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Jay Handal: Budgets are Not Sexy

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NC WATCH-This Saturday, August 16th, the annual Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates (NCBA) will meet in the Public Works Chambers at City Hall.  This annual gathering of NCBA will hear from Mayor Eric Garcetti; Deputy Mayor for Budget and Innovation, Rick Cole; Controller, Ron Galperin; City Administrator Officer, Miguel Santana; and Councilman Paul Krekorian, Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee.  The discussion will center on the State of the City, in preparation for next year’s budget. 

Normally, my eyes would glaze over when it comes to financial people talking finance.  This is especially true on Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m. That changed last year when I attended the 2013 Budget Advocate Day. 

Budget Advocate Co-Chair and all around Neighborhood Council (NC) Activist Jay Handal, put it succinctly recently when he said, “While Budget is not sexy…everything we expect our City to do for us is dependent on the budget.  We want the streets and sidewalks fixed---it depends on the budget.  We want our police and paramedics to respond quickly to emergencies---it depends on the budget.  Everything we want our City to provide comes from the budget and it is incumbent for the people to pay attention.” 

The Budget Advocates are mandated under the LA City Charter to present their facts and opinions to City Hall on an annual basis.  Some of you might remember receiving a “budget survey” sent out from the Mayor’s office.  In 2011 over 10,000 people replied.  In 2012, 5000 people replied.  It really didn’t matter since the previous administration did nothing with the results.  It was wasted time and effort. 

Budget Advocates Chosen-There are ninety-five NC’s in Los Angeles.  Each NC nominates two people from either the Board or stakeholders in the Community to be a NCBA. They in turn meet on Budget Day and elect three people from each of the twelve regions of the City to represent their stakeholders.  Subsequently the elected NCBA meet with various City departments, review finances from previous years and present, first to the Chair of the City Budget and Finance Committee and then to the entire City Council, their findings and recommendations. 

When the new Administration took office last year there wasn’t much time to do a lot of consulting.  NCBA were upset that there was no Budget Survey sent to Angelenos for 2013.   Instead, Deputy Mayor Rick Cole held several Budget Town Halls throughout the City. His reasoning in retrospect was sound.  If nothing was done with the survey results, why do another one? As the new kids on the block, face- to- face reaction might be a better way to go.  He also felt the NCBA were late to the party.  They presented in January and the budget was finalized in April. 

This has now changed.   Budget Advocates are starting on the 2015-2016 budget now.  Deputy Mayor Cole has created a matrix for real cooperative relationships.  In fact he said, "We are working to strengthen the role of the Budget Advocates to have a bigger impact on the final budget by collaborating with them on earlier opportunities to understand and participate in the preparation of the Mayor's budget submission to the City Council. We are also increasing the opportunities for Neighborhood Councils to support the work of the Budget Advocates by becoming better informed about the process and the City's financial realities." 

Handal’s right … we do need to be aware of the budget items and know what is realistic.  Several BA’s who have become experts in various areas such as City Employee’s Human Relations and Pension Benefits Packages, balanced budget, economic development etc., will also speak on their findings.  These are volunteers who have spent countless hours researching, interviewing, brainstorming and trying to come up with ways to reduce expenses and improve services. 

It will be interesting to see the results of this year’s survey, which is being reinstated.  I researched the results of the 2012 citywide survey and it will make a good comparison to see where Angelenos stand three years later.  Here are some of the highlights of the 2012 responses: 

Budget Priority Areas in order of importance 

1)    Police Services

2)    Fire Services

3)    Livable Neighborhoods

4)    Improved Infrastructure

5)    Fiscal Sustainability

6)    Economic Development &Private Sector Job Creation

 

Potential Service Reductions 

1)    Funding and support for elected officials offices

2)    Gang reduction and Youth Development Service

3)    Parking Enforcement and Traffic Control

4)    Pothole Repair and Street Re-paving services

5)    General Administration and Support

6)    Emergency and Ambulance Services

7)    Fire Prevention and Suppression Services

8)    Police Deployment

9)    Operational hours of select recreational facilities 

 

Increased funding for the top six service areas: 

1)    Police/public safety law enforcement

2)    Education and Schools

3)    Parks

4)    Street and Sidewalk Repairs

5)    Libraries

6)    Other (including jobs, youth development, planting trees NC’s and public transit)

 

New and Enhanced Revenue Opportunities

 

1)    Increase Transient occupancy Tax rate

2)    Increase the Parking Occupancy Tax rate

3)    Increase the Documentary Transfer Tax rate

4)    Establish a parcel tax for recreational & park services

5)    Establish a parcel tax for fire and paramedic services

6)    Invest resources to further improve revenue collection

 

Sustainable Workforce Options 

1)    Reduce ALL City employees salary by 5%

2)    Freeze all City employees salaries until City regains financial health

3)    Increase employee contributions toward health-care costs

4)    Employee pension reforms

5)    Layoff Employees

 

Public Private Partnerships 

1)    Operation of animal shelters

2)    Management and/or operation of City parking structures and lots

3)    Management of the Los Angeles Convention Center

4)    Management of the Municipal golf system

5)    Management of the Los Angeles Zoo 

 

Improved Financial Management Tools 

1)    Multi-year Budget Plans

2)    Performance-based budget process

 

There was nothing really startling about the responses.  Some changes have occurred.  Performance-based budgeting is now standard for all departments.  Respondents still feel that the autocracy is bloated.  Some of the private public partnerships are already established or in discussion.  An enhanced Revenue opportunity is a euphemism for increased taxes.   Not much has been said about multi-year budgeting. 

In an ideal world we can increase services and decrease taxes.  But that is not realistic.  Are there ways of achieving some modicum of the ideal by thinking out of the box? Everything is possible.  What is encouraging is that the NCBA have at least standing room in the budget process… if not yet a full seat at the table. 

As always comments welcome…even if you don’t agree!

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a contributor to CityWatch covering activities, policies and foibles in NC Land.  She is Co-Chair, Program Committee for the LA Neighborhood Congress to be held September 20 at City Hall, and a former officer and Board member of the Tarzana Neighborhood Council.  She can be reached at [email protected]

-cw

 


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CityWatch

Vol 12 Issue 65

Pub: Aug 12, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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