The Long Beach City Council Tuesday night unanimously approved a significantly reduced 2023-24 budget over one it had proposed at the end of April, with a now lowered tax rate and lower taxes for homeowners
The council reduced by 2.42 percent the original 12.39 proposed tax rate. The new rate is 9.97 percent.
The council was under extreme pressure from residents, who had turned out in large numbers at meetings to complain about the 12.39 percent tax rate.
The tax increase for the average homeowner will now be $462, down from $574 under the original proposal.
Asked if the reductions could not have been accomplished before, acting city manager Ron Walsh said Wednesday, “Constructing a budget is an art form. We sharpened our pencils and sat down with the department heads to see what we could do.”
Asked also if the reductions were the result of public pressure, Walsh said, “It was in response to public concerns.”
Some residents said they believed the reductions could have been done much sooner. But, said Councilman Roy Lester, “It took a meeting of the minds.”
The reductions came during Errata, which comes from Latin, meaning "corrections suspended after origins publication."
City council members and Long Beach administrators said they were able to knock down the original proposed budget through elimination or delays in hiring for some key positions, cuts in several departments, including police, public work, the central garage, municipal buildings, and saves on fringe benefits based on new information from New York State.
In a statement, the city said, "The entire tax increase is due to the Haberman case, which goes back to the 1980s. There was no way to avoid this. The city said that the payment due to the Haberman judgment equates to a 10.04 percent tax increase.
"To be clear," the city said, "if it wasn't for the Haberman settlement, there would be no tax increase this year."
The city was referring to a $150 million suit filed against it by the Manhattan developer, Sinclair Haberman, whose project to build expensive oceanfront condos was thwarted. Haberman sued and was awarded a $150 million judgment. The city last year was able to negotiate the amount to down to $75 million, but must pay Haberman $5.5 million a year for the next 30 years.
"The elephant in the room is the Haberman settlement," said City Council president John Bendo. "We had to pay the developer." We zeroed out all of the tax increases except for Haberman.
"Hearing your taxes are going up is not great news," Bendo continued. "But it was out of our control."
In the new budget, the $50,000 will come out of the police department. Walsh said the department will delay some hiring “to save money for the city.”
Long Beach also got some good news from New York State: it will not have to pay $130,000 to the state in pension costs, due to a miscalculation by the state, said city treasurer Inna Reznik.
Reznilk said also savings will be achieved by a decision not to hire a comptroller or a city planner. The city is negotiating with Long Beach’s professional firefighters, who have been working without a contract since 2010. Overtime pay for the professionals has been an issue for some Long Beach residents, who have described it as excessive.
One of them. Ron Pagnini, a former CSEA official, raised the issue again Tuesday night. He complimented the city council on the budget reduction, but added: “I’m not going to have any union put a gun to my head,” Pagnani said, referring to the professional firefighters. “It doesn’t work. They make good salaries.” He asked that the firefighters “give back some.”
Councilwoman Tina Posterli noted that the city council and the administration had “worked hard” to come up with the budget reductions. “We also feel very grateful to the residents who came forward to give their feedback,” she said.