In Closed Session

When do you do your budget? For that matter, do you do your budget?

Sorry, didn't mean to intrude into your personal life. It's just my way to get you thinking about budgets and how people spend your money.

Yes, other people decide how to spend your money. It's called government, and you pay for it in the form of taxes, fees for service and more.

So it makes some sense that you should know when those decisions are being made.

I've tried to explain before how the city of Long Beach is on a bit of a strange fiscal year — from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. So, since it's still the first week in June, we have no reason to talk budgets yet, right?

Wrong.

It takes a long time to get spending plans through any bureaucracy, and Long Beach is no exception. In many ways, there are people working on the next budget year-round all the way down to department level. Decisions are made at that level, then made again in the city manager's office, then again in the mayor's office and finally in City Council chambers.

For the general fund departments including police, fire, parks and rec, libraries and more, their spending plan gets vetted through the Finance Department as well. Changes can be, and often are, made at every step of the way.

There are a couple of exceptions to that process, thanks to the City Charter. Our founding fathers — and voters through amendments — deemed it necessary to keep the Water Department and the Harbor Department at least partially independent of the city government. For that reason, the power to approve budgets, set rates and hire chief executives was given to a sort-of independent board of commissioners at both departments. (Sort-of independent because commissioners are appointed by the mayor and ratified by the City Council.)

A check-and-balance system still gives the mayor and City Council veto power over the water and port budgets, but only in an up or down sense. If the mayor doesn't like the Port of Long Beach spending plan, for example, he or she can send it back. Technically, the council can do the same.

It is unlikely you really care about just how much the port charges shipping companies for docking fees. You might care about how much they spend on improving air quality, but it is a rare resident who is willing to spend the time digging through the budget book to figure that out.

On the other hand, most people pay at least a little attention to what they're paying for water and sewer service. I got my city bill yesterday, and I certainly checked on how much I paid for water last month.

Well, the decision about how much you are going to pay for water and sewer services is going to be made next Thursday. That's when the Water Commission is scheduled to approve a proposed budget — and the rates necessary to make that budget balance.

Full disclosure: As most of you know, I am a water commissioner. I've worked on this budget, and I'm going to have a vote on whether it passes.

That said, I think it's important that you know what's going on, and when it happens. At next Thursday's commission meeting, the board will decide whether to increase water rates by 4% in fiscal 2018, and up sewer rates by 2%.

Before you get too upset, you need to know that Long Beach water and sewer service will remain the biggest bargain in the Southland, and maybe all of California. The combined increase is expected to be $1.84 a month on the average residential bill, for an average total of just less than $70 a month. San Diego residents pay almost twice as much, and our neighbors in Los Angeles pay $30 a month more than we do.

But this column isn't meant to be an argument in favor of the budget. Instead, I want to make sure you know about the process, and give you the opportunity to participate if you want.

The commission meeting is at 9 a.m. next Thursday, June 15, at the Water Department administration building, 1800 E. Wardlow Rd. It is open to the public. That's you.

Will I see you there?

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.

Load comments