costs and slowing revenues. The 2019-2020 budget it adopted in June was almost $92 million smaller than the previous fiscal year’s budget, but the city council rejected $1.2 million in proposed cuts before finalizing the budget. Now, the city is seeking input from residents on how to shrink the budget by $1.5 million in 2020-2021 and $2.5 million in 2021-2023.
“I am assembling an 11-member Budget Task Force, comprised of six community members and five members from the city workforce, who will advise me on options and priorities for addressing budget shortfalls over the coming six years,” city manager Rick Cole wrote in a post on the city’s blog. “I encourage you to get involved and invite you to apply to fill one of these seats.”
Community members with relevant experience in business, the public sector and non-profits and basic knowledge of financial matters are encouraged to apply by Aug. 30 to serve on the Budget Task Force. Its members will be announced Sept. 30.
After receiving an overview of the city’s budgetary framework, constraints and proposed efficiency and reduction measures, the Budget Task Force will meet twice a month between October and January to evaluate ideas generated by the city’s departments.
The meetings will be held on the first and third Mondays of the month at 6 p.m. They will be open to the public and agendas will be posted online prior to each meeting.
In February, the task force will present recommendations to cut $4 million over three years.
Those three years are projected to be the last where Santa Monica’s general fund has a surplus.
The fund is projected to be at least $20 million in the red by 2028-2029 as the city pays down a $448 million unfunded pension liability and collects less revenue from traditional sources.
The state pension system that covers city employees fell into crisis after the 2008 recession, and a decade before that, it retroactively increased retirement benefits. Cities around California now have to make up the missing pension funds. Santa Monica will be paying down its unfunded liability over the next 13 years — an accelerated timeline compared to most other cities.
The general fund, which comprises 60 percent of the city’s budget and collects revenue primarily from property, sales and hotel taxes, business licenses and parking fees, currently has a $7.1 million surplus. Its revenues are projected to flatline, however, as more people shop online and use ridesharing apps.
The biennial budget the city council adopted in June marks the beginning of a decade of belt-tightening. It eliminated almost 27 vacant jobs and cut administrative costs across city departments remained unchanged.
The proposed budget Cole presented to the city council earlier that month also included plans to cut several poorly attended youth programs, reduce hours at the city’s swim centers and scale back the city’s communications infrastructure. It also raised parking meter rates 25% citywide and reduced the free grace period in downtown parking structures.
But the council rejected many of the suggested cuts and added new services, resulting in a final budget $1.2 million larger than the one Cole proposed.
The council added $250,000 to fund a pilot program that would station hospitality ambassadors in Reed Park to work with the park’s large homeless population, limited the Santa Monica Swim Center’s winter closure to three weeks instead of the proposed six and extended a contract with Santa Monica College to broadcast council meetings on KCRW.
The council also opted not to eliminate enforcement of Conditional Use Permit rules and the city’s leafblower ban.
Cole said the goal of the Budget Task Force will be to identify ways to make city services more efficient and less expensive.
“Santa Monica recognizes that profound technological, economic and demographic changes are reshaping our lives, affecting both the public and private sectors and rendering old ways of doing business and delivering services increasingly obsolete,” he said. “These challenges and our focus on delivering the most effective services where they have the greatest impact are the impetus for our goal to create a 21st Century government that works better and costs less.”