Budget Day last Saturday was the best one yet! Check out event recaps below from EmpowerLA’s John Darnell, and from newly-elected Budget Advocate Connie Acosta, of Echo Park Neighborhood Council.
By John Darnell, EmpowerLA
Thank you to all of those who attended Budget Day 2018. It was another successful event where board members and stakeholders came from neighborhoods throughout the city to learn about the city budget and services.
To start off the event, each Budget Advocate was presented with the much heralded ‘Spirit Award’ from EmpowerLA’s General Manager, Grayce Liu. This award is only given to those individuals whose work during the past year has most benefited the Neighborhood Council system as a whole. The Budget Advocates work very hard to support the efforts of the Neighborhood Councils in our city. Their primary mission is to advise the City Council and Mayor on the City Budget. One of the most important objectives about Budget Day is for the Budget Advocates to hear from board members and stakeholders about what’s important to them in relation to city services so that they can better advocate. At Budget Day, workshops are held by region so that individual neighborhoods can have time to be heard and discuss what’s important to them.
Again, congratulations to the Budget Advocates on a wonderful event. We look forward to working with you in the upcoming fiscal year. For more information on the Budget Advocates, please visit their website at: http://ncbala.com/. Thank you for your service.
By Connie Acosta, Echo Park Neighborhood Council At-Large board member, newly-elected Budget Advocate, and member of the Los Angeles Press Club
CITY HALL— On June 23, after enjoying a savory catered breakfast with Neighborhood Council (NC) colleagues in the art-deco rotunda of City Hall, visitors from citywide NCs and stakeholders convened at the John Ferraro Council Chamber to learn about the 2018-19 City Budget from City Officials as well as to get inspired by the Budget Advocates’ stamina in accomplishing their successful tasks.
Board of Neighborhood Commissioners President Joy Atkinson welcomed the audience with a plea, stressing the importance of NCs to work together in a city this large, as we have one thing in common: we make our communities better by helping our stakeholders learn and engage in civic participation. “Work together, and don’t get bogged down with administrative details,” she concluded.
In recognition of the Budget Advocates’ accomplishments, Department of Neighborhood Empowerment General Manager Grayce Liu acknowledged each Budget Advocate for their work with a Spirit Award.
Budget Advocates Co-Chair Jay Handal spoke next. He began by thanking Ms. Liu and Neighborhood Council Advocates John Darnell and Julien Antelin for their support of NCs and their contributions to this successful event. The budget increases and our revenues increase annually, yet City-projected expenses outrun revenue increases almost every time, he emphasized. “
Handal concluded by pointing out how great the impact of the Budget Advocates work has been over the years. “In the years I’ve been a Budget Advocate, over 35% of the City budget issues we addressed have been complied with, and another 30% or so are being worked on,” said Handal (see the Budget Advocates White Paper for details.) “Get involved, show up, speak up and make a difference,” he encouraged.
Controller Ron Galperin spoke next. As Chief Auditor for the City, he issues reports to improve city services. As City Controller, he ensures that each and every City department operates as efficiently as they possibly can, and that they adhere to specific procedures before submitting invoices on behalf of the City, he said.
In addition, Galperin created and oversees Checkbook LA (https://lacity.spending.socrata.com/#!/year/2017/) – a line by line accounting of all items and services purchased by the City of Los Angeles. “I’m the watchdog for the people’s money,” he said. The Controller also shared a link to ControlPanel LA: a comprehensive source of data on all City expenditures and revenues that includes datasets on payroll, purchasing, audits and reports, the City budget, General Fund, Special Funds, and more. See it at https://controllerdata.lacity.org.
A new ControlPanel feature is the Property Panel, which has mapped the 8,975 city owned properties, including offices, public buildings, parks, residential buildings, and even empty lots. Search maps by address, Assessor’s Parcel Number, or City Council District at: http://www.lacontroller.org/propertypanel
Councilman Paul Krekorian then spoke. He gave a brief overview of the period since the last economic recession in 2008 to the present. We’ve created the largest general reserve in the history of Los Angeles, he said, and we’re in the longest recovery this country has experienced. He finds that the City is monumentally in far better condition than it was seven years ago. Krekorian acknowledged that the NC movement has increased civic participation. “Your role [as an NC member] is so important because you’re speaking for people who don’t speak; the work that you do is not financially rewarding, but it is spiritually,” he concluded.
Budget Advocate Vice Chair of Administration Barbara Ringuette then presented a brief description of the workload undertaken by the 36 Budget Advocates over the course of a year. They meet twice a month, analyze the City Budget, raise concerns and make recommendations. As Budget Advocates visit the various City Departments, they have many opportunities to influence City policy. Also, “We collect concerns from our communities as put forth by NCs,” Ringuette said. Meanwhile, the Budget Advocates also continue to document data and information to discuss at their meetings.
In July, the first month of the 2018-19 Fiscal Year, Budget Advocates have their initial meeting with the Mayor. In August the Mayor kicks off the budget process for the next fiscal year, 2019-2020. After 10-months of steady work and meeting with Department Managers, the Budget Advocates present their findings, concerns, and recommendations in their White Paper to the Mayor in April. The Budget Advocates distribute the White Paper, a 100-page document, to City Councilmembers, Department Managers and Neighborhood Councils, and also post a copy on their website (http://NCBALA.com)
Assistant City Administrative Officer (CAO) Ben Ceja spoke next. Ceja works with the Chief Legislative Analyst, reviews the City Budget, and collaborates with the Mayor’s Office and Councilmember Krekorian to address concerns. Property Tax is the largest source of city revenue to the General Fund, Ceja said, while some of the largest General Fund expenditures are for Police (52.3 %), Fire (17.5%), and Pensions (20%). If Police salary expenditures increase, the hours for Police overtime diminishes, he noted. Pending city policy decisions could affect projected revenues, including those generated from the sale of cannabis and the Transient Occupancy Tax related to Short-Term Rentals, he said.
Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Szabo next explained the 10-year cycle of economic recessions. We are now in our 9th year of growth, and need to fix our infrastructure before the next recession, Szabo said. For Year 2018-19, the total General City Budget is 9.9 Billion, showing growth in the general revenue; we’re investing in personnel by increasing a moderate workforce while adding to the reserve for when there’s a down turn in the economy, he said.
Lastly, Budget Advocate Co‐Chair Liz Amsden closed the plenary session and directed participants to the regional breakout sessions, attended by the Budget Representatives elected by each NC. Those attending the regional breakout sessions had the opportunity to run for an open Budget Advocate seat. Congratulations to all those elected to serve as Budget Advocates!