Last Tuesday, Santa Monica’s City Council approved a $383 million budget for fiscal year 2005-2006 that includes an expansion of homeless services and one of the community’s principal community priorities, as well as increased funding for programs that had been squeezed in recent years by a drop in City revenue.
Council members agreed unanimously to allocate $200,000 for one year for a Homeless Initiative Secretary, as proposed several weeks ago by Council member Bobby Shriver, to develop and coordinate measures designed to alleviate a range of problems related to homelessness, and to work with neighboring cities and other government agencies on the problems. At the same time, the Council allocated $170,000 to increase staffing for City programs for the homeless.
Most members of the public who spoke supported the creation of the new post. Community activist Arthur Harris applauded the idea by stating that it “has the possibility of multiplying what we do in this city and it’s a good idea to try it…it’s likely other cities will find this jump-starts the multi-jurisdictional efforts that have been made in the past. Rather than undercutting them I think it will help them get going more effectively.”
Another resident, Jean Sedillos, echoed Harris, saying, “if Santa Monica wants to alleviate the crisis of chronic homelessness on our streets, we will have to have a top level manager working on it full-time. Santa Monicans, both homeless and housed, have waited long enough for relief.”
The Chair of the Social Services Commission, Eleanor Bloomberg disagreed, noting, “We have some reservations about the long-range success of a high powered homeless secretary in terms of regional and national programming because community concern is about the here and now.” Instead she called for “additional staff for the Human Services department that is dedicated to the hands on work for homeless issues and for the monitoring and the evaluating of the continuum of care we have been supporting.”
The Council also heeded requests from numerous other speakers by reinstating funding to programs that had been cut in recent years. Restored ongoing funds included a (COLA) cost of living adjustment of $41,000 for art grantees, $60,000 for early childhood programs, and Santa Monica Symphony funding of $12,200.
In addition, a grant of $50,000 for a Santa Monica Historical Society preservation project was approved, and a $43,000 one-time grant was made to underwrite the installation of automatic defibrillators at 13 City sites, with another $13,400 allocated for ongoing funding.
Other one-time funding grants included $144,000 for the preparation of a historic resources inventory and $75,000 for an Ocean Park traffic/parking/crosswalk study.
Funding for the expansion of homeless services and restoration of some program funding will come in part, from increased fees the City will charge for water and solid waste services later this year and, in part. from cutting funds for other City services and projects.
The cuts included a reduction of the Borderline neighborhood study funding of $100,000, a cut of $231,000 for the annual street repaving budget, a reduction of ongoing facilities maintenance of $25,000 and reducing the annual Santa Monica Festival budget by $23,000.
The Council also asked City staff to find ways to restore these cuts by mid-year and restore the cut to the Santa Monica Festival funding before mid-year, following an outburst by Council member Richard Bloom.
The new budget includes a $207.5 million general fund, which is down 7.8 percent ($16.9 million) from last year owing to a reduced capital improvement budget ($69.4 million) that reflects the upcoming completion of both the new Main Library and Virginia Avenue Park.
Those projects are part of the proposed operating expense budget increase of 4.4 percent ($8.2 million) from fiscal year 2004-2005.
Increases in local taxes are the principal bases for the rise in City funds. City Manager Susan McCarthy’s website budget posting states that the City’s “Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) and Sales Tax revenues appear to have returned to pre-recession levels. Additionally, voters approved a 2 percent increase in the TOT in November 2004” that is expected to bring in an additional $3.8 million for fiscal year 2005-2006.Before adopting the budget, the Council took the staff’s recommendaton and approved a 6 percent increase for water rates that includes a 3.8 percent Consumer Price Index (CPI) increase and a 10 percent rate increase in solid waste rates that also includes a 3.8 percent CPI increase. Both increases will take effect this Friday.