Long Beach will change the way it provides service while cutting $17.2 million and 159 positions from the general fund if the proposed 2013 city budget is approved.

Seismic shifts include consolidation of the Police Department from four divisions to three (the South and West divisions will combine to become the Central Division), the Fire Department will shut down one more engine to maintain the four people per engine model and will shift paramedics so there will only be one per ambulance (but there will be more ambulances and paramedics on all fire engines) and free or subsidized youth recreation and after school programs will be eliminated for most of east Long Beach in order to maintain services in other parts of the city.

There is one bit of good news on the public safety front — there will be a full police academy next year to start dealing with attrition on the force, and a lateral fire academy to train more hires is on the verge of starting.

Other departments will see similar cuts in a continuation of the “proportional share” philosophy of budget cutting in an era when there is no sign revenues will increase significantly. For example, self-service libraries at library branches, first proposed last year, are a virtual certainty this year.

“Rather than long for the good ol’ days of government — or worse, continue policies that reflect the belief that they will return — we need to embrace the new reality and radically change the way we conduct the public’s business,” Mayor Bob Foster said at a press conference Wednesday releasing the proposed budget.

City Manager Pat West and his department managers concurred, with larger changes to operations than have been seen in recent years, and a promise for more with a pledge to follow through on efficiencies recommended by Management Partners, including more emphasis on contracting services to private companies, elimination of duplicate services such as human resources and changing the way the city handles special pay and overtime.

Service cuts are not the only way the management wants to deal with the spending deficit. In a move similar to last year, the budgeted price for oil revenue has been increased by $10 — to $65 a barrel. That will mean about $3.5 million extra to be spent on operations. But even with that, revenues continue to grow more slowly than cost increases.

Thanks largely to wage and benefit increases (revenue projections for the next two years show improvement), the projected fiscal 2014 budget deficit already is $10.9 million and fiscal 2015’s deficit is $6.4 million. That doesn’t include any potential savings from a pension reform deal with miscellaneous employees (whose current contract ends on Sept. 30, 2013). But the deficits would have been much worse without reforms agreed to by the police and firefighter unions.

“Pension reform is a must in this new normal,” Foster said. “No one should impugn the work performed by public employees nor the contribution they make to our city. They are not, however, a special class immune from the economy or modern work rules and sustainable salaries and benefits.”

The total proposed general fund is $395.4 million, with public safety continuing to take up 68% of that amount. The police department must cut $8.7 million and will lose 70 positions (40 sworn, with seven of those going to the Port of Long Beach). Fire will absorb about $1 million in cuts.

The Parks, Recreation and Marine Department gets hammered this year, with nearly $2.8 million in cuts and the loss of 50 positions. Thirty of those positions come from youth programming for free sports and after school programs at College Estates, Wardlow, Whaley, Pan Am, Somerset, Coolidge, Sterns, Cherry, Drake, Miracle, El Dorado West, Davenport, DeForest and Bixby parks. Park rangers will be further reduced to work only on weekends, and the Will J. Reid Pool will be closed and services at other pools reduced. Private and nonprofit organizations will be asked to provide programming and support for adaptive recreation, the El Dorado Nature Center and the Long Beach Senior Center.

Library Services will not escape, with that department cutting $1.25 million. Main Library hours will be reduced to the same hours as branches, and six neighborhood branch libraries will become self-service facilities with only one librarian on duty. Family learning centers will continue to be the responsibility of the Library Foundation.

Cuts in the police department will eliminate the gang enforcement field unit (investigations units will remain) and the South Division directed enforcement team. The 30 civilian positions cut will come from consolidation of the South and West divisions and a reduction of support services.

The entire proposed budget, including the budgets of all enterprise funds, is available at the city’s website, www.longbeach.gov. The budget as presented is proposed — the City Council has final say, and will begin budget hearings next Tuesday, Aug. 7.

According to the City Charter, the council must approve a balanced budget by Sept. 15.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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