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Proposed Per-Capita Spending in Santa Monica Far Exceeds Most Comparable Cities


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

June 27, 2017 -- The City of Santa Monica’s per capita spending for operations in its proposed $773.7 million budget for the upcoming fiscal year far exceeds that of most comparable cities in the region, according to an analysis by The Lookout.

A sample survey of half a dozen well-to-do municipalities in Los Angeles County shows Santa Monica is only second to Beverly Hills when it comes to per capita spending and spends more than twice as much per resident as Culver City and Torrance.

Operating expenditures for the City of Santa Monica in the fiscal year starting July 1 are projected to reach $534,826,002, or about $5,733 per capita, under the proposed budget the City Council is expected to approve tonight. The U.S. census estimated the city's population at 93,282 last July.

Beverly Hills, which will spend $8,611 per capita on an approved operating budget that totals $298.7 million, topped the list -- which also included Culver City, Manhattan Beach, Pasadena and West Hollywood. Beverly Hills' estimated population of 34,687 was the smallest among the cities surveyed by the Lookout.

Pasadena, which is the largest with an estimated population of 140,960, was third on the list with $4,501 in per capitaa spending -- or $1,233 less than Santa Monica.

Next were West Hollywood, which contracts its police and fire services from the county, with $3,297 in per capita spending and Manhattan Beach with $2,924. The two cities have estimated populations of 36,698 and 35,741, respectively.

By comparison, Culver City, with an estimated population of 40,120, is poised to spend $2,742 per resident, while Torrance, with an estimated population of 147,116, is expected to spend $1,399.

The cities surveyed are often used by Santa Monica officials as comparable when it discusses various types of expenditures.

Santa Monica's proposed 2017-2019 biennial budget totals a record $1.57 billion -- or 25 percent more than its predecessor (“The Wolf is Here,” Santa Monica City Manager Warns as Budget Woes Mount," May 25, 2017").

While City officials did not return a request for comment by deadline, they have explained that Santa Monica's high costs of doing business is the result of offering services other municipalities do not ("Santa Monica Defends High City Salaries as Key to Quality Services," December 6, 2016).

In particular, the City’s municipal bus system is a major expense and far more extensive than bus services offered by Pasadena, Torrance and Culver City.

The proposed budget for the Big Blue Bus (BBB) system in 2017-18 is $98.4 million, rising to about $100.2 million the following year.

It is a major focus for the City, as officials try to convince residents, workers and visitors to switch from cars to environmentally cleaner alternatives, such as using city buses.

The City’s ambitions for the BBB have not yet been realized; as of last year’s year-end report, ridership had dropped 12 percent, continuing six years of losses.

In the upcoming fiscal year, Pasadena is set to spend about $35 million for its bus system and Torrance has budgeted $33.2 million. The services and lines included in those municipal systems, however, are a fraction of those offered by the BBB.

As with other local governments in California, Santa Monica is seeing much slower growth of its traditional revenues sources, such as sales, property and hotel taxes, at a time when municipalities are bracing for a recession in coming years.

Compounding the problem for California’s public sector are mushrooming costs for employee pensions. The problem stems from the late 1990s, when the Stock Market yielded a bounty so healthy that the state’s pension system didn’t lean into government spending.

But the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) has throttled back what it anticipates earning in the market, which leaves governments responsible for making up the difference ("Employee Costs Pose Major Fiscal Challenge for Santa Monica Officials," May 23, 2017).


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