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Apr 2009
City Budget

A $7 billion spending plan unveiled today by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa relies on renegotiating employee contracts and privatizing municipal facilities and parking to eliminate a $530 million deficit.

The mayor - who said he will cut his own $223,000 annual salary by 12 percent - will peddle his proposal to the public through a series of town hall meetings, including one in the west part of the San Fernando Valley on Thursday and another in South Los Angeles on April 28.

"The need for shared responsibility and shared sacrifice isn't just rhetoric, it's reality," Villaraigosa said at a City Hall news conference. The $7.04 billion budget is 1 percent smaller than the $7.11 billion budget that was approved for fiscal year 2008-09. To eliminate a $530 million shortfall, 2,800 city workers could be laid off or, as Villaraigosa has proposed, employees could work one unpaid hour a week, contribute an additional 2 percent to their retirement accounts and forgo scheduled pay raises. Those three ideas would preserve 2,580 positions, according to the mayor.

Employees who are unionized through the Coalition of L.A. City Unions are eligible for a 3 percent raise in July and a 2.75 percent raise in January. The remaining deficit would be reduced by privatizing city parking lots - and possibly meters, the convention center and zoo - transferring $105 million between city accounts and increasing various fees to the tune of $4 million.

Some city employees, but none who are sworn personnel or with the Department of Water and Power, may be eligible for early retirement, but the mayor's office said it is too early to speculate on the number. Allowing employees to retire would only benefit the city financially if those positions remain vacant for a number of years, which could negatively impact municipal services.

"At this moment of challenge for so many families, at this time of uncertainty for so many households, we must remember our history of innovation and creativity. We must come together to imagine a better city for the next generation," Villaraigosa said.

The Los Angeles City Council will begin deliberations on the mayor's proposal in early May. The final budget must be adopted by June 12. Council President Eric Garcetti said he was "most focused on the long- term fiscal health of the city and preserving public safety and core city services. I want to make sure that everything in it reflects those values." The city's revenues have declined significantly. Officials expect that in the next year, property taxes will drop by $100 million, business taxes will be down $26 million, sales tax will decline $16 million and taxes from hotels will drop by $10 million.

To save money, the city is also looking to combine the Commission for Children, Youth and Their Families, the Commission on the Status of Women and the Human Relations Commission. Consolidating those three into the Department of Human Services would save the city $600,000 and result in the elimination of eight positions, six of which are filled.

Though the budget calls for a 7.4 percent cut - about $98 million - in the Los Angeles Police Department's budget, Villaraigosa said he is committed to hiring enough officers to push the LAPD passed the 10,000 mark.

In a letter to its members, the Los Angeles Police Protective League said it is in negotiations with the city regarding its next contract. The current agreement expires on June 30. "We have not had any in-depth financial discussions with the city yet because we have been waiting on this budget proposal," LAPPL President Paul Weber wrote.

City workers have called on City Council members to pledge to implement workers' ideas before cutting services and laying off employees who deliver those services.

Five City Council members signed the pledge at the April 11 L.A. Efficiency Summit hosted by SEIU 721 members, according to the union. The union claims its initiative to implement alternative work schedules for jail detention officers will save the city $2.5 million a year.

SEIU members are working with the mayor to achieve his goal of 10,000 police officers on the street by helping the LAPD be more efficient, freeing up sworn officers to get out in the field and perform police duties by turning some duties over to civilians.

"One way the mayor can get more cops on the streets is to lift the civilian hiring freeze on the police department," said Detention Officer Brian Hollenbaugh. "Detention officers are civilians, not sworn personnel, and our salaries are about half that of police officers. A feasibility study showed the city could save $3 to $4 million by having us transport arrestees in a limited capacity. It would also free up police officers for patrols."

In the fire department, an alternative work schedule for civilian mechanics could save millions of dollars that could go directly to fighting fires and staffing fire stations, according to the union.

On April 11, Councilmen Bernard Parks, Dennis Zine, Tom LaBonge, Herb Wesson and Jose Huizar heard city workers' ideas and signed the SEIU 721 pledge to:

- commit to early retirements as a "sensible and effective alternative to service cuts and layoffs";

- work with city workers and fully consider their ideas for savings, increased revenue and efficiencies before going forward with service cuts and layoffs;

- quickly implement new, money-saving ideas and previous recommendations that are "stuck in the pipeline"; and

- oppose privatization unless it can be demonstrated that it will preserve services, maintain wage and benefit standards, save the city money, and be transparent and accountable to the public.

Parks, who chairs the Budget and Finance Committee, said the city needs to look at structural changes to its pension system if significant savings are to be realized. He questioned how much the city would benefit from privatizing services as suggested by the mayor.

"What's the real money?" Parks said. "If you privatize the zoo, you may get a lump of money early on but it's one-time money and you lose access to that asset for a long period of time, so you should not be pumping that in for day-to-day operational costs."



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