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Reader's Reference to Latinos' Hikes in Escondido Canyon : Scientist, CPA Ponder Santa Monica Budget

July 08, 1993

Re: Santa Monica city budget.

One would not expect humorless skeptics like a rocket scientist and a certified public accountant to get a joke--especially when the joke is on them.

The two of us recently decided to undertake an analysis of the Santa Monica city budget. For openers, we thought the best method to understand the budget was to analyze it one small part at a time, so we selected for inspection the actual funding level of social services in Santa Monica.

What an experience! Our examination suggests that Santa Monica's budget writers probably all held Ph.Ds in obfuscatory presentation from the University of Pentagon Procurement.

The way the budget is laid out, indirect social service costs and overhead are spread across the entire budget. Cost shifting and off-loading arrangements are likely scattered throughout. And there is no telling what is buried in the cost of maintaining our "Arsenal of Economic Democracy"--the city attorney's office--in terms of social service agency assistance and costs.

What is often represented as a $7-million to $9-million social services figure may well run $11 million to $13 million. Whatever the amount is, it far exceeds what comparable cities spend--even generous ones.

Moreover, duplication and inefficiency can thrive in the incubator of obfuscation. For example, why contract with AIDS Project Los Angeles for a broad-based AIDS program when we can pay a Santa Monicans for Renters Rights insider $50,000 a year to administer a narrow-focused program with a $65,000 budget?

City financial planners will defend their budget presentation as conforming to Generally Accepted Governmental Accounting Standards. But those standards are quite flexible, and in this case, the standards do not permit members of the community to determine real expenditures. Yes, the rocket scientist and the CPA concluded that the joke is on us and every other interested community member that seeks information about the social services budget.

Interestingly, political control of our city rests in the hands of a group that claims the moral high ground on virtually every social, educational, economic or political issue that one can conjure up. Yet these same people are evidently so fearful of the bright light of public exposure that they refuse to look the city's taxpayers in the eye and tell us how much the SMRR Follies cost.

JAN LUDWINSKI

KIP DELLINGER

Santa Monica

Dellinger is an accountant.

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