In the race for City Council, there are seven candidates, and we asked ten tough questions. We told the candidates they could write as much as they wanted, and we did not edit their responses in any way. We rotated the order after every question.
Today is question 7 of 10 – Budget: We are in an economic slowdown in the Country, which also affects cities. Are there areas of the budget in Burbank that need to be looked at to make sure Burbank sustains financial health?
I am a fiscal conservative, and I will work to ensure that we maintain a balanced budget for our City while maintaining the high-quality services that have become a hallmark of our community.
In November 2018, the residents of Burbank passed an increase to the sales tax with a 62% approval rate in order to maintain the City’s fire, police, 9-1-1 response; to keep fire stations open; to maintain the number of police/firefighters; to repair streets and potholes; to ease traffic; to earthquake retrofit City buildings and bridges; to maintain senior and after-school programs; to address homelessness; to provide other services and to address our aging infrastructure. The measure approved a ¾ cent sales tax which provides $20,000,000 annually to the City’s General Fund. This measure has put the City on solid ground going forward, providing the City budgets properly and invests the General Fund resources into the essential infrastructure and public services that are most needed.
Economic development remains one of the issues of highest importance. It is the economic strength of this City that allows us to maintain the broad array of superior services that set Burbank apart from other communities; and it is the economic strength that attracts world-class companies that pay world-class wages to our residents.
All of the best-in-class services that are outlined here are only possible as a result of the economic strength of our community. The entertainment industry does not just pay taxes and provide jobs, it pays an average salary that is more than 50% higher than the LA County area median income. As this industry has more and more options about where and how it operates, we as a City and a community must continue to engage with the entertainment industry and all of our other industries and businesses to create the best possible workplace environment. This is achieved through regular engagements between these industries and our top and elected officials. This also includes programs that incentivize these businesses to make the type of long-term capital investments in our community that raise the tax base and further entrenches them with our City.
We are in an economic slowdown, but arguably, we are not yet in a recession. Currently, our city remains in the black, but I do see some areas where we have waste and other sectors where we are not capitalizing on our opportunities.
In any negative economic circumstances, my first and foremost priority would be to protect our workforce. There are areas where we can cut right off the top that provide little benefit to our community. For example, our city has paid a sizable amount of money for consultants to produce reports on a number of issues including homelessness. As a professional in the homeless services sector, I can tell you that the report they came back with was atrociously sparse and uninformative. I also think with more caution, we can better avoid the amount of legal fees we are paying in lawsuits that we had been advised on that we would lose.
But cutting is only one aspect of fiscal sustainability, the other side of the coin is in making thoughtful investments. By bringing in more revenue, we can not only avoid severe cuts, but can make sure that we have enough funds to do our jobs by investing in public safety, fire, and city services as well as increasing our quality of life. I believe we can do more to work with our small businesses, entrepreneurs, and entertainment sector to create new economic opportunities in Burbank that bring in more revenue without increasing taxes or cutting beyond the point that’s necessary. Economic development is incredibly important, and I think we have a goldmine of opportunities in front of us that I would love to explore on Council.
The Burbank 2022 -23 Budget is balanced, now, and 5 years into the future. We must stay vigilant and focused on keeping it balance. The balanced budget was achieved through cooperation, creativity, stamina, hard work and focus by Burbank City Council, staff and our residents. The budget is balanced without cuts to Burbank services that are so very important to our residents. Factors important to the balanced budget:
· Passage of Measures T – The in-lieu fee, passed in 2018 with over 81% of the Burbank vote and was a continuation of what was first passed in 1958.
· Passage of Measure P – The sales tax increase also passed in 2018 with nearly 62% of the Burbank vote.
· Hiring freezes
· Burbank employees paying 50% of pension costs
· Prepaying pension liabilities
· Compensation policy to pay average of market
· Federal stimulus payments
· One-time budget savings
· Proactively reducing worker compensation expenses.
While there is always room for improvement, our city budget is relatively stable compared to previous years. The budget was balanced this year, and is projected to continue to be balanced in the coming years barring any unexpected changes.
That said, we have a serious staffing issue in nearly every department. Part of that has to do with a hiring freeze that was enacted several years ago to address CALPERS costs. Getting back up to previous levels of staffing takes time. However, the city is also facing higher levels of lateral employment losses than in previous years, which brings staffing levels down even farther.
For this reason, the next city council will have a challenge of looking at staffing costs and recalibrating the budget to both encourage more new hires and retain the current staff we have. There are other areas of the budget that may need attention as well, but I predict staffing will be the most pressing budgeting issue in the next 1-3 years.
In general, I look at the budget as a priority document, as well as a living document. I also support participatory budgeting.
More about participatory budgeting here: https://ash.harvard.edu/files/ash/files/participatory-budgeting-paper.pdf
Link to the city’s budget overview here: https://www.burbankca.gov/web/financial-services/budget
We can look over the budget and see if there are changes to be made. But we need to focus on creative and innovative ways to increase our budget.