Budget talks in Manhattan Beach focus on cuts
by Ryan McDonald
The Manhattan Beach City Council indicated tentative approval of its two-year budget and a five-year slate of public works projects at Tuesday night’s meeting, coming to terms on belt-tightening measures while attempting to hew to various voter priorities from the recent election that installed three new members.
Tuesday’s meeting featured broad-brush discussion of the city’s Capital Improvement Program through fiscal year 2021-22, and analysis of the biennial budget, the fiscal year for which begins July 1st. Official approval for the budget will take place at the June 20 council meeting, while aspects of the capital improvement plan will return periodically for in-depth consideration.
The capital improvement plan laid out projects in various states of planning and consideration, including those identified as possibilities but for which no funding had been allocated, like the renovation of Begg Pool. Examining the infrastructure projects gave council members a chance to display priorities. For example, at the request of Councilmember Nancy Hersman, the city will agendize future discussion Safe Routes to School bike path in Polliwog Park, the rejection of which by the previous council became a significant issue in the recent City Council election.
The meeting marked the first opportunity for recently returned Councilmember Steve Napolitano to show off his credentials as a fiscal watchdog. At a May 4 budget study session Napolitano had initiated a request of city staff to identify possible spending cuts, discussion of which occupied much of Tuesday’s meeting. And he subjected city staff to repeated questioning, occasionally disagreeing with their assessment of the need or merits of various expenditures.
Among Napolitano’s most frequent targets were facilities master plans, which cities use to identify needs and develop strategies before beginning projects.The state does require cities to periodically develop plans for addressing certain issues, like stormwater. And even when not required, the plans are intended is to identify operational efficiencies—for example, sequencing sewer and sidewalk repairs in such a way that a street does not need to be dug up twice.
But Napolitano said that some projects were simply common sense, and that the master planning process often wasted city funds.
“We’re a consultant’s dream,” he said. The use of consultants, rather than city staff, to handle various projects was a frequent issue in the March election.
A similar spirit was on display in budget analysis, when he counseled against exploring funding increases, like enhanced parking meter rates, before significant spending reductions had been achieved. In total, the council identified $174,634 in cuts. (When Finance Director Bruce Moe announced the number, visibly weary council members let out a collective “That’s all?”)
Among the most-discussed items of potential savings was the salary for an Environmental Programs Manager. That position has been vacant since its former occupant, Sona Coffee, left the city earlier this year.
Trimming the size of the city staff became a frequent issue in the campaign, and doing so with a vacant position removed the hardship of a layoff. (As of Tuesday, the city was in the thick of the recruiting process for the position, said City Manager Mark Danaj.)
But the council disagreed on whether this was the ideal position with which to achieve savings. Mayor pro tem Amy Howorth said Coffee had demonstrated the position was “something that makes a significant impact on our residents’ quality of life. And we’ve seen economic impacts from it that are positive.”
The council ultimately agreed to keep the position, while promising future discussion of its specific duties.