Thursday, October 14, 2010

CityWatchLA - Three wishes for LA's Budget Summit

Photo by Enci
CityWatch, Oct 15, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 82

From three legged stools that don't wobble to thrice braided cords that won't break, we're surrounded by examples of the wisdom of embracing solutions that include three components and tomorrow's Community Budget Summit is the perfect opportunity. The City of Los Angeles has been embroiled in an escalating budget crisis for years, typically prompting three responses from the community:

• Fierce defenders of specific programs storm City Hall to defend libraries or cultural affairs or parks or any of the many threatened city services that the City Council puts up on the "budget dust" chopping block as a token sacrifice toward a balanced budget.
• Big picture advocates argue for systemic solutions that range from long-term budget commitments to revised pension strategies to the implementation of greater efficiencies and accountability to a complete overhaul of City Hall.
• Optimists who step out of the way and avoid the drama, joining the Mayor and the City Council in kicking the budget crisis down the road, confident that a sinking ship will eventually right itself.

Neighborhood Councils have an opportunity, actually an obligation according to the City Charter, to weigh in on the 2010-2011 City Budget, and to work together to advise the Mayor and the City Council on LA's budget commitments, the delivery of city services, and the generation of revenue.

The budget journey is long and complicated, but if the community wants to have an impact, it needs to start now, not during next year's budget hearings when there is nothing left but triage.

Here are three significant strategies for moving forward with a City Budget that is balanced, that supports a Great City commitment and that delivers City Services fairly, equitably, and responsibly:

• Collect the revenue! The Commission on Revenue Efficiency (CORE) just released its Blueprint for Reform of City Collections, complete with 65 specific recommendations for ensuring that the taxpayers of Los Angeles get their money's worth and that the residents and businesses of LA get a City that Works.

CORE focused on the hundreds of millions of dollars on the table that go uncollected, simply because of inefficiencies in revenue collections, tax compliance, accounts receivable collections, new revenues, centralized billing, and implementation of the City Controller's audit of collection practices.

• Implement performance standards, operating efficiencies, and an environment of accountability! CORE set the standard for community engagement and pursuit of a creative solution and the next opportunity is to evaluate the simple City Hall machine and the tremendous redundancy that requires a half dozen departments to engage in the process of crossing the street safely.

Departments currently compete against each other, performance is not evaluated from the perspective of the community, the silo operating style bleeds money and limits the delivery of City Services.

• Connect with funding sources at the Federal, State, and County levels, moving the income target off the residents and businesses.

The current paradigm for revenue enhancement is to layer increasingly higher fees and penalties on top of existing taxes and licenses, charging the people of LA more for less.

Meanwhile, surrounding communities such as Long Beach and Glendale go to the same funding sources and come back with significantly higher funding awards while the City of LA fumbles.

The people of LA must speak up and demand an integrated funding strategy that stops LA's departments from competing with each other and from breaking the financial backs of the public.

LA's City Charter mandates that Neighborhood Councils advise City Hall, that they promote the civic engagement process, that they monitor the delivery of City Services, and that they engage in the development of the Mayor's Budget.

Saturday’s Community Budget Day is an opportunity for Neighborhood Councils to accomplish the entire City Charter mandate, all in one day!

The Budget Day is open to the public and offers an opportunity to mingle with the CORE members, the Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates, the Mayor's Budget team, and neighborhood council representatives from all over the City of LA.

This is the beginning of a 2010-2011 City Budget journey that is based on solid revenue sourcing and collection, that serves as the blueprint for a City that Works, and that supports a Great City commitment to the delivery of City Services.

Mayor’s Community Budget Day
Saturday, October 16, 2010
City Hall
200 North Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

7:30 AM Registration
8:30 AM Opening Remarks
9:00 AM Mayor's Welcome Speech
9:30 AM Budget Presentation
10:00 AM Regional Break Out Sessions
11:45 AM Conclusion

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)

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