Thursday, June 20, 2024

LA City Council looks for money to fund vital functions

Must read

Amid a projected multi-year deficit and efforts to “right-size” the 2024-25 budget, Los Angeles City officials are continuing their efforts to identify possible funding sources for “priority” programs and services.

On Wednesday, the City Council’s five-member Budget, Finance and Innovation Committee began working through more than 150 budget memos, with the intent of narrowing them down to at least 35. The 35 memos represent areas where council members hope to ensure funding for certain programs and services.

The committee met into the evening but could not finish its work due time constraints, and opted to extend the meeting to next Thursday, May 16.

During the meeting, council members expressed concerns and echoed sentiments from department heads, who last week explained how cuts to their operational budgets and elimination of vacant positions would impact their ability to function — or in some ways not provide a higher level of service that they aim to achieve.

Some council members suggested that they move funding away from the Los Angeles Police Department and Mayor Karen Bass’ cornerstone homeless program, Inside Safe, for other things.

Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez recommended that the council committee reduce funding in the general fund for LAPD vehicles from almost $22 million to $10 million, as well as move hiring funding for 574 LAPD officers into the Unappropriated Balance account to allow any money left unused for other needs in the city. Hernandez emphasized the money could be moved into LAPD salaries once enrollment for each police academy class has been verified.

The moves would free up funding to restore $1 million for the L.A.’s Best after-school program; 23 positions in the Bureau of Street Services for pavement preservation and construction; restore 48 vacant positions that are slated for elimination to help maintain existing services; $12 million for the Community Investment for Families Department; restore funding for four positions in the Department of Animal Services, along with $4 million for spay and neuter efforts; and restore funding for 85 positions in the Department of Recreation and Parks.

“Our current budgeting process has failed to right-size the city spending year-over-year and instead has led us to a place where we are unable to adequately fund departments with the resources that need to serve our communities — without asking our city family to do more with less,” Hernandez said.

The committee and other city officials are expected to review her proposal and decide later whether to implement it.

Councilman Bob Blumenfield also led a discussion on homeless spending, specific to Bass’ Inside Safe initiative. Under Bass’ proposed $12.8 billion budget, she planned for $185 million to support the program. Of that money, about $80 million would come from the city’s general fund, while the remaining $105 million would roll over from the current fiscal year.

Blumenfield explained a similar but new process for the council to approve and allocate funding for Inside Safe.

Under the current process, money is placed into the Homeless Emergency Account. Inside Safe is given a set amount, and once that money is set about to fall below $25 million, Bass’ office and the city administrative officer must submit a 14-day notice and request for funds from the HEA, as well as a report back on how money has been used.

However, Matt Szabo, the city administrative officer, said the current structure allows the mayor to authorize expenditures without council approval.

The new requirements would ensure that funding allocation for Inside Safe would require council approval. In addition, it would require reports back detailing metrics, effectiveness of the program, and service provider outcomes — information not required for disclosure under the current process.

“So, importantly, from my perspective, it’s bringing us back into the process like any other regular item where we would have to approve the funding on a monthly basis,” Szabo said Wednesday.

Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez expressed frustration with that plan, noting that the some of the money would be used for the decommission of the L.A. Grand Hotel and operation of the Mayfair Hotel. She also seemed skeptical of receiving reports back from the mayor’s office because the current reports have been “more than lacking.”

“I have a really hard time stomaching this idea that we will, again, sign up for what we just experienced and went through the same frustrations of entrusting these resources,” Rodriguez said. “We absolutely need a plan because it (Inside Safe) has not served the greatest amount of people with the amount of money that we have.”

Several times throughout the meeting, Rodriguez remarked that the $80 million for Inside Safe could be used to fund positions or services that are expected to be cut.

Final recommendations for Inside Safe spending will be discussed at a later committee meeting.

Bass’ proposed spending plan represents a $323.3 million, or 2.46%, decrease from the 2023-24 budget of $13.1 billion.

In the current fiscal year, the city faces a $467 million deficit, composed of a revenue shortfall of $180 million below projections, and unexpected spending of about $289 million, mainly from liability payouts related to the LAPD, among other costs.

In a bid to address the $467 million deficit, city officials have taken steps including dipping into the reserve fund, increasing fees for city services, reducing capital spending and implementing a priority hiring plan with the intention of eliminating 2,139 vacant positions from the city’s books.

Szabo has estimated the city could save almost $180 million by eliminating those vacant positions. He said if the city were to adopt the mayor’s budget with all of the reductions, it would still face a $56 million deficit in 2025-26, which would increase by $294 million in fiscal year 2026-27, but by 2028-29 the city would be able to “turn it around.”

Looking ahead to the next couple of years, city officials said, they would focus on three primary objectives, including cutting functions that are currently repeated across many departments, identifying strategic investments in technology or efficiency solutions and designing programs to measure their effectiveness and make refinements.

More articles

Latest article