By Sam Catanzaro
On Tuesday, June 25, the Santa Monica City Council adopted a balanced budget for fiscal year (FY) 2019-20, a Proposed Budget Plan for FY 2020-21 and a strategy for the future that focuses on “financial sustainability” and change in the way the City will manage success.
According to the City, fiscal policy over the next six years will focus on “fiscal sustainability and shifts emphasis to delivering outcomes by measuring and managing performance.”
The final budget is $712.9 million for FY 2019-20 and $756.4 million for FY 2020-21. Last year’s adopted budget was $802.1 million.
“With this budget, we continue to invest in the exceptional services, programs and public facilities for which Santa Monica is known while also preparing for harder economic times,” said Mayor Gleam Davis. “Budgeting based on performance and continually measuring how we’re doing will maintain our strong financial standing and allow us to continue to innovate to meet regional and global challenges like homelessness and climate change.”
The $712.9 million includes a $9.3 million payment towards Santa Monica’s unfunded pension liability. According to the City, this is part of a strategy to accelerate payments to fully fund Santa Monica’s pension obligations within 13 years, saving over $100 million in interest costs over 30 years. Because the City is spending more money now to pay off their pension obligations, after decades of being financially in the green, the City of Santa Monica is forecasted to go into the red over the next decade as it pays off $448 million in unpaid pensions to the state.
“The City forecasts a budget shortfall to grow to between $34 and $47 million, driven largely by sharply rising pension costs and flattening revenues,” the City said in a press release last month.
As part of the adopted budget, increases to Santa Monica’s parking fee and fine structure were approved to raise more revenue. Changes include a parking meter rate rise of $0.50/hour in the Downtown and Beach zones, $0.25/hour in all other zones and Main Street parking lots and a $15 increase in the monthly permit price for the Main Street lots. Hourly and daily parking rates will also increase at the Pier deck and the Central Beach lots. All other parking rates will remain the same and are available at www.smgov.net/parking.
Not included in the final plan were cuts proposed by City Manager Rick Cole in earlier versions of the budget.
Included Cole’s proposal was the elimination of the contract with the Santa Monica Community College District to provide live broadcasts of regular Santa Monica City Council meetings from 8 p.m. to midnight on KCRW. Instead, Council directed staff to continue the contract for one year and return to Council to present alternative ways to provide direct access to Council proceedings to community members more effectively.
Also not included in the final budget was the proposal of extending the closure the Santa Monica Swim Center during winter months and reducing code enforcement of the City’s leafblower ban.
Despite the seven percent reduction in the overall budget, the plan includes investments for a wide range of City programs and services in areas of affordability, climate change, safety, mobility and homelessness.
Expansions include a new team of cross-functional homeless outreach workers focused on the beach and a six-month pilot program to expand Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. Ambassador services in Reed Park. This is in response to calls from the Recreation and Park’s Commission to curtail individuals experiencing homelessness from defecating and using narcotics in City parks and especially so at Reed Park,
Other increases include an expansion of the Preserving Our Diversity (POD) affordability pilot program to help rent-burdened Santa Monica seniors stay housed; an updated digital City Hall to be rolled out in the second quarter of 2020; cybersecurity protections in the light of hacking in the cities of Baltimore and Atlanta; $8.45 million in funding for the Human Services Grants Program and $401,887 in funding to arts and culture nonprofits.