The City Council voted 3-2 at last week’s meeting to approve a three-year, 6.6 percent deficit reduction surcharge that will appear on residents’ tax bills, but not before a number of residents criticized the administration for “blaming” Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos for the increase and not doing more to cut costs.
The vote on Sept. 19 brings the total tax increase to 14.5 percent this year. It raises taxes on the average home in the city, which has a value of just under $466,000, by $402, to $2,877. City officials continued to call on Skelos to pass legislation that would allow Long Beach to issue millions of dollars in serial bonds to finance its deficit over 10 years.
“This is not a permanent tax increase — it is a surcharge and it will appear separately on your tax bill,” City Manager Jack Schnirman said. “This surcharge does not have to go into effect if the state Senate reconsiders and takes up this deficit financing bill. If passed — in fact we’re going to hold the tax bills physically as long as we can to give the state Senate as much time to act as they can.”
Under the city’s initial budget proposal in May, residents would have been hit with a 4.1 percent tax levy increase and an 11.9 percent deficit-reduction “surcharge” for three years. After Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg and Skelos agreed to sponsor the bill, city officials revised the spending plan, saying they were confident that lawmakers would approve the legislation, allowing the city to reduce its deficit surcharge by more than half and spread the payments out over 10 years at a lower interest rate. The $87.9 million budget that was approved on May 22 included a tax hike of 7.9 percent.
But in June, the Republican-led Senate never brought the city’s request to a vote and opted not to approve several local borrowing measures, saying that municipalities should focus more on cutting costs. City officials said they were forced to amend the budget as a result.