Long Beach’s budget plan would merge agencies, outsource services
Faced with a $17.2-million budget shortfall, Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster called Wednesday for consolidating departments and outsourcing services, and pledged to push for pension reform against a union he called “intractable.”
In releasing the city’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, Foster said that a number of positions would be eliminated through attrition but that Long Beach would still face layoffs given the stagnant economy and considerable pension costs, which officials say account for 20% of the payroll.
He applauded police and fire unions for agreeing to pension reforms in late 2011, a savings of about $6 million that officials say reduces the shortfall. But the mayor singled out the International Assn. of Machinists for what he said has been an unwillingness to accept similar concessions.
For two years, he said, the city has tried to negotiate reforms with the union, which represents the majority of non-public safety employees. “Each year of delay costs our residents $12 million in services and much more in future unfunded costs,” Foster said. “If IAM continues to be intractable, I will place a pension measure on the ballot.”
A machinist union representative could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Anemic tax revenue and spiraling labor costs have put a squeeze on municipal budgets throughout the state, pushing at least three California cities to seek bankruptcy protection and sending others to the financial edge. That has emboldened political leaders to become more openly critical of employee unions as they try to stave off insolvency with wage and benefit cuts.
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed became an enemy of his city’s unions after he championed a ballot measure that will require current workers to contribute more toward their pensions or accept lower benefits, and cuts pensions for new workers.
In San Diego, Mayor Jerry Sanders supported a similar initiative. In Los Angeles, voters already approved reforms of police and fire pensions.
The $395.4-million general fund budget proposed for Long Beach includes the potential layoffs of 152 city workers, with 36 sworn officers and firefighters to be cut through attrition, officials said. More than 100 vacant positions would be eliminated.
In addition, the Long Beach Police Department, which faces a proposed budget cut of nearly $9 million, will merge its south and west divisions and terminate leases at two facilities.
Police Chief Jim McDonnell said it’s unclear what impact those changes will have on the department, which has 1,254 sworn and non-sworn workers.
The proposed reductions come at a time when the city has seen a 10.4% increase in so-called part one crime, a category that includes murders, aggravated assaults and robbery. In the last six months, police officials say, 8,433 such crimes have occurred, compared with 7,642 last year.
But Foster and McDonnell said crime rates in Long Beach struck 40-year lows in 2010, so increases in some segments are stemming from a low base.
The Long Beach Fire Department, which faces a proposed budget cut of $1 million, will look at implementing an alternative paramedic service model to cut costs. Similar to the ones used in San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, the new model will consist of one paramedic and one emergency medical technician instead of two paramedics, officials say.
The proposed budget also calls for the discontinuation of free or subsidized youth programs at parks, except in areas with the greatest density and highest crime. At least six branch libraries will become “self-service facilities.”
Foster also called for government reform to reduce spending, which may include merging the Public Works, Water and Gas & Oil departments; restructuring employee compensations; and outsourcing such city services as tree trimming.
“If we don’t take this new road, we will financially deteriorate,” Foster said. “We will continue to deteriorate until we can no longer perform needed services and are compelled by market forces to change.”
Times staff writer Catherine Saillant contributed to this report.
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