Here’s a job for incoming City Controller Wendy Greuel that will test her commitment to fill the shoes of Laura Chick: Give us a full accounting of all the finagles, deceits, borrowings, outright thefts, supplanting of funds and other dirty tricks used to balance the city budget — at least on paper.
Greuel was on the Budget Committee and should know this stuff cold. She has an obligation to make sure the public understand just how perilous the city’s financial situation is and how dishonestly they have patched the budget together with terrible consequences to basic services and the quality of life in the city.
A prime example that was brought to my attention involved the Department of Recreation and Parks, one of the few services like libraries which directly connect the public with city workers on a regular basis.
It is those two departments — parks and libraries which their operations dispersed throughout the city — that have suddenly been singled out to pay their DWP water and power bills and their SoCal gas bills out of their existing revenue streams instead of through the general fund.
These aren’t small sums as these paragraphs buried in Volume Two of the thousand pages of the “blue book” budget documents show:
Recreation and Parks:
Contractual Services Account Adjustment
Add funding in the amount of $14 million to the Contractual Services
account. The Department will fully reimburse the Water and
Electricity Fund for water and electrical services provided to
Department facilities. Additionally, the Department will partially
reimburse the General Fund for natural gas, fuel and fleet services
Contractual Services Account Adjustment
Add funding to the Contractual Services account for direct service
costs to the Library Program including Water and Electricity, Building
Maintenance, Fuel and Fleet, Natural Gas, Security and Custodial
In these cases the total loss to the department’s is more than $30 million and comes on top of the mandated 10 percent “shared sacrifice” cuts imposed on all agencies — except of course the DWP, harbor and airports.
More than $25 million of that money will go directly into the paychecks of DWP workers who are not facing pay cuts, furloughs, layoffs, early retirements. They are not even giving up the mammoth raises that have been bestowed on them — 6 percent in recent years.
Nor is the DWP slowing its hiring frenzy or putting off massive purchases of renewable energy at huge premiums by outbidding other utilities. Those costs you the public will assume through huge increases coming in your DWP rates — hikes that will show up on your bills without anyone in public office even voting on them.
Only parks and libraries are being hit with these charges. The impact on services to the public will be dramatic: Shorter hours, fewer programs. And they are being imposed at a time when people — in the private sector — are losing their jobs in record numbers so borrowing books and having recreational opportunities are more important than ever.
Parks General Manager Jon Kirk Mukri laid out his case in writiing to the Council’s Budget Committee at the start of the hearing process but all he got for his trouble was an hour-long grilling on why he wanted to restructure job functions in a department that will lose more than a fifth of its workforce.
“The Department will be faced with reducing direct recreation and family services to our communities who are currently facing the same financial stresses. Affordable recreation and family services are critical during normal times but are essential during these times of financial and emotional uncertainties,” Mukri wrote.
Community activists who have studied the parks budget closely note that the department now will be entirely dependent on property taxes allocated to it under the City Charter and on whatever revenue it can bring in on its own.
“The question that everyone should be asking is why is Recreation and Parks now being burdened with costs that were ‘General Fund’ed for the past 100 years,” noted one activist.
You can be sure that the situation is worse than portrayed in the budget and revenue will be lower than projected and far worse in the 2010-2011 budget year.
City officials have done their best to conceal the truth but the public will feel the consequences
Wendy Greuel wanted the job of being the public’s financial watchdog and she got it. Come July 1, we will find out soon enough whether she will actually fulfill her commitment.