Mayor Robert Garcia and City Manager Pat West unveiled a proposed Fiscal Year 2018 budget Monday that increases spending on police and firefighters, promises almost $60 million in street and infrastructure projects and does it all without any service cuts.
Long Beach's total budget is more than $2.5 billion, but most of that is in so-called revenue funds like the Harbor Department. Budget debate revolves around the General Fund, which provides most of the visible city services, including police, fire, parks, libraries and public works.
That fund will total $461 million in Fiscal 2018, with about 70% of that amount going to public safety — police, fire and disaster preparedness. The increase in spending from Fiscal 2017 — about 1% — comes primarily from new tax revenue, including the sales tax hike dedicated to public safety and infrastructure. The amount is about $30 million more than the 2017 budget.
"For the fourth year, I'm proud to present a balanced budget," Garcia said in opening the press conference Monday. "It is fiscally responsible and prudent. It doesn't overspend while we continue to pay down our pension liabilities.
"We're investing a significant amount, the most in a generation, in our city's infrastructure… Because of the support of our voters, we're growing the police and fire departments, as well."
Garcia was referring to the Measure A sales tax increase approved last November. Voters passed a 1¢ sales tax hike for the next six years, dropping to a half cent for four more years, with a promise from the mayor and City Council that it would be spent on public safety and infrastructure repairs. Fiscal 2018 will be the first full year of the new tax revenue.
Increases in the Police and Fire departments in 2017 are being included in the growth Garcia cites. That includes permanently staffing the police academy with nine positions, adding eight sworn police officers and two civilian staff to reconstitute the South Division and 28 new positions under contract to police the Metro Blue Line within city borders. That contract alone is worth $30 million. The Fire Department added 18 positions this year with restoration of Fire Engine 8 and Paramedic Rescue 12, will permanently staff the Homeless Education And Response Team (Heart Team) and get two more positions in the next budget to conduct marijuana inspections and help with enforcement.
There will be two larger-than-normal police academies this year to grow the force to fill all of the new positions and respond to normal attrition. Police Chief Robert Luna said that the transition covering the Blue Line is requiring some overtime, but it will come back into balance in the next year.
While there was celebration over the increased public safety and infrastructure spending, there were notes of caution as well. Budget manager Lea Eriksen said appeals of property tax increases had dropped projected revenue from that source by about $5 million in the current fiscal year. She added that higher revenue from other sources appears to be making up much of that difference, and the city should still end Fiscal 2017 in the black.
There also is an increased risk that the city might not realize the necessary revenue in Fiscal 2018 because, Financial Management Director John Gross said, the proposed budget has a more realistic expectation of revenue. Overall revenue expectations have been raised by about $7 million in 2018 because actual revenues for the last three years have been $7 million to $10 million more than budgeted.
"We believe that ($7 million) is realistic," Gross said. "But there is an added risk any time you make that change."
In addition to more spending for public safety and infrastructure, there are no service cuts in the proposed budget. Where there are new revenue sources, such as the Measure MA marijuana tax, there are increases. There will be additional spending to deal with homelessness, economic development technology and more. An all-new wayfinding system of signs has been funded at $1 million, and more money has been set aside to support the arts and culture efforts of the city, Garcia said.
The City Council is scheduled to receive a presentation similar to the press conference at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, with first comments from the council members expected then.
Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: This story will be updated after the City Council meeting.