Long Beach budget hikes taxes 1.5 percent

Long Beach City Hall on March 28, 2013. Long Beach City Hall on March 28, 2013. Photo Credit: Tara Conry

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Long Beach residents will see a 1.5 percent tax increase as a result of the 2013-14 budget approved yesterday by the city council.

The tax increase -- which is less than an earlier proposal -- will raise the tax bill for the owner of an average home by $43, to $2,980.

The city council initially considered a tax increase of 2.16 percent, or $64, but scaled the budget back through departmental spending cuts. The cutbacks will not result in service cuts or layoffs, city officials said.

City council members said at a May 7 hearing that the tax increase should be scaled back because residents are struggling with Sandy rebuilding costs.

The council approved the spending plan yesterday after the second of two hearings on the budget.

Councilman Len Torres called the budget "prudent" and said it was important for the city to avoid a heavier tax increase because of superstorm Sandy repair costs facing residents.

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"It's in the best interest of Long Beach to keep taxes at this level, to stay within the cap," Torre said. "We need to be careful that we don't spend more than we generate."

Long Beach's tax levy increase is below the state's 2.19 percent tax cap for the city.

The $83.4-million budget is a 2 percent decrease from the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. But city manager Jack Schnirman has said he expects Long Beach to see less revenue this year from sources such as beach and park fees because of Sandy, so the tax increase is necessary.

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The city is hopeful Moody's Investors Services will look favorably upon the budget, officials said in a statement. The agency downgraded the city's bond rating to one step above junk-bond status in 2011, which was before the current administration took office.

"The road to recovery is a long one, but as Moody's stated in their last report on Long Beach's status, 'the city is on the right track and making progress on returning to structural balance,' " city officials said in a statement.

The budget allows the city to go forward with paying down a $10.25-million deficit officials discovered in March 2012, Schnirman has said. The deficit is scheduled to be fully paid off by 2015, he has said.

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