Long Beach's newly appointed city manager, Jack Schnirman, and the new five-member City Council are poised to pass a resolution Tuesday night to declare a fiscal emergency, which would give Schnirman more authority to tighten and veto spending.
"We will scrutinize and sign everything by hand," he said. "We are not shy about sending things back for more information, more documentation or just plain saying no."
Long Beach owes $48.3 million in general obligation debt and last month was downgraded five investment rating levels by Moody's Investors Services to Baa3, the lowest investment-grade rating that Moody's issues.
Schnirman said the extent of the city's financial crisis becomes more apparent each day. One recent report, for example, showed nine departments already had exceeded their overtime budgets only halfway through the fiscal year.
As a result, Schnirman said he is more closely analyzing spending requests, and some employees have pushed back.
"Some say, 'But this is the way we've always done it before,' and it's important for us to make the point that that is not an answer that we accept," Schnirman said.
The president of the Long Beach Civil Service Employees Association, John Mooney, said he likes Schnirman's approach so far -- he has been open and fair, Mooney said. But the belt-tightening has many union members worried about job security, he said.
Schnirman hasn't mentioned layoffs, Mooney said. "He just said they're going to tackle the budget and see how bad the finances are, and then they'll sit down with the unions and work with them."
John McLaughlin, the new council's lone Republican, said communication has been solid so far.
"As a minority member, I can't complain about being left out in the cold," he said. "Jack has been keeping me up to speed. And I think this council meeting will show we really have to tighten our belt."
But as a lifelong Long Beach resident, McLaughlin said he knows taxpayers are used to a high level of services, which he expects will be cut back this year.
"This is a tough town to keep everybody happy," McLaughlin said. "The same way the rest of the country has adjusted to it, we'll have to adjust to it."
The council is to meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. on the sixth floor of City Hall, 1 West Chester St.