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SM Budget Issues Abound:

This is the first in a series of articles that will deal with the City of Santa Monica’s annual 2006-2007 budget-making process, the sources and allocations of revenues and expenditures, the politics of approval and the wide array of interests expressed by the City Council and the many factions in the community.

Issues and more issues arise in the City of Santa Monica as that “finance” time of year arrives, and the December-to-June annual budget approval process moves through its various intricate stages. Pressures and still more pressures develop between elected officials, action groups and other concerned individuals as the 2006-07 budget itself is researched, introduced, studied, discussed and finally voted on at the end of June.

The annual budget preparation process starts in December when City staff prepares five-year forecasts of General Fund and other fund revenues and expenditures. A summary of this information is presented to the City Council to receive input on budget priorities for the next fiscal year. From February through May, the staff prepares the Proposed Budget, which is then provided to the City Council for study sessions – this year on May 23rd, 24th and 25th, if necessary – which the public is allowed to attend. The Council will hold a formal public hearing on June 20th and then vote whether or not to adopt the Budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1st.

Throughout the entire process, Council members and City staff face many requests for funding for a wide range of programs and activities from diverse members of various City boards, commissions and other Santa Monica special interest groups and residents.

Here are some of the suggestions and comments the City Budget Division has received from the general public so far:

Joe B. Hall, Hawthorne: “I had an idea when I saw a homeless person pushing a cart of recyclables. Let’s pay them for picking up all kinds of trash. There’s still plenty of it lying around in the gutters in Santa Monica.”

Michael Hill, Santa Monica: “I’d like to see an expanded effort to green the beaches. The ‘Gobi Desert’ area north of the pier would be a great place for six synthetic turf soccer fields.”

J. Larry Carroll, Santa Monica: “The Branch Libraries (Ocean Park, Fairview and Montana) urgently need to have full-time security personnel (Library Inspectors) on site during the hours they are open.”

Traffic is always a major issue. “The Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition is being joined by the Montana Avenue Merchants Association and several other neighborhood groups in requesting that the City Council set aside funds for a feasible study to solve the city’s traffic problems,” says Jeanne Dodson of Santa Monica.

Diana Gordon of the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City states: “We recommend that the City allocate $200,000 out of the $2.2 million budget surplus to begin collecting traffic data Citywide for a new traffic impact methodology.”

Not all suggestions and requests come to fruition; for some there is compromise. In January 2004, Nicholas Vrataric, Executive Director of the CLARE Foundation, which provides recovery for alcoholics and drug addicts, told the Council that an alternative to the major investment the City and local hospitals now expend on inebriates would be a “sobering center” that could serve as many as 1,500 people at a cost of $200,000 to the budget of 2005-2006.

While the sobering center is no longer on the table, CLARE is doing a program in collaboration with the City fire and police for people who were arrested for being drunk called the Serial Inebriate Outreach Program. It has been very successful and satisfies the need for a sobering center at a much-reduced cost of less than $40,000 per year.

“We think the City of Santa Monica has done an exemplary job of dealing with the problems of homelessness and its impact on the Westside of Los Angeles,” says Vrataric, a past president of the Westside Shelter and Hunger Coalition. “The CLARE Foundation’s experience shows that 85% of the homeless population suffers from substance abuse issues. The City continues to provide leadership by funding and working with local providers to deal with the issues that are of greatest concern to the community.”

If you would like to express your opinion, e-mail f.loweree@verizon.net or go to www.santa-monica.org/finance.

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