By Suzie Price, Third District Councilwoman
We are entering a summer unlike any we have seen before and we all feel unsettled about the days and months ahead. At the time of this writing, youth summer programs have resumed, with major restrictions, and several business sectors are operating again. Our beaches are open but with major restrictions. Nothing is “normal” in terms of what we have been used to, and it is unlikely it will return to that “normal” any time soon. These realities have had far reaching, world-wide impacts.
It’s been a stressful time for all of us. Our economy has taken a major hit, and the City budget faces significant shortfalls. It’s going to be a long road ahead to rebuild our economy and restore confidence and security in our systems. We will get there. It’s been so great to see community groups, neighborhoods, and friends working together to help one another in countless ways, showing the strength and resiliency of Long Beach in this crisis. I have learned so much about people and how they respond to adversity and unsettling circumstances. I know that it remains critical that we physically distance from one another, but with the significant issues we face, it is essential that we come together safely, and work to understand one another and the importance of the issues we face.
Typically, I include updates on a number of great projects I am excited about in the District and in Belmont Heights, in particular. However, because we are in month 5 of the coronavirus pandemic and its continuing impacts, I cannot speak with much certainty on a number of priority projects. At last reporting, the City’s response to COVID-19 has created a $41M budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2021. Unexpected costs to the City have come in the form of unbudgeted emergency staff time in multiple departments leading the City’s response efforts, more than 75,000 tests that have been purchased and made available free to residents, protective equipment that all City staff are issued and required to use, equipment that has been given away free to Long Beach residents and businesses, not to mention the creation of a joint information center to manage the day to day details of this emergency and the City’s response. The financial impact to the City also comes from lost revenue in sales taxes, tourism, major events, airport and cruise ship travel, the national economic slow-down and its effects on the Port’s shipping and cargo volumes, and the sharp drop in the price of oil.
The prospect of cutbacks similar to those experienced during the Great Recession of the late 2000s is real as we prioritize how to most effectively provide services to residents. I will note that every year Long Beach passes a balanced budget. Unlike Congress, we do not have the ability to spend more than we have. Because we expect to spend more money this year, we will have to spend less next year. And the way the City does this is by cutting services. As a City, we have not begun the budget process and the lengthy discussions that are involved in passing the budget. But I will be seeking to prioritize essential City services. We need residents to know they can call 9-1-1 and get a response. Public safety is a core priority that a city must provide. Additionally, infrastructure maintenance is important as reflected in recent investments in repairing streets, sidewalks, and City facilities, projects that were deferred for decades. For some scale of the challenge we face in cutting potentially $41M from the budget, cutting 10 police officers would save $2M, cutting one fire engine would save $3M, eliminating tree trimming would save $3M, removing a medium-sized library would save $500,000. I’m not suggesting these cuts, but they illustrate the difficulty presented by the need to make significant cuts to our City budget.
These are important discussions that all residents should be involved in as we work to create a budget that reflects the needs and priorities of the people of Long Beach. I ask that you get involved and provide your input throughout the budget process. Please contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to my email list to receive updates on the budget process as well as important updates and useful resources for residents.
These are difficult times we face, but if we confront them with the goal of creating a better future for our City, and working together to do so, we can weather this storm and come out stronger on the other side.