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Santa Monica City Council Approves Record Budget
By Niki Cervantes
June 29, 2017 -- The Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday approved a record $1.57 billion biennial budget that represents a 27 percent jump from its predecessor even as the City braces for an economic slow-down.
Approved was a $774.9 million budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, with spending increases driven by construction of a downtown fire station, a $77 million bond for an annex to City Hall and steep costs tied to employee pensions and health care.
The second half of the biennial budget is $802.8 million.
A temporary “czar” to reign over the City’s troubled “Vision Zero” policy -- meant to eliminate traffic fatalities -- was added as a final touch to the two-year budget.
In all, the council approved allocating another $500,000 to kick-start improvements to safety for the pedestrians and bicyclists whose ranks they are hoping will grow with the City's efforts to encourage "multi-modality."
It also kicked in an extra $300,000 funding (with matching County funds) for a multi-disciplinary team that will go to the streets to help the City’s growing homeless population.
In addition, extra money is reserved in case the Trump Administration axes funding for the needy.
In a statement, City Manager Rick Cole said the biennial budget “marks a transition” as the City faces $387 million in unfunded employee pension costs and other rising spending at a time when bounties from sales taxes, property taxes and other tradition revenues slow.
Over the next two years, Cole said, “we will begin to reduce the City’s overall workforce by emphasizing efficiencies and using technology to do work faster, better and less expensively.”
“The adopted budget continues to invest in vital community assets and rigorously focus on delivering the results that matter most to the wellbeing of our residents.”
Like other governments in California, Santa Monica is forecasting a possible recession soon. Its fiscal picture includes a possible $3.8 million structural deficit in the 2019-20 fiscal year.
The red ink rockets to $19 million two years after that, most of it tied to the amount of money the City is obligated to pay for pensions.
Cole noted the council just approved a record $45 million payment earlier in June, which he said will lower unfunded liability by 11 percent ("City Council Approves Record Payment Toward Santa Monica's Unfunded Employee Pensions," June 15, 2017).
He also said the biennial budget “reflects further steps to control operating cost increases, including the long-term reduction in staff with no net new positions in the first year and a reduction of overall permanent positions in the second.”
Tuesday’s vote did not include much discussion of the overall biennial budget; it had changed relatively little from its original version, unveiled in May.
The budgets followed the general changes the council had already requested, including boosting funding to make the city's busy streets safer and hiring a “Vision Zero czar,” which is being filled by an existing manager on an interim basis ("Santa Monica City Council Calls for Safe Streets “Czar,” May 11, 2017).
The initiatives address is rise in traffic accidents -- and fatalities -- as motorists, pedestrians and cyclists jockey for space on the City’s congested streets ("Pedestrian Killed Crossing Santa Monica Boulevard," April 4, 2017).
On Tuesday, the council also gave $113,000 from council discretionary funds to local organizations involved in the environment, social justice causes, a youth soccer league, a production of the Nutcracker at the Broad Stage and others.
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