What’s This? An Optimistic Budget
Two possible milestones marked the Monday night City Council meeting. The Council passed an ordinance banning the use of single-use plastic bags in retail stores, and the presentation of the proposed 2013-2014 budget was more optimistic than in previous years.
The plastic bag ordinance amends the Culver City Municipal Code to ban retail businesses from giving out single-use plastic bags, requires stores to charge ten cents per paper bag, and requires businesses to post signage informing customers of the bag charge.
Restaurants are exempt from the ban.
Staff said the ordinance was modeled on Los Angeles County’s and similar ordinances that have been passed in neighboring cities. The restaurant exemption, which irked some people who spoke in public comment, was a cautionary measure, said Helen Kerstein of Public Works, because other cities have experienced legal challenges to the restaurant ban. For the time being, Culver City is not taking up the issue.
In public comment, several speakers from environmental organizations such as Surfrider Foundation and Heal the Bay spoke in favor of the ordinance, although a few of them were concerned about the restaurant exemption.
“Fast-food restaurants contribute greatly,” pointed out one speaker. “Cups and bags go through screens in storm drains.”
A few speakers brought up issues such as the need for wrapping perishable food items in plastic because of foodborne illnesses that would proliferate otherwise, and the futility of banning plastic bags alone when other forms of plastic are still allowed.
Although some speakers cited studies that claimed plastic bags were less of a threat than has been reported, council Vice-Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells stated that these studies “have been funded by the industry. They have been de-bunked.”
Each of the five Council members weighed in on the issue and it was clear that after much studying of the pros and cons, they had decided that the proposed ordinance, although it might not be far-reaching enough, was “a start.”
Mayor Jeff Cooper noted that the ordinance will at least set an example to other communities and will remind people that they have to begin to change their habits and learn to recycle and be less reliant on disposables.
“Myself included” he added. “I still put plastic in the garbage.”
In contrast to the plastic bag issue, the budget report by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Muir was subdued but optimistic.
“Jeff] Muir has nearly smiled,” said Cooper, of the presentation, which Muir characterized as telling “a much better story.”
“We would not be at this point without the leadership of the City Council and the responsiveness and the caring of the community,” said Muir.
The presentation began with the statistic that the California unemployment rate for March 2013 was 9.41 percent-down from 10.7 percent last year. Home sales were up 7.5 percent in 2012. The stock market is recovering; Prop 30 has provided more revenue to the state (at least temporarily), and the passage of Measure Y is providing 7.8 million in revenues to Culver City. These are the major factors contributing to a better economic forecast and budget situation for 2013-2014.
Not to dampen the sunnier outlook, Muir cautioned that there are some coming issues: CalPERS actuarial policy changes will result in increases to employer contribution rates, and capital improvement costs for storm water management need a solution that does not rely on General Fund support in the future.
Citywide expenditures are expected to be $201.2 million for 2013-2014. Total revenues are estimated to be at $194.8 million.
However, for the first time in a while, “Ongoing revenues are estimated to cover ongoing costs,” said Muir.
In 2012’s adopted budget, operating revenues were $79,715. Estimated 2013-2014 revenues are $83,398, while proposed revenues are $89, 210. “So operating revenues are going up.”
Muir also presented pie charts depicting Culver City’s sources of income: the various funds such as Enterprise Funds (example: utility fees); Internal Service Funds; Capital Improvement Funds; and the General Fund, which accounts for two thirds of the city’s income and comes from taxes such as sales and property taxes.
A multi-year projection sees assumptions such as no increase in COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment); the assumption that Los Angeles County will make increases for safety; a commitment to capital improvements, and regaining one million for the General Fund.
Some developments that have been held up due to the dissolution of the Redevelopment Agency (notably Parcel B and Washington/National) are a possible bumpy factor in the recovery, said Muir. But “we’re hopeful that the state will allow our long-range development plans to go forward.”
“The moral of the story is that we’re in about as good a place as we can be,” Muir concluded.
Earlier in the evening, the City's Finance Department was awarded the Government Finance Officers Association award for its comprehensive annual financial report for the fiscal year. The award is for comprehensive annual financial reports (CAFRs) achieving the highest standards in government accounting and financial reporting.