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Los Angeles City Council signs off on $7.7 billion budget

City News Service | 5/29/2013, 1:17 p.m.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- The Los Angeles City Council voted 11-0 today to adopt a $7.7 billion spending plan for the 2013-14 fiscal year that closes a projected $216 million deficit and includes a $260 million reserve fund.

The budget -- which the mayor has five days to approve or veto -- provides for the hiring of new firefighters and additional funding for tree trimming, street paving, graffiti abatement and the purchase of nearly 300 new police cars.

The additional expenditures were made possible through a surplus of about $119 million in one-time revenue.

The budget also provides for the Central Library downtown and eight regional branches to open seven days a week and allocates $1.7 million for mural restoration and maintenance as part of a proposed mural ordinance.

Police ranks will be maintained at a little over 10,000 officers under the approved budget, which also provides funding to upgrade medical care capabilities -- going from "basic" to "advanced" life support -- in 25 fire companies, and puts $15 million toward chipping away at police over time costs.

The council added $1.1 million into the budget toward the senior meals program, paying for more than 100,000 meals.

A better economic outlook, projected to bring in an additional $111 million in tax revenue, and $51 million in savings from pension reforms helped to closed the anticipated $216 million deficit, according the city officials.

"It's a good budget," said Councilman Paul Krekorian, who chairs the City Council's Budget & Finance Committee that spent two weeks tweaking the mayor's proposed budget.

The budget also includes a $260 million reserve fund, which Krekorian said will keep the city's bonds rating in good standing.

The reserve makes up 5.25 percent of the total budget and is "the largest it has been in a decade," according to Krekorian.

He said the budget anticipates "nagging budget deficit problems" in the future. The council's most significant change to the mayor's budget proposal was the restoration of a "budget stabilization" fund to more than $60 million.

The fund can be used to help close an anticipated $212 million budget deficit in the fiscal year 2014-15.

Krekorian said the mayor's original spending plan would have gutted the stabilization fund if the council had not found alternate funding -- about $38 million in property, gas and tobacco settlement tax revenue -- to buoy the stabilization fund.

"We're still not out of the woods. We still have structural deficit challenges that we anticipate we be there for the next couple of years," Krekorian said when the budget was tentatively approved last week.

The council also approved a "hiring freeze" starting with the 2013-14 budget and continued labor negotiations as part of efforts to keep costs down in the long-run.

It remains to be seen if labor unions will agree to Villaraigosa's request that they give back a scheduled 5.5 percent raise in January and pay 10 percent of their health-care premiums to help balance the budget.

In the event city leaders cannot negotiate those concessions, the budget has set aside $21 million, according to city officials.

Union representatives have flatly said they would not entertain the concessions, and said there is no reason to reopen talks until their contracts expires in June 2014.

Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, who advises city leaders on the budget, has said employee concessions will be needed, if not this year, then in future years.

The budget also funds a new economic development department and a consolidated planning and development department, combining offices such as Building and Safety, and Planning.