By Connie Acosta
Neighborhood Council (NC), Budget Advocates (BAs) met for Regional Budget Day on Saturday, January 20, at the L.A. Zoo’s Witherbee Auditorium.
A welcoming video, started off the morning session featuring BAs and City Officials who play a large role in contributing to the formation of the City Budget: Jay Handal, BA co-chair, Ron Galperin, City Controller, and Richard Llewellyn, City Administrator Officer, discussed the valuable work of BAs.
The Budget is every thing that this City runs on, from street services to police and paramedics response-time, said Handal, yet with the continuing budget deficit, it makes it difficult to increase such services. “We (BAs) as elected people from NCs around the city, have an obligation to the city to report on the budget and city services.”
Are the services in your communities delivered in a timely manner? What is lacking? What would possibly benefit the city that it does not have, or hasn’t had for a long time, Handal asks stakeholders. He urges stakeholders to take the survey at ncbala.com. Results will be used in preparing the annual White Papers to show the Mayor where to increase certain budgets to improve the city as a whole, “and better the quality of life in the City of Los Angeles.”
“My best ideas come from Budget Advocates,” said Galperin, who started his city government career as a BA wanting to know where did the money come from, and where did it go. Briefly, he touched on city real estate: The city owns more than 8,000 properties, “some are more valuable than others, the usage of some will remain the same, while some have a good opportunity to better leverage growth,” detailed Galperin.
Former Attorney Llewellyn, Chief Budget Analyst, whose staff prepares the budget for the mayor and City Council, provides financial and physical analysis along with “reports when revenues are going up or down.” ”BAs help us watch departments and priorities,” said Llewellyn, who loves working in local government “because that’s where the rubber meets the road.”
BAs confer with City Department managers and Agencies. They learn about Department Budgets, their goals, and in what areas particular departments could improve if more funding were made available to them. Then based on the findings, BAs write specific recommendations, and may even serve as advocates for some of the departments’ requests.
Jack Humphreville, BA, financial analyst and columnist for citywatchla.com, explained that Los Angeles is the second largest city in the country, but unlike New York and Chicago, the City of Los Angeles’ government does not have the same responsibilities as the latter cities, “because of the city charter, that’s the way things worked out.” The City is responsible for Public Safety—Police and Fire Department, City Planning and Zoning, and the Bureaus that deal with the city infrastructure, such as Bureau of Street Services, Engineering, etc. Education, Social Services, Welfare, Public Health, Criminal justice and Jails are County matters.
Last April 27, the City presented in its four-year plan, a projected budget deficit of about $200 Million Dollars for July 1, 2018, said Humphreville. The City uses funds from different categories of the general fund to reduce the projected deficit.
Humphreville reviewed 12-recommendations, entered in the early White Paper put together in October 2017 leading to the final White Paper, see ncbala.com. Listed below are some examples:
- Do not enter into any new contracts unless city has the money for it,
- Have open town hall meetings every month on the Budget, BAs want to know where is the money going to and how is being distributed,
- Develop a ten year financial plan to resolve the deficit to be able to pay for street services,
- Provide more information on city pensions and what are the liabilities?
- Involve Budget Advocates with individual departments in shaping the budget,
- Have a definite plan for where the city’s money is going,
- Hire a manager to oversee the 30 isolated City departments that report to the Mayor’s office.
Barbara Ringuette, Vice Chair for Administration of Budget Advocates went over the annual budget timeline as to where, how, and when, BAs and the public can influence the Budget.
The Mayor submits the City’s proposed budget by April 20 of the year. The City Budget and Finance Committee composed of five City Council Members, convenes with departments to discuss their concerns, and make their case for their budget. The Committee’s budget hearings span over two weeks during which, the public is invited to weigh in on the budget at the beginning of each day’s session. Council members may request of Departments to report back on particular concerns at the hearings, explained Ringuette.
Following the department hearings, BAs have an opportunity to sit at the table with the City Budget and Finance Committee to confer on the budget recommendations. Then, the Committee forwards the budget to the full City Council that approves the Budget and sends it to the Mayor. In May, the Mayor signs the budget and it goes into effect on July 1, the new fiscal year.
On Budget Day in June 2018, Budget Representatives, selected by their NCs, and stakeholders, will meet and review the budget process as presented by the Mayor and his budget team, the city controller, City Administrator Officer (CAO), and the chair of the Budget and Finance Committee. Budget Advocates serve a catered breakfast at the event. Keep a look out for the date.
Connie Acosta is a board member of the Echo Park Neighborhood Council, a budget representative, and a member of the Los Angeles Press Club.