COVID-19 has taken hold of the Santa Monica economy, but city leaders said they will continue to enhance community services despite diminishing revenues.

During a Mid-Year Budget Report presented last Tuesday, City staff recommended the elimination of five vacant police officer positions so funding could be diverted to fund additional hours for library staffing, homeless service coordination, code enforcement efforts, a tenant counseling pilot program, as well as a new 3-1-1 customer service call line.

In June 2020, Santa Monica City Council opted to fully fund the Santa Monica Police Department during a budget decision that resulted in layoffs to librarians, planners, traffic engineers and a number of other City positions. Officials said at the time they intended to alter SMPD’s finances in the “near future” since they didn’t want to make a hasty decision before hearing specific proposals from the public.

Members of Santa Monica’s Public Safety Reform Advisory Committee quickly disagreed with the decision, citing a belief that funding the police department when so many other departments were facing cuts was an inequitable way to respond to the pandemic. City Council eventually took the advice and directed staff to ensure that all future budgetary changes affect every City department equitably.

Finance Department Director Gigi Decavalles-Hughes, who presented the Mid-Year Budget Report and proposed budget changes to Council last week, said the recently approved changes align with these goals.

“This provides a more equitable sharing of resources among services directly impacting the public, and these are services that were cut and now we see that they need bolstering; and that’s the reason why we’re coming to (Council) in the middle of the year rather than during the annual budget process,” Decavalles-Hughes said.

By eliminating the vacant police officer positions, general fund expenditures are lowered by $400,000, meaning Santa Monica can now offer a number of programs that would otherwise be unfunded, including enhanced Code Enforcement services to better address quality of life concerns and a 3-1-1 line, which will address non-emergency and customer service-related calls on behalf of the City. Staff also noted the City will be able to fund additional Library page hours to support curbside services and an inspector general position that will support the newly formed Public Safety Reform and Oversight Commission.

“We are working very hard in this time to provide the best community services that we can within the budgetary constraints that we have. And to that end we have worked very hard to address key community concerns,” Interim City Manager Lane Dilg said in a recent interview where she discussed the City’s balanced budget and tenant eviction services that will be available to tenants in the near future.

“We want to be sure we’re providing tenants as much support as possible,” she said, “and we hope the federal government will be stepping into that space as well.”

Mayor Sue Himmelrich added federal support will also be needed in the form of stimulus funding when she spoke on the budget process shortly after last week’s report.

“The pandemic’s impact to City revenues that support community services has been catastrophic, yet the budget continues to reflect our values,” Himmelrich said. “It is balanced and we continue to find ways to do more in the areas of greatest need, including homelessness, customer service, and eviction support.”