Tonight, I was thrilled to see the October issue of the LB City Beat was hot off the presses.
The City Council President for the last four years, and City Council member of eight, Thomas Sofield Junior is quoted a number of times in the second of three articles in this issue. It’s really worth a read. I’m not sure if it is written by Mr. Sofield himself as there is no byline, but he is quoted throughout and there are no writers’ credits throughout this edition.
The article titled, “Sofield: City maintains a-1 Bond Rating, 0% tax increase,” is a doozy of a read. It’s full of double-speak and incoherence, and it terrifies me that the City of Long Beach paid money to print thousands of these, and then pay postage to mail them around the City.
First off, the Moody’s stuff about bond ratings was covered during the summer here
Now for the fun with taxes: there’s this gem of contradiction from City Council President Sofield: “Our administration is proud to lessen the tax burden to our residents with no increase in taxes for the fiscal year.”
To break that down:
– Tax burden means how much a person pays in taxes.
– No increase in taxes means taxes stay the same.
Let’s solve this riddle together. If taxes stay the same, then a person pays the same, not less. I’m frankly baffled by this statement and have tried to make sense of it over and over.
If a cup of coffee costs 1 dollar, and Dunkin’ Donuts decides not to raise the cost of a cup of coffee, I still pay 1 dollar for my cup of coffee. Because Dunkin’ Donuts decided not to increase the cost of a cup of coffee does not mean I somehow saved money. Unless Mr. Sofield somehow misquoted himself or the writer left off a bunch of words, this sentence is just a contradiction at best, and misleading at worst.
And now comes the real whooper that should terrify anyone that lives, rents, or visits Long Beach:
“We are committed to reduce spending while seeking funding through alternative sources as we move forward with infrastructure and other upgrades throughout the City.”
To borrow a phrase used by this City Council President, “in this era of economic uncertainty,” reducing spending means cutting services and programs, pure and simple. Many will say that savings can be achieved through “efficiencies,” but time and time again that assumption is proven wrong. What’s easier – firing a few people on a bloated staff on the government pay roll, explaining why you need to can cops, closing a firehouse, or just slashing the entertainment budget, ending City support for the arts, scaling basic maintenance programs, canceling free events, and putting on hold urgent infrastructure projects that are backed-up anyway?
And to the next part of the whooper of a budget boondoggle, I love that we have a new term , “alternative sources.” “Alternative sources” are fees on your cost of living in Long Beach, and you cannot escape them. These fees are a de facto hidden tax, even if the City Manager wants to deny that. As tax revenue have dipped in the previous years, and this majority has had a staunch opposition to raise any tax (which certainly is based in a principled and understandable stance), the only way to makeup for the shortfall has been an unwavering reliance on fees and cost of living increases.
– Sanitation fees have gone up 50%
– Water fees are up double digits
– Recreation fees went up 40% – what I’m talking about here is if you want to send your child to a Long Beach camp, or use the other services provided by the Rec Center (which was also promised to be replaced), they’ve gone up.
– Beach fees have gone up to in the last few years. While most residents just get a family pass, when friends visit and you don’t have an extra pass to spare, do you enjoy having to fork over 12 bucks? That used to be $10, and before that it was less – I remember the $8.50 days.
– Now this is just a guess on my part, but wasnt’t a standard parking ticket normally $25 bucks back in the good old days? Well, just recently a friend of mine got one of those for $75. Hiking up police fines is just another defacto tax that the residents have to endure.
And you better believe anything else that can be increased will be increased as the budget shortfalls add up. The leader of the ruling party just promised you that with this “alternative sources” talk. Remember all those rainy Sundays this August? Every time it poured, that meant thousands in losses from beach revenue. One day doesn’t matter, but a month of them mean there goes that new stretch of boardwalk. And the way a budget works – that projected income has already been accounted for and spent, whether we actually received it or not.
What’s become the mantra of the ruling party – and seemingly their only rallying call – is that they’ve maintained a “0% tax increase.” That’s good right? It’s just not that simple. And the City Council President’s article, if anything just highlights how that isn’t really honest. Taxes are one component of cost of living, but clearly, there’s a lot more to the pie.
True statement: The majority party has not raised taxes.
Really true statement: Though taxes have not been raised, every conceivable fee for Long Beach residents has been increased. While revenues continue to drop, the LBFD and LBPD continue to operate without a contract (meaning when a contract is met, a massive off-budget lump sum payment will have to be made), the 2012 budget required dipping into the rainy day fund to the tune of about $1 million (even with all these jacked-up fees), and promised infrastructure renovations have simply not happened (like a true boardwalk renovation or the Rec Center overhaul).
And weren’t the final numbers on the FY2011 budget due before the election? If revenue declines were worse than expected that budget neutral position could easily become a budget shortfall and completely change the fiscal situation this City is in. You can take a quick look for yourself and see several points in the FY2012 budget where revenue projections had not yet come in where they were expected to (for FY2011). If those projections from the Spring hold true, the City could be missing a whole lot of money they were literally banking on. (To play budget analyst yourself, scroll to page “1” titled “Revenue Summary for th 2011-2012 Fiscal Year” and compare 2010-2011 Original with YTD-6/2/2011. Those are early indicators of budget shortfalls)
So perhaps, I’ve taken a long way to say: look past all the political rhetoric that’s pouring out of City Hall and decide for yourself if you really think your “burden” has lessen[ed]” over the last few years.
Note: Please correct any of my numbers above if you believe I’m off and if you have an additional example of what you think is a cost of living increase, let me know.