The Bell Gardens City Council on Monday unanimously approved a $23.9 million budget for the 2012-2013 Fiscal Year.
The budget spares the senior center at Veterans Park, which narrowly avoided closure when the city council voted to take it off the chopping block.
Faced with a deficit of over $700,000, city staff had recommended closing the senior center and merging its programs with those at a newer senior center located at Park View, a senior housing facility.
The Veterans Park Senior Center was supposed to close when the Park View Terrace Apartments Senior Center opened, but as previously reported by EGP, it was allowed to stay open when some of the seniors complained they felt unwelcome at Park View because they do not live there.
“You were here when the seniors came and said they were not welcome at the new senior center,” Councilman Daniel Crespo told City Manager Phil Wagner during Monday’s meeting. The councilman moved to restore funding for the Veterans Park Senior Center in the 2012-2013 budget.
Long-time resident and community activist Ron Hoyt, speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting, said the Park View Senior Center is too small to accommodate both its current members and the two seniors clubs that currently meet at Veterans Park. There’s also not enough parking there, he said. He implored the council to not reconsider closing the center at a later date.
Lea esta nota EN ESPANOL: Presupuesto de Bell Gardens Evita Clausura de Centro de Jubilados 
Staff noted that it costs $24,000 a year to operate the Veterans Park Senior Center; not closing it would add to the city’s deficit.
Crespo’s motion was approved without opposition, but at the end of the meeting Mayor Pro Tem Sergio Infanzon said the city council will have to start making tough decisions or the budget deficit will continue to grow.
The city’s anticipated expenses for the fiscal year are now estimated at about $23,944,000, and include a $200,000 deposit to the reserve fund, as well as the $24, 000 cost of continuing to run the Veterans Park Senior Center. With anticipated revenues of $23.2 million for the year, the city is facing a budget shortfall of $744,000.
Wagner said the poor economy and dwindling resources originally had the deficit at $1.3 million, but steps taken cut it in half.
The city has been cutting back for the last four years and the budget has been cut to the bone, he said.
Bell Gardens also continues to grapple with what may be the consequences of the state-mandated elimination of Redevelopment Agencies (RDA). “The negative impact is yet to be determined,” Wagner said.
The elimination of the redevelopment agency has added another $201,000 in administrative expenses to the city’s General Fund. The city has also retained a consultant to assist with the closing down of its Community Development Department.
Funding provided under a COPS Hiring Grant, which authorized the employment of three officers for three years, is coming to an end, but Bell Gardens is required to fund the positions for an additional year.
The Bell Gardens Police Department’s budget is $11.9 million, nearly half of the city’s total budget.
Other higher costs in the next fiscal year include $100,000 for equipment for the police department, $240,000 to cover the current cost of the city’s retiree health insurance, and $138,000 for the salaries of Code Enforcement Officers that will no longer be fully funded through a Federal Community Development Block Grant.
Forty-two percent of Bell Gardens’ revenue comes from The Bicycle Club Casino; the city projects that it will receive the same amount of revenue at it did last year, about $9.7 million. But casino revenue has been on the decline since 2008, when it contributed nearly $13 million to city coffers.
Other significant sources of revenues include Motor Vehicle In-Lieu Taxes projected at $3.7 million; Parking Lot and Ground Leases projected at $3,484,877; Sales and Use Taxes, projected at $2,407,028. Only 4 percent, $916,139 of city revenue comes from property taxes. An estimated $3 million is expected to come from other taxes, charges for services, fines and forfeitures, interest income, and miscellaneous items and transfer-in from other funds, according to the Finance Director Will Kaholokula.
While the budget currently includes Parking Lot and Ground Lease revenues, the RDA dissolution could eliminate this source of revenue for the city, Wagner warned.
Seventy-one percent of the city’s expenditures are related to personnel, while 22 percent is for service contracts and 7 percent for maintenance, supplies and other expenses and services.
Major expenditures include CalPERS Pension Contributions at nearly $3.1 million, health insurance for current and pensioned staff at nearly $2.8 million, and Liability and Worker Compensation Insurance at $1.4 million.
By meeting with each of the departments to determine where cuts could be made, then asking each department to cut their budgets by another 10 percent, they cut the projected deficit in half, according to Kaholokula’s presentation.
The city council also approved cutting the annual Winter Wonderland and Halloween events, as well as the Park Ranger program. They also reduced the police department’s budget for overtime pay.
Other options still to be considered to reduce the budget deficit include additional cuts to department budgets, increased rates for programs and services, and employee layoffs.
Labor unions have already made concessions, according to Wagner, who added the goal was to make sure no one was cut from the payroll with the approval of this budget.
A review of the budget in about three months is planned, according to Kaholokula.