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$74 million in budget cuts OKd by L.A.

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a package of midyear budget reductions proposed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, but ended up $17 million shy of closing this year’s shortfall in part because several members balked at the mayor’s plan to sell surplus properties in their districts.

Though the cuts were spread across many departments -- the library and the zoo, the police overtime account, programs such as sexual harassment training, and salary money that hasn’t been used because of the hiring freeze -- officials predicted that there would be little impact on city services.

Part of the roughly $74 million in reductions approved by the council -- a plan to borrow $19.3 million to pay for lawsuit settlements -- essentially shifts this year’s debt to later years. And officials are counting on collecting $5 million in the next six months from delinquent taxpayers with a new tax amnesty program that would waive fees and penalties.

The city’s top policy analysts, Interim City Administrative Officer Ray Ciranna and Chief Legislative Analyst Gerry Miller, warned council members in a memo that most of the cuts were one-time adjustments that would not make a dent in the city’s longer-term deficit, which is expected to hit $433 million next year and $550 million the following year.

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“We need to take a hard look at the services we provide,” Ciranna told the council. “We need to look at some options to reduce growth in salaries and benefits, but possibly also the workforce.”

The city’s revenues have dropped in the midst of a national recession and could dip even further after New Year’s. Villaraigosa has said layoffs may be necessary and has begun negotiating an early retirement package with the city’s unions that could affect several thousand employees, but he said Wednesday that it was too early to estimate how much that could save.

Councilwoman Wendy Greuel urged those colleagues who shelved the mayor’s surplus property proposal to find ways to make up for that $7 million, but her call went unheeded.

“I don’t remember in the last . . . 6 1/2 years I have been here where we have had to make these kinds of cuts,” Greuel told fellow council members. “It’s serious here in Los Angeles; it’s serious for our families and serious for our employees.”

To illustrate the severity of the $433-million projected deficit next year, Ciranna and Miller noted in their memo that “the entire elimination” of money for the library and parks departments would not fill that gap. In another scenario, 4,000 civilian positions would have to be cut to make up the deficit.

Villaraigosa continues to reject the suggestion of Councilmen Bernard C. Parks and Greig Smith to slow or freeze the mayor’s program to hire 1,000 additional police officers.

“Let me make something clear -- I am not talking about the slowing down of our police recruitment effort,” Villaraigosa said at a news conference. “These numbers are irrefutable; L.A. is safer than at any time since the 1950s.”

At the same event, Police Chief William J. Bratton argued that a slow-down in the program would not solve the city’s budget crisis and that council members had made a commitment to the plan.

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But in their memo, Ciranna and Miller noted that police and fire services make up nearly 70% of the city’s general fund budget and they advised that “the council and mayor’s policy priorities of insulating the police and fire department budgets from budget reductions will trigger severe consequences for all other city services that comprise the remaining 30%.”

One of the most contentious topics postponed for discussion until after the holidays was the mayor’s proposal to reduce the Fire Department budget by cutting a fifth of the 48 Emergency Medical Service fire captains who supervise the work of paramedics. Originally there was talk of eliminating 18 of those captains, but the department proposed cutting nine of them and achieving the rest of the savings by eliminating four city ambulances staffed by firefighters on overtime.

Currently those ambulances are assigned to respond to less-serious injuries such as broken fingers and stubbed toes in four areas: Hollywood, Silver Lake, South-Central and the Sylmar-northeast San Fernando Valley area.

Assistant Fire Chief David Yamahata said the proposed ambulance cuts would not affect patients who report more serious conditions such as heart attacks, choking or injuries in traffic accidents.

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But residents in the four areas “may see a slight delay in the response time” on the less serious calls if the council approves that cut, Yamahata said.

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maeve.reston@latimes.com


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