Council Tackles Biennial Budget

Panel ponders raising 336 city fees and reducing 242 to reach ‘cost recovery levels’ in 2021-23.

By Jack Simon, Observer Staff Writer

The City Council held two study sessions this week to review the proposed 2021-23 Biennial Budget which “positions Santa Monica to safely and responsibly emerge from the COVID-19 emergency orders and cultivate a revitalized local economy that reflects and services our diverse community.”

The budget – totaling $705.5 million in 2021-22 and $597.7 million in 2022-23 – includes expanded services to address homelessness, provide clean and safe public spaces and “facilitate an equitable and inclusive economic recovery,” said city officials

At their Tuesday and Wednesday sessions, the Councilmembers also offered their priorities which will be incorporated into the Final Biennial Budget, set for adoption on June 22.

The Biennial Budget comes on the heels of pandemic-induced recession that forced Santa Monica to layoff 400 staff members to offset the dramatic drop in city revenues. City staff said the new budget reflects no deficit but “continues to reflect prudent financial management with restrained enhancements focused on safe re-opening of in-person public services and improving customer service.”

The proposed General Fund budget totals $349.5 million for 2021-22 and $375.3 million in 2022-23. In comparison, the pre-pandemic 2018-19 General Fund budget was $440.2 million, city staff said in a report.

The 2022-23 budget reflects a $2.8 million increase in capital project funding as revenues begin to grow, allowing for a gradual resumption of equipment replacement and infrastructure maintenance, city staff said.

Also included the proposed budget are changes to city fees. In its report, staff recommended increases to 336 fees and decreases to 242 fees to “set them at appropriate cost recovery levels.”

Staff also recommended the creation of 49 new user fees and deletion of 53 fees due to redundancy with other fees or for services no longer provided. “Implementation of the fee changes will result in approximately $0.9 million in additional annual revenue,” staff said.

During the study sessions, the Councilmembers also expressed support for city programs and services in the proposed budget, including:

Returning street sweeping to a weekly frequency; Launching a Community Response Unit (CRU) to support homeless outreach within the Santa Monica Fire Department and continuing multi-disciplinary street teams; and hiring one park planner for a limited two-year period to support existing and new park spaces.

The Councilmembers also asked staff to find funds for a generator to facilitate the return of Downtown Santa Monica’s seasonal ice rink, and for the resumption of the Trades Intern Program, where interns are embedded in enterprise-funded work units.


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