At a special Saturday workshop, Santa Monica Finance Director Carol Swindell told the City Council that first quarter City revenues for Fiscal Year 2007-08 would be about $300,000 more than expected.
Swindell also noted at the October 13 meeting that there were other positives in Santa Monica’s economy, including a 4.7 percent unemployment rate for August, which is below the County of Los Angeles’ figure of 5.8 percent, and a 5.9 percent office vacancy rate which is also lower than the 9.5 percent average for the Los Angeles market area. Additional good news included a diversified tax base, strong retail sales per capita, and high occupancy rates in City hotels. Santa Monica’s average hotel room rate of $321 is the second highest in Los Angeles County. Only Beverly Hills charges more. Swindell mentioned that despite the slowing of residential sales, home prices are not declining.
On the negative side, Swindell stressed that “legal challenges may reduce or eliminate the telecommunications portion of the City’s Utility Users Tax.”
Swindell’s presentation was part of a Council workshop that not only looked at the City’s financial position, but also included a discussion on contracting out policy options, the Capital Improvement Project process, and City office space needs.
The Council did not decide on a new citywide policy for outsourcing, but instead discussed the need to assess the total cost and other factors if services that are currently outsourced were brought in-house. This way, they could then compare outsourcing versus in-house services. City staff suggested that any citywide policy should include “assurance of responsive and high quality service to the community, now and in the future, fairness and protections for existing employees, social responsibility to contracted workers, specifically, ensuring provisions for health care coverage, and assuring financially feasible options, in the short and longer term.”
Councilmembers also discussed a proposal by City staff that would help expedite the project review and approval process for Capital Improvement Projects such as the Big Blue Bus Expansion or the California Incline Project. The staff proposal’s goals are to “standardize the process, allow for public/stakeholder input, and provide the Council with the opportunity to weigh in on project design development, just as an owner would.” Councilmembers suggested “preserving Council flexibility and ultimate decision-making” and receiving advisories early on from the City’s Architectural Review Board and Planning Commission.
Lastly, the Council discussed City office space needs. According to City staff, City employees are “located in City Hall and at various City sites and leased spaces located throughout the City,” which has resulted “in operational inefficiency as well as a decreased level of customer service.” Councilmembers supported having an “enhanced Civic Center approach” to help centralize services and thus improve efficiency and customer service.