The home-rule request comes on the heels of borrowing measures that the city initiated last year after the deficit was uncovered. Some residents who attended the March 5 council meeting, such as Kevin Heller, said that the city was essentially bankrupt.
“We were in a pretty bad way before the storm, and we used up our rainy-day fund and then we had a pretty big rainy day,” Heller said. “In the long run, without some pretty radical changes, we are in fact bankrupt. It’s just a matter of when. You guys came in as the people who were going to turn things around, and I think you’ve done a great, great job, but I’m still very, very concerned that at some point, we have to end the cycle of borrowing and borrowing …”
Schnirman said that the city has no intention of declaring bankruptcy. “Our finances before the storm were on a trending positive trajectory,” he said. “If you carve out the storm through FEMA reimbursements and this legislation that we’re talking about now, the city is continuing to get healthier financially. Declaring bankruptcy would be a horrible message, and doom our local economy.”
The city’s main concern, Schnirman said, is supporting local businesses and ensuring that there will be a summer season.
Heller and others expressed concern about a decline in real estate tax revenue in the aftermath of the storm — tax assessment grievances in Long Beach leapt from 214 last year to 1,044 this year — as well as beach and other revenues. Schnirman acknowledged that there might be a loss of revenue this year, which he said would be discussed at upcoming budget talks.
“Very soon we’ll start talking about fresh numbers,” he said. “Where we’re going and what the path is moving forward.”