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L.A. City Council OKs $7.2-billion budget

Spending plan expands library hours and increases money for pothole repairs while eliminating 400 vacant jobs, but it delays action on layoffs.

May 21, 2012|By Kate Linthicum
  • Councilman Paul Krekorian's Budget and Finance Committee spent two weeks tweaking the financial plan proposed last month by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Councilman Paul Krekorian's Budget and Finance Committee spent… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

The Los Angeles City Council passed a $7.2-billion budget Monday, voting to cut 400 unfilled city staff positions but putting off difficult decisions on layoffs, park funding and Fire Department resources.

On a 15-0 vote, council members agreed to wait until January to determine whether layoffs are necessary, and which positions could be eliminated, saying that more study is needed. They took that step despite a warning from the city's top budget official that some of the revenue being used to balance spending isn't a sure thing. About $76 million of the money lawmakers are counting on — including an estimated $48 million the city will get from the elimination of the Community Redevelopment Agency — needs to be approved by the state or federal governments before it reaches city coffers.

Councilman Paul Krekorian, whose Budget and Finance Committee spent two weeks tweaking the financial plan proposed last month by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said the city made conservative projections of revenue, and noted that every government budget assumes a degree of risk. "The assumptions we make about revenue projections are never certain," he said.

He pointed out that the budget adds money to a reserve fund, and said the elimination of the unfilled positions will bring the size of the city's workforce to its smallest since the days when Tom Bradley was mayor, from 1973 to 1993.

Although council members did not heed Villaraigosa's call to immediately lay off more than 200 workers, they left the bulk of his proposals intact.

In a statement after the vote, Villaraigosa said he plans to review the budget, which he praised for keeping public safety as a priority while expanding services for street maintenance and libraries.

The budget expands library hours and adds money for pothole repairs. But it leaves questions about funding for several departments, including Recreation and Parks and the Fire Department.

In recent years, lawmakers have forced the parks department to pay an increasing share of its utility bills and its employees' healthcare and retirement costs, which has in turn led managers to shorten park hours, offer fewer youth programs and close swimming pools. Councilmen Eric Garcetti and Tom LaBonge recently signed a pledge sponsored by a new parks advocacy group to protect funding for the department.

Garcetti introduced a motion Monday asking for city analysts to conduct an audit of the department's energy costs and look for ways to decrease them, but the new budget does not call explicitly for new funding.

Garcetti, who is running for mayor when Villaraigosa is termed out next year, also introduced a motion that calls for a report on a five-year plan to restore services at the Fire Department, which has taken a more than 15% budget hit since 2009 and which has been fending off criticism in recent months that its performance has suffered as a result.

"It's a five-year plan to full health, or even better than full health," Garcetti said.

But the motion does not set aside funding for a restoration plan, calling instead for any unanticipated reimbursements from the state for ambulance services to be directed to the department.

That said, the Fire Department was one of the only departments in the city that saw its budget increase this year, with new money for the restoration of an engine company in the San Fernando Valley and the hiring of new emergency medical services captains.

To close a shortfall of $238 million, the budget called for nearly $70 million in spending cuts, including continued furlough days in the city attorney's office and reductions in funding for a variety of community programs. The budget generated an additional $10 million by raising the fee for parking tickets by $5 across the board — and by $10 for people who park illegally in spaces designated for the disabled.

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

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