The Long Beach City Council unanimously adopted an $84.61 million operating budget for fiscal 2014-15 that stays within the state tax levy cap and reduces property taxes.
Council members voted 5-0 Tuesday night to approve the budget covering July 1 through June 30, 2015. It will reduce city property taxes by 1.2 percent, an annual savings of $34.48 per household, officials said. The original proposed budget was $84.45 million with a 0.95 percent property tax decrease. The city's current operating budget is $74.4 million.
The approved budget includes an increase in grant revenue of $226,172. It also includes a decrease of $28,000 in water and sewer user fees, and a reduction of $30,000 in garbage fees to potentially reimburse residents displaced by superstorm Sandy. An application process is to be created for those former residents to request a reimbursement for garbage fees, city Comptroller Kristie Hansen-Hightower said.
Resident Eileen Hession criticized the budget for its salary increases, including a jump to $169,631 from $157,989 for city manager Jack Schnirman, an increase to $59,879 from $43,138 for the license clerk and a jump to $86,700 from $67,275 for the director of public relations.
Schnirman said the raises Hession called "terrible" represent "six-tenths of a percent of the overall budget, an item that I would not say, so to speak, is statistically significant."
Hession also challenged Schnirman's claims that departmental spending has been reduced, saying budget allocations went up 59.8 percent in the building department, 92.5 percent for central administration, 21.8 percent for the police department and 9.6 percent for transportation.
"I think if we did vote on this budget it would be solidly defeated to anyone who looked at it . . . These raises are a slap of the face to people who aren't home yet," she said referring to residents displaced by Sandy.
The council also voted 5-0 to immediately amend its social host law to increase the fines to as much as $1,000 and/or 15 days in jail for consumption of alcoholic beverages by minors on private property. The Long Beach Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking pushed to increase the fines under the law established in 2006, from $250 for those 16 and older who permit underage drinking.
"An increase in the social host fine would set the example that the City of Long Beach does not joke around when it comes to the safety of its children," said Brandan Persaud, 17, president of the junior class of Long Beach High School.
But resident Frank McQuade, an attorney and constitutional rights advocate, objected to the law saying it would deny civil rights.