Proposed cuts to Burbank services could lead to ‘dystopian’ future, officials say

For about a year, Burbank City Council members have been preparing for some tough decisions they will need to make to try to address forecasted budget deficits over the next five years.

Those difficult choices — including proposed deep cuts to city services, the introduction of new taxes or a combination of both — were put in front of council members Thursday evening during a study session on the budget in the Community Services Building.

The sobering news did not end there. Before talking about suggested possible fixes to the budget, Cindy Giraldo, the city’s financial services director, told council members and residents in a packed council chambers that this year’s forecasted deficit is larger than what was originally expected.

When the budget was approved in June, Giraldo said the deficit for the 2017-18 fiscal year would be about $1 million. However, in light of a recent court decision, Burbank could be facing a roughly $10.8-million shortfall.

Additionally, the forecasted deficit during the 2022-23 fiscal year was originally projected at about $16.6 million, but Giraldo said that it has now ballooned to about $27.4 million.

The unanticipated spike in the deficit forecast is due to a lawsuit filed on June 27, 2016, by Burbank resident Christopher Spencer against the city, in which Spencer alleged the city is violating Proposition 26 by transferring a percentage of funds from the city’s utility to its General Fund.

On Sept. 12, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel ruled that a provision in Burbank’s city charter that allows the city to transfer those funds violates Proposition 26, which was approved in 2010 to try to prevent hidden taxes.

Burbank was expected to generate about $12 million from that revenue source during this fiscal year, but Giraldo said the city will not be moving over those funds to the General Fund in light of the court ruling.

City Atty. Amy Albano added that, although Strobel made a ruling last month, there will be a hearing on Nov. 16 when a final decision and legal remedy will be issued.

Additionally, Giraldo told council members that the city has about $588 million in unfunded infrastructure improvements. If Burbank wants to address 75% of those needs over the next 25 years, it will need to allocate about $22 million annually to do so.

In order to address the growing deficit, Giraldo presented several proposed options from which council members can choose in order to save or generate money for the city.

Burbank could save about $3.5 million per year if officials choose to close down fire stations 14 and 16 and about $12 million annually if council members opt to contract out the city’s jail program, animal shelter services and parking control and eliminate crossing guards, air support, school resource officers and 39 sworn officers from the Burbank Police Department.

Councilman Bob Frutos said he was adamant about not making any cuts to public safety services the city currently offers, adding that the city needs to change how it spends its money.

“We just have way too many expenditures, and the current revenue is just not supporting our expenditures,” he said.

The city could save up to $7.5 million annually in the Parks and Recreation Department if officials end the city’s home-delivered meals program, reduce senior services, prune trees every eight years, close 14 parks and city facilities, eliminate various youth and adult programs, end its day camp and after-school programs, eliminate funding for the Family Service Agency’s school counseling and Boys & Girls Club of Burbank’s after-school care program and end all city-sponsored holiday and special events.

About $5 million annually could be saved if the Public Works Department reduced its services for signal maintenance, reduced custodial services at city facilities, ended citywide right-of-way maintenance and reduced services for streets, sidewalks and alleys.

The Community Development Department could shave about $2.5 million annually if it was directed to reduce real estate services, eliminate the economic development division, reduce planning counter and phone call operations and reduce code enforcement, plan check and building inspection services.

The City Council could also choose to end the BurbankBus program, which would save the city about $3.3 million per year. Those funds could be used to pay for some of the much needed street improvements around the city. Giraldo added that ridership for BurbankBus has been low recently.

About $2.2 million could be saved annually in the Library Services Department if it were told to close the Central Library. An additional $405,000 per year could be saved if Management Services eliminated its youth employment programs and Workforce Connection program.

Giraldo said city employees could help by paying 50% of their normal pension costs, which would be about a $4 million annual saving.

“When I look through these lists of proposals, the word that came to mind for me was dystopian,” Mayor Will Rogers said. “Would Burbankers appreciate this or miss that? I thought throughout this list that it would affect significant amounts of people … It would be a dystopian Burbank.”

In terms of revenue generation, Giraldo said the City Council could consider increasing its sales and transient-occupancy, or hotel, taxes. Additionally, council members could consider an entertainment tax, gross receipts tax or a marijuana excise tax.

Vice Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy directed city staff to bring back more information about charging Hollywood Burbank Airport every time it uses city public safety resources. She also wanted to know if the city could ask the Burbank Unified School District to pay for some of the services — such as crossing guards or school resource officers — the city currently funds. Additionally, Gabel-Luddy said she wanted to see what a 10% reduction in the city’s workforce would look like.

Rogers asked city staff for more information about possibly allowing the legal sale of marijuana in Burbank and taxing those goods.

Excluding police and fire services, Frutos wanted city staff to bring back information on what it would take to operate all of the city’s services at a bare staffing minimum to avoid closures.

Councilman Jess Talamantes also wanted additional information about raising sales and transient-occupancy taxes.

Councilwoman Sharon Springer asked city staff to bring back information on possible public-private sponsorships the city can join.

Twitter: @acocarpio