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L.A. council OKs budget, trims money to fire and police but avoids layoffs

May 18, 2011 |  5:24 pm

The Los Angeles City Council passed a $6.9-billion budget Wednesday, closing a $336-million revenue shortfall by shutting down some fire engine teams and cutting millions of dollars in police overtime pay but avoiding employee layoffs.

Unlike state lawmakers who recently found their budget deficit eased by an unexpected $6.6-billion surge in tax receipts, revenue projections in Los Angeles remain flat. But the budget cuts approved on a 15-0 council vote were less painful than in recent years, when officials slashed hundreds of jobs and enforced citywide furloughs.

Past layoffs, along with an assortment of concessions from city workers negotiated earlier this year, made balancing the 2011-12 budget easier, according to council President Eric Garcetti. He praised his colleagues for resisting the urge to take out loans to help balance the city’s books, a proposal Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had suggested in his budget.

“Look, it would be easy to take out a credit card,” Garcetti said. “It would be easier to kick the can down the road.”

That said, the council’s budget left the Los Angeles Police Department with $41 million in cuts that have not yet been accounted for. The department was prepared for a $20-million budget gap, but it saw that  figure more than double Wednesday when the council voted against proposed police furloughs and instead directed the department to come up with equivalent savings on its own.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said the department’s ability to close the $41-million gap rests largely on whether city negotiators can extract sufficient savings from the Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file cops and that is currently negotiating a new labor agreement.

The council approved an array of cuts, including an effective $19-million reduction to the Recreation and Parks Department, a 10% cut to homeless programs and a more than 6% cut to graffiti removal programs. The city's system of neighborhood councils, as well as the City Council itself, both saw 10% reductions.

The council approved the Los Angeles Fire Department’s controversial redeployment plan, which calls for firetrucks or ambulances at about one-fourth of the 106 fire stations to be put out of service.

But in a concession to the firefighters union, which was unhappy with the plan, the council voted not to cut the 318 staff positions the redeployment plan had called for. It also voted to create a nearly $7-million fund to restore some fire services. The $7 million is the amount the city hopes to save in contract negotiations with the United Firefighters of Los Angeles.

The budget also restored some services that had been reduced during last year's budget crisis, including a 20% increase in money for pothole repairs and additional Monday library hours and the part-time rehiring of some librarians who had been laid off.

-- Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall