One of the things the new City Council talks about when they discusses a healthy future for the City is community involvement. With the inability to spend surpluses on ideas for renewal, City Manager Jack Schnirman suggests a Citizen’s Budget Committee and an Economic Development Committee. Neither have taken shape as the controversial budget comes closer to a vote.
There are many people, taxpayers in Long Beach that have ideas about the budget and the tax increases and the potential union layoffs. Many showed up at the City Council meeting. Most stay home and wait.
I have spoken to a lot of people at ballgames, on the train, in restaurants and on the street about budgets and tax increases. If we drew a Citizen’s Budget Committee from people who don’t participate in political clubs, council meetings or blogs we would know the people have a very different idea of what has to be done. Many of those ideas had advocates at the council meeting.
In order of citizen opinion:
1. Cut the size of the police department.
There are 35 (out of 77) cops that earn over $130,000 per year in long Beach. It accounts for over $4.5 million in the budget. Police are entitled to pensions by contract, accumulated sick days and comp time.
If officers don’t use sick days, they accumulate them in cash. Many people question the number of high ranking officers and the need for a detective squad in Long Beach. While the City Council is talking about layoffs, they are not talking about police cutbacks.
2. Trim the government.
Around the time of the City’s last crisis, wise planners arranged with the State to eliminate jobs by attrition. By design, this helped shrink government but the incoming administration following the job cut filled those positions.
As the last administration was leaving town, they hired more fireman and City workers that the government couldn’t afford. It was not in the budget to handle them. Taxpayers know it and many believe the newest hires should be let go. That is apparently in the budget plan. The new hires and part time workers made fair appeals to the City Council to reconsider.
The problem with firing police and government workers in Long Beach is that 95% of the people who work in these jobs live in this town. They are our friends and neighbors. When Democrats point to “friends and families” or Republicans point to patronage jobs, we are recognizing a long tradition of creating jobs for people in politics.
Long Beach, being a City, hires like a Metropolis but we have a Mayberry Budget. We have a reached a critical point where taxpayers cannot sustain this payroll with benefits and care for parks and infrastructure, the Rec Center and The Boardwalk. There are no more people moving in. The barrier island has as many taxpayers as it is going to have and government has grown too big.
The City Council must get creative. And when they are done with being creative, they must be even more creative to do more with less. When you read of a 16% increase it includes planning for government worker retirements. Then, they are discussing a SURCHARGE to pay down a $10,000,000.00 debt.
A Citizens Budget Committee will likely agree that workers with benefits need to start contributing to healthcare. That has precedent in labor give backs throughout the country in these hard times. They need give up pay increases and other perks to help get the City in proper footing. They are all part of the community. Long Beachers who do not work for the government have to pay or participate in healthcare and they have their own retirement plans that do not come with guarantees. The hard times that messed up City finances crushed many retirement plans for private sector taxpayers. They too are living with less money and credit and higher gas prices.
At the same time we are cutting spending, we need a strong plan for revenues. I have spoken to people in the community who have good instincts for economic development too.
Take a look at our assets and make them work for us. The five most mentioned assets for revenue possibilities are:
- The Waldbaums Shopping Center
- The Super Block
- The Beach
- The Bayfront by the water tower
- The Medical Center
The Firefighters discussing layoffs at the budget hearing spoke of a second ambulance as a revenue generating service – in addition to providing a level of security and safety we would rather not do without. The City admits, however that they do not have as good a record of collecting payment for ambulance use as they should.
The City should implement a beach pass security system so that cash is not collected at the entry to the beach. Using bar coded tickets, online pre-paid beach passes and/or wrist bands along with collecting cash at a single location will help stop leakage. Using credit cards at the entrances will benefit a family paying $12 per person too. These systems are used at parks and amusements everywhere. Why not here?
Long Beach pays huge fees and mandates to the state and to the County. Perhaps we can find a way to keep that from happening and bring sales tax home too. We are a small City with dwindling revenues and expenditure beyond our means that needs to find ways to keep our money here. If we need a police department as large as the one we have, why do we pay for Nassau County Police too?
Perhaps our Sanitation Department should be charging fees for commercial pick-ups as is a common practice using private carters
These are solutions everyday people are talking about. Everyday people are workers here, taxpayers here and voters here.