Council Members Wrangle Over $300k Gen. Fund

Sunday, 26 Jun 2011, 4:07:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

With a $1 billion budget to consider on the table, it was about $400,000 in discretionary funds that had the Santa Monica City Council engrossed in a contentious deliberation. "In a 6-to-1 vote council members ultimately approved $72,900 in allocations at its June 21 meeting, but were at odds at how best to allocate the rest of $402,988 available to them in one-time funds, which included $300,000 in general funds, plus $102,988 in council contingencies.

With only $72,900 allocated, the council was reminded that they did not have to allocate the entire $402,988 at the June 21 meeting. How the remaining balance will be spent may be determined later.

Based upon feedback provided by council members to the City manager’s office, that $72,900 of the discretionary funding was recommended by City staff to be allocated to four programs: Urban Forest Master Plan Outreach ($17,000); American Red Cross in Santa Monica ($10,000 for AmeriCorps); Buy Local for Schools and Community ($27,400); and Buy Local Supply Chain Development ($18,500).

The remaining $330,088 may be allocated to Early Childhood Development Education and other key programs the council considered most vital to local residents; however, the specific allocations will be determined after the next budget is passed in Sacramento and an assessment is made of which local programs providing the most benefit to Santa Monicans suffer due to a lack of state-level funding.

Council member Bob Holbrook hoped a little more than 10 percent of the remaining available discretionary funds, or $34,500, could be allocated to Meals on Wheels West (MOWW) in response to some the nonprofit group’s members and supporters who attended the meeting and pleaded with the council during public hearing for the extra funding to keep up with rising costs without having to make significant cuts. The council had already granted MOWW about $48,000; the nonprofit sought $82,756 in total funding.

Making an amendment to McKeown’s original motion to allocate the $72,900 in one-time funding as suggested by staff, Holbrook said he was making a stand for senior citizens and the elderly in pushing for MOWW to receive the extra funding.

“I have gone into buildings that have been occupied by very frail and elderly seniors, and it’s just like your son or daughter had come to visit you when the people deliver the meal. It’s more than just food,” Holbrook said. “It just seems to me in Santa Monica that we’re really focused on the beginning, and not as much the end, of life. I, tonight, want to stand as my first priority, in this budget, at this moment, to help an agency that is really focused on helping people that are very senior and very frail.”

However, McKeown responded that allowing MOWW to be the recipient of the additional $34,500 in funding via the council’s discretionary allocations would set a precedent other nonprofits in the area that it could make a sympathetic plea for additional money on budget night in hopes its requests would be approved.

“I think it is really essential that we support the process we have set up. We’d have to open it up to every social service (by considering MOWW’s pleadings for additional funding),” McKeown said. “All of these agencies have compelling stories, and their clients are all people who are in need, who we want to help. We had requests for … $4 million more in support than we were able to give. We’re dealing here with public money, not council member money.”

After a tense debate, the substitute motion ultimately failed on a 4-to-3 vote, with Mayor Richard Bloom and Council members Terry O’Day, Gleam Davis, and McKeown voting against Holbrook’s request.

While supporters of MOWW and other members of the audience were visibly disappointed by the failed substitute motion, Shriver was not thrilled about the whole concept of council members deciding how to spend the $300,000 in one-time general use funds in the context of approving a $500 million-plus budget. Specifically, Shriver thought allocating $300,000 was a “farce.”

“I personally find this sort of $300,000 allocation every year to be a farce,” he said. “In a $523 million budget, the idea that the council, on one evening, purports to make some decisions about $300,000 … I figured (at first), well, this was the way it is, but now that I’ve been around for a bit I feel entitled (to think otherwise).”

O’Connor agreed, opting to label the council allocations as “theater” instead of “farce.”

Shriver was the sole dissenting vote in the main motion to approve the $72,900 in allocations. He also made an amendment to McKeown’s motion to allocate some of the discretionary funding to a job service program; that amendment failed 5-to-2.

Looking ahead to fiscal year 2012-2013, the council contingency is $83,706.

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