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Long Beach seeks to reduce spending in new budget

Long Beach City Hall on March 28, 2013.

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

Long Beach City Council members will seek to trim the city's proposed 2013-14 budget in an attempt to lessen a pending tax increase, council members said Tuesday night.

Long Beach is considering a budget that does not pierce the state's tax levy cap while raising the tax bill for the owner of an average home by a little more than 2 percent, or $64, to $3,001 annually. The city held the first of two public hearings on the budget Tuesday night at City Hall.

City Council member Eileen Goggin said she would like "the city to reduce the tax increase to 1 percent or below that" in light of the financial burden residents face because of superstorm Sandy.

City Manager Jack Schnirman said the city will look for more spending cuts, but noted, "As we're cutting costs, our revenues are still dropping."

The city's proposed $83.9 million budget is down about 1 percent from the current year's budget. But expected Sandy-caused decreases in revenue from such sources as beach and park fees necessitate the proposed tax increase, said Schnirman, who attributed declining revenue largely to Sandy.

Long Beach's proposed total tax levy increase is 2.16 percent, just below the state's 2.19 percent tax cap for the city.

Schnirman opened his budget proposal by highlighting the proposed $1.1 million reduction in spending. The announcement drew cheers from the crowd of about 200 residents.

A few residents spoke during the hearing, with some offering praise for the spending cuts. One resident, John Bendo, said the city needs a contingency plan in case Federal Emergency Management Agency funds for Sandy repairs fall short of need -- not just a plan to borrow. "It's not really a contingency, it's that they'll borrow money," he said.

The proposed budget would allow the city to move forward with paying down a $10.25 million deficit officials discovered in March 2012, Schnirman said. The deficit would be fully paid off by 2015, he said.

Meanwhile, bond rating agency Moody's "will be watching the city's budget process," Schnirman said. The agency downgraded the city's bond rating to one step above junk-bond status in 2011, before the current administration took office.

The fiscal year starts July 1. The City Council must approve the budget by the end of May. It could be approved at a May 21 budget hearing, when council members also could propose amendments to the budget.

The city's annual outside audit, which is six weeks overdue because of Sandy, also is nearing completion, Schnirman said.

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