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Despite getting new revenue, L.A. budget shortfall deepens to $222.4 million

April 9, 2010 | 11:29 am

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Council President Eric Garcetti, shown in 2009. Credit: File photo

Without a promised transfer of money from the Department of Water and Power, the budget gap for the city of Los Angeles has grown to $222.4 million this fiscal year, even with a brighter forecast for property tax collections.

In a key financial status report released Friday morning, City Administrative Officer Ray Ciranna said the city has collected $26 million more than expected in property tax revenues.

But the deficit means the city will have to dip deeply into its reserves to balance its books to end the fiscal year on June 30 in the black. City Council President Eric Garcetti and Councilman Bernard C. Parks, chairman of the budget committee, stressed that the better than expected revenue collections did not mean the city’s budget crisis has been solved.

“The City Council has been consistent that we are going to work hard to close this year’s budget gap and we have,” Garcetti said. “We’ve tried not to propose anything that scares employees, that does things that are irrational or exuberant. But we are trying to maintain calm and a reasonable budget.”

Earlier this week, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa surprised council members by threatening to close some city departments two days a week to prevent the city from running out of cash.

Although the mayor has now backed away from that proposal, many council members believed it sent an unnecessary jolt of panic through the city’s workforce. Villaraigosa would have needed council approval for furloughs that would have cut employees’ paychecks by two-fifths.

Before the current stalemate between the DWP board and the council -- utility executives refuse to send the city a promised $73.5 million because council members refuse to approve a sweeping electricity rate increase -- various budget-balancing moves, in combination with the increased revenue, had reduced the midyear deficit from $212 million to $148.9 million.

The city will save about $6 million this fiscal year due to 100 layoffs processed so far and by transferring 280 employees from jobs supported by the cash-strapped general fund to positions that are paid for through fees and special funds.

Ciranna said he believed that the city’s reserve fund, which is about $207 million, would drop to about $39 million at the end of the fiscal year, far below what bond rating agencies consider to be a healthy threshold.

“Efforts to build the reserve fund balance are critical to maintain sufficient cash flow, to address the current-year revenue shortfall and resulting budget deficit, and to provide an adequate safety net for the 2010-2011 fiscal year,” Ciranna wrote.

-- Maeve Reston at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, left, and City Council President Eric Garcetti, shown in 2009. Credit: Los Angeles Times