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Long Beach City Council passes $94M budget with 3.68% tax hike

Council members voted remotely online while in-person public hearings are on hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic. CSEA members held a vehicle protest before Tuesday’s meeting around city hall and council members’ houses to decry the layoffs. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Long Beach City Council members unanimously approved a $94 million budget Tuesday night including a 3.68% residential tax increase.

Council members voted remotely online while in-person public hearings are on hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic. The tax increase, which equates to an additional $142 for the average household, falls within the state tax cap.

The budget was passed after two previous years carried 8% tax increases. Last year’s budget failed to pass by the City Council, but went into effect by default anyway.

Council members passed this year’s budget after more than 160 layoffs of part-time and full-time workers, including 22 Civil Service Employees Association union employees. The layoffs were aimed at creating savings for the city to finish the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

City officials said Long Beach cannot address its systematic economic crisis without concessions from union leaders. Nearly 90% of the city’s union workers as well as police and fire employees do not contribute to their health care, which amounts to $13 million in annual costs, according to a state report. CSEA workers hired after April 2017 contribute 10% to their health care costs.

“This is an early step in turning the corner in getting our city back on a sound fiscal path,” Long Beach City Council president John Bendo said. “These were very difficult decisions and regrettably much of it fell on the CSEA this year. Now it is time for our other city unions to step up like our partners at CSEA and join the team and help us fix this.”

Bendo said only 6% of the annual budget is allocated for city operations while personal costs and 13% in debt payments account for the other 94%.

CSEA members held a vehicle protest before Tuesday’s meeting around City Hall and council members’ houses to decry the layoffs. Long Beach is in bargaining negotiations with its union members and the city’s police and fire unions. The city is seeking long-term concessions, including benefits and health care contributions.

CSEA president John Mooney said the city’s largest labor force of 212 members were the only bargaining unit to face layoffs. He said 75% of the workers laid off were minorities and women, including veterans and women on maternity leave. Mooney said he would like to see workers hired back but has not offered further concessions for additional benefits.

“I believe it’s discrimination between the three unions. We want to be treated the same way,” Mooney said. “I’ll never single anyone out. We’re all part of the same budget. I feel like this is always on our backs and we make the least amount of anybody. We always negotiate in good faith with the city.”

The budget also includes plans to bond for $2.7 million in separation pay for city workers, police and firefighters who leave the city or retire next year.

The city also passed a $4.2 million deficit bond last month to cover payroll through June, which must be repaid in the next year. The bond was not addressed in the 2020-21 budget and would have been equivalent to a 10% tax increase. The city could also seek to repay the bond through state legislation to allow deficit financing.

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