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Santa Monica Council to Set Budget Priorities
By Jorge Casuso
March 12, 2021 -- Reducing homelessness and crime will likely be among the top "community priorities" when the City Council at a special meeting Saturday selects as many as five key issues that will guide the budgets for the next two fiscal years.
The two persistent concerns, which likely contributed to a voter revolt at the polls last November, topped the list of priorities in a survey of 3,352 Santa Monica residents, local workers and business and property owners.
Reducing homelessness easily topped the list, with 74.13 percent of the respondents choosing it as a top priority, followed by keeping neighborhoods safe with 63.6 percent.
Affordability -- which was the top priority in 2019 -- was a distant third with 37.56 percent, followed closely by environmental sustainability and accessible mobility and transportation.
Economic opportunity and recovery failed to finish among the top five priorities with 29.71 percent despite the devastating economic blow dealt by the coronavirus shutdown.
One-fifth of the respondents listed equity and inclusion as a top priority in the wake of national protests over racial inequality. The issue was not a top Council priority in 2019.
"It goes without saying that 2021 is a time of great uncertainty and change," City staff wrote in its report to the Council. "This is an opportunity for the Council and the community to reflect on where we stand today and to look forward to the next two year."
The priorities, staff said, will "determine what is most important as we begin our community-wide recovery from COVID-19 and strive for a more equitable future."
The priorities for current fiscal budget -- which ends June 30 -- were shaped by the coronavirus shutdown, which dealt a major blow to the Ciy's economy, leading to a $150 million budget deficit ("City Council Slashes Up to 247 Full-time Jobs; Cuts Will Be Felt at All Levels," May 6, 2020).
The Council voted to quickly lay off as many as 247 full-time employees, resulting in sweeping cuts to programs and services, and set aside a $20 million Shutdown Reserve fund in advance of a "second COVID surge and economic shutdown."
Despite the deep cuts, Santa Monica's crippled economy pushed the current budget into the red, forcing the City to use $14.6 million of the reserve.
As a result of the cuts and emergency funds, "the City’s finances are stable despite drastically reduced revenues," staff wrote in its report.
The City is expected to receive $26.7 million in federal funding as part of a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill signed into law by President Biden on Thursday ("EXTRA -- Santa Monica to Receive Nearly $27 Million in Federal Relief Funding," March 8, 2021).Staff is developing a plan to allocate the one-time funds "across a number of fiscal years in order to fund ongoing community services and programs until revenues recover to a level that can absorb these ongoing costs."
Despite the infusion of federal funding, Santa Monica's economy is not expected to fully recover for at least another four years ("City to Dip Into Emergency Reserves as Economic Downturn to Last Until 2025," January 21, 2021).
The Council offered a glimpse of some of its top priorities in January when it approved the City's Mid-Year Budget.
Iy provided additional resources to address homelessness, increase code enforcement for health-related issues and support non-profit eviction counseling for residents at risk of losing their homes.
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