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L.B. Council OKs 2020-21 budget with lowest tax increase in years, spending cuts, layoffs

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Blaming past administrations for Long Beach's poor financial condition and promising that the city is now on the right path, the city council Tuesday night approved a budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year that carries a 1.81 percent tax increase - the lowest in years - spending cuts, layoffs, and a five-year plan to achieve fiscal solvency

The $83.2 million budget cuts spending by nearly $3 million. The 1.81 percent tax increase means $142. 44 per year for the average household. The budget eliminated more than 150 jobs, many of them CSEA employees.

Councilwoman Liz Treston described Long Beach "as the most stressed city in the state." She added that "This is the first real budget that has been done in a decade. Department heads had to come up with realistic requests. I want to blame previous administrations, but the time for blame is gone." She said the time had come to move forward and right the city's finances.

Karen McInnis, the council's vice president, said that the budget "is still not balanced. I didn't make this mess, but I'm not going to sit here" and allow the city to slide further in financial trouble.

City Council president John Bendo said the new budget "is a first step getting the city back on the right track." He acknowledged that "most of" the staff cuts had fallen on CSEA members. "Now it's time for the other unions to step up" and reach agreements with the city. Negotiations continue with the city's police union and firefighters.

The budget is the first under the new city manager, Donna Gayden, a municipal finance expert, who was hired in late February.

Gayden had said Long Beach ended fiscal 2019 with a general fund deficit of $6.6 million, the result of overestimates in revenues. "By this time next year, it is going to be worse," she said in a statement.

The city's bonds have been downgraded on Wall Street and a further downgrading is possible this summer. But city officials argue that the new budget will, at the end of five years, place Long Beach in a position of financial stability.