In the Mike Balkman Chambers at City Hall on May 7, there were so many agencies meeting it seemed unlikely the crowd would fit in the room. When the City Council doubled up as the Redevelopment Agency it was complicated enough. Now that they are the Successor-to-the-Redevelopment Agency as well as the Parking and Housing Authorities, there was a bundle of agendas, all the responsibility of the same five people sitting on the dais. But the basic business at hand was a rewrite of a familiar script; we have far less money than we need, and we have more cars than we have places to put them.
Cars first – the upcoming Car Show that will be have the Exchange Club taking over downtown this coming Saturday, May 12, invoked the irritation of downtown neighbor and parking-maven Cary Anderson. Speaking from the podium, Anderson reiterated his complaints that the city is not responsive to the residents, that cars parked in illegal spaces are not ticketed, and that there was no notification of the locals in regard to the Car Show and the parking issues that always occur. John Cohn, representing the Exchange Club, did his best to ameliorate the concerns, noting that the previous agreement with the City had worked last year, and that many Exchange Club members would be “working” the Car Show to help with parking and traffic concerns. Council member Jim Clarke asked if Anderson’s concerns could be addressed, and City Manager John Nachbar offered to go over the agreement “first thing in the morning.”
Nachbar’s desk was already more than full with the major task of the evening, the city budget.
Never does Nachbar sounds so animated as when discussing the budget, and with reason. The amount of budget cutting that has already occurred has been heroic, but the daunting truth is that it’s just the beginning. The exasperation in his voice was the sound of someone who, having sold all the furniture to pay the bills, has just been informed that that the creditors will be repossessing his clothes.
CFO Jeff Muir took the spotlight to break down the budget, and in a steady but sober tone, offered up the figures for the year, and the projections for the next five years. (For complete figures, go to Comprehensive Financial Plan (pdf) )
“Investing in our infrastructure,” Muir offered “is something we cannot continue to defer without getting into very difficult consequences.” More than three-quarters of the general fund is spent on payroll ( 76% by Muir’s figures) and the elimination of another 19 positions to save $1.9 million is being considered as a means of making ends meet.
Muir noted that “$23 million in liability [for retirement obligations] now needs to be recorded on an annual basis. We did not have to present this previously, but we are now required to keep this on the books.”
With $7. 5. million of Redevelopment money gone from the general fund, the worsening financial drought will be draining Culver City in many ways.
Muir ended his presentation with the statement, “We have a problem, and we have to take some very specific action to address it.”
Nachbar went over the measures already taken by the city, saying, “We have reduced the budget by $11 million a year. 17 and 1/2 percent of general fund personnel will have been eliminated. The non- public safety positions have been the ones to be eliminated.”
“We lowered $3 million a year by re-doing contracts with all six employee groups. We are getting very close to being as lean as we can without beginning to dramatically effect services. We are at the proverbial fork in the in the road. We are talking about dramatic impact to the services that we provide to the city. If we were to eliminate parks and rec – we would still would not solve this problem. If we eliminated the entire public works department, we could be close to solving this problem.”
Nachbar continued, “It ‘s time to give consideration to tax increases. It’s for the city council and the community to decide. If we want to maintain the services we enjoy, it will be hard to salvage those without an increase.”
The council weighed in with their considerations.
Mayor Andy Weissman was the first to speak. “As difficult as it was four years ago, when we had the perfect [economic] storm, we underestimated the consequences of that perfect storm, and dealing with the structural deficit – that we already knew was unsustainable. We’ve gone beyond [trimming] the fat and into the muscle. I don’t think this is a community that wants to sacrifice the quality of life we have all come to enjoy.”
Meghan Sahli-Wells spoke to the issue. “I don’t want to see the city do a slash-and-burn budget where it’s all cuts. We do need to get the community involved, and I hope we can agendize a committee to look at the budget and get some input.”
When Jeff Cooper turned on his mike, he recalled, “Two years ago, the budget was an issue, and we used the same words – sobering, dire – we’re down.. but it’s a tough city. We always think of our police, of our fire departments. You only have to go a couple of blocks into LA to see how services drop off.”
Mehaul O’Leary gave his perspective, saying “Every year we get this drastic picture. I believe this council is not only capable, but determined. There are many cities in far worse positions, and once we see these cities start going belly-up the state is going to have to realize the damage that it’s doing.”
Council member Clarke finished the full round of comments from the dais stating, “Our citizens demand a high level of services. I think we all found that out when we were walking the precincts. I think our best option is a sales-tax increase, and it would be wise to create a sunset clause [so that the tax increase would have a definable end-date].”
Weissman suggested “It’s time to revitalize the Town Hall. It had turned into a gripe session about trash and trees, but we need to engage the community in the revenue process. There are timing issues -in respect to a town hall- but the public needs to be engaged at the front end.”
So, Public….sales tax increase? Town Hall ? Where do you stand on the financial crisis? Cut the Fire Department or the police? Give up on Parks and Rec or Public Works ? Comments post, so your Town Hall starts here …..