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Riordan Calls for Bureaucratic Belt-Tightening

Government: All departments are told to cut budgets at least 2%. LAPD and seven other agencies face 6% trims.


Faced with a projected budget shortfall of at least $57 million, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan has instructed all city departments to cut costs or improve services without budget hikes and has identified eight agencies, including the LAPD, that could be hit the hardest.

"I know the call for continuous improvements and belt-tightening will be greeted within City Hall with some skepticism," Riordan said in a letter sent to general managers of all city departments. "Some departments will argue that the 'fat' has been cut, that they can no longer do more with less and that further improvements are simply impossible. While this is true in selected areas, it is not the general rule."

Instead, Riordan and his staff divided city departments into three categories: Some are being directed to cut or reallocate 2% of their budgets, others 4% and the rest 6%. The LAPD--long the central focus of Riordan's administration and now under the helm of newly appointed Chief Bernard C. Parks--is among those being asked to cut or shift 6%.

"We expect a lot of our general managers, especially the new chief," said Robin Kramer, Riordan's chief of staff.

The mayor's budget director, Chris O'Donnell, agreed, adding that administration officials believe the LAPD can save money by improving technology and support services--areas highlighted last year in a study known as the "Blue Marble Report."

An LAPD spokesman said Parks was unavailable to comment, but Bill Moran, director of fiscal services, said the mayor's effort posed difficult problems for the LAPD. Although the police budget has grown rapidly since Riordan was elected in 1991, nearly all the new money has gone toward hiring more officers. That has left other parts of the department lagging, and has increased pressure on police administrators to increase funding in areas such as the crime lab, which was subjected to a withering attack during the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

"This is going to be an incredible challenge," said Moran, who received the mayor's letter Tuesday afternoon. "It will be a difficult goal because of the dramatic growth of the department and the need of support services to catch up."

Edith Perez, president of the city's Police Commission, said she would join department leaders in trying to identify money that could be trimmed to accommodate the mayor's directive.

"I believe that we have precious few dollars compared to police departments in other major cities," she said, adding that she was "not so sure that 6% is the right number."

Nevertheless, Perez said: "I have always felt that we should take a harder look at this taxpayer money and make sure it is well spent."

The LAPD is not the only department facing a directive to cut or reallocate 6% of its budget. The city's Community Development, General Services, Housing and Transportation departments were given similar orders, as were the Convention Center and the bureaus of street lighting and street maintenance.

Facing 2% cuts are the Fire Department, the city attorney's office, and the library and zoo operations, among others.

Aides to the mayor stressed that in many case the departments being asked to identify cuts will not end up with less money at the end of the budget process. Rather, money may be cut from parts of a department that seem inefficient and shifted to other, more important priorities within the same agency.

In fact, Riordan highlighted some of those priorities: "Despite significant progress, basic public services [libraries, parks, fire, police agencies, etc.] are inadequate and must be improved, and long-neglected problems such as slum housing and street repair must be addressed."

Although many departments are likely to see money transferred from one area to another, some can expect to face real reductions. In part, that is because of the projected deficit, which O'Donnell said is expected to end up between $57 million and $75 million. At the same time, the city's Department of Water and Power is producing less revenue and the city's reserve fund has been eroded. According to O'Donnell, it now stands at less than $15 million--some estimates put it lower--and officials would like to restore it to at least $25 million.

The letters to department heads mark the beginning of the annual budget process, which unfolds over several months as officials present their requests to the mayor's office. This year, Riordan and his staff also are demanding that each department study its operations and present workload analyses to help identify areas where agencies may not be working efficiently. That task, according to O'Donnell, is intended to make each department take greater responsibility for its own operations.

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