By Rae Gabelich, Long Beach 8th District Council Member
Recently I took my son to see Wicked at the beautiful Pantages Theatre located on the famous corner of Hollywood and Vine. One of the lines in the play that caught my attention was when the Good Witch Glinda said: “ I am a public official. It is my duty to speak with encouragement.”
Well, as your public official, encouragement is good, but I feel my responsibility is to relay the reality of city hall finances as I understand it.
We are all well aware of the dilemma that we face with our city budget next year. Over $16 million in cuts will be necessary for 2009. We already know that between 2010 and 2011, we will face an additional $21 million deficit.
How did we weave this financial web? Well, it’s clear that the latest contract approvals play a significant role in the debt; however, the City of Long Beach has been making annual budget cuts for over the past five years. It started with the easier levels of service, the areas that are not visible to many citizens.
For instance, adjustments were made to the basic levels of service that were contracted out for landscape maintenance, the reduction of fleet operations, the reduction in tree trimming schedules and the list goes on.
This year, the “low hanging fruit” is limited! We are confronted with choosing between programs that provide structure and support for our youth who are the most in need, to the threat of closing our main library that serves thousands of citizens every year. These are the most publicly discussed budget cuts, but there are many more necessary to achieve a balanced budget for 2009.
The legislative department was asked to join in the effort to realize cost savings as well. For those of you who are following our progress, you know it has not been easy for the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th districts to reach the goal of a 10 percent reduction. The other council offices and the mayor’s office were able to quickly reach their goal because they all had vacant positions within their budgets.
Speaking for the 8th district, we do not have the benefit of unaccounted revenue or a vacant position. We also have the additional costs related to funding a field office so that our residents may have easier access to their city office.
I have a staff of four who serve our district’s needs. Our talented office manager Rose, who handles all of the scheduling needs, mailings, event coordination and city hall constituent calls. Linda and Veronica, who both serve you from the field office on Atlantic Avenue. In addition to constituent needs, they each have their areas of expertise.
Veronica takes responsibility for organizing and leading the monthly clean ups that we make available to neighborhoods on request. She has been instrumental in working with the 38 new Neighborhood Watch groups that we have started since 2004 for a total today of 58 in the 8th district. This is a proven program to defeat criminal behavior and strengthen the sense of community within our neighborhoods. She also leads the 8th district youth group and helps them initiate projects to improve quality of life within the 8th, while allowing them to work on their leadership skills within the community.
Linda is our liaison with many community groups such as North Project Area Committee, North Long Beach Community Action Group, the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, NorthPointe Housing Development and a number of our neighborhood groups. She attends many of the events citywide to represent the 8th district when I am not able to do so, as well as attending monthly city commission meetings to keep us on top of projects that are under development or consideration. And last but certainly not least is Jonathan, who serves as my chief of staff and is the wizard with the ways of government- local, state and federal- keeping me informed and on track while managing the dozens of projects that we commit to throughout the year.
This is the last month that we will have an intern in a paid position, since those funds had to be eliminated as well. And that pay was more of a stipend than a salary. Her work, on the other hand, was impeccable- she was dependable, energetic and responsible. Maili started with us when she was a junior in high school and returned to us during her college summer and holiday breaks and could pick up where she left off. She will be missed dearly!
Each staff person provides invaluable service to our district. Each person gives their 110 percent to improving the quality of life for our 56,000 residents and have earned the level of salaries they receive. I do not doubt that in the private sector, they would be able to demand significant income increases with less demands on their time.
For myself, as your council member, I receive an annual salary of $35,000 that translates into $1800 take home each month. These jobs are not about obtaining wealth; they are about being a part of creating change, improving life within our City of Long Beach.
If anyone is interested in seeing our line-item budget, please contact my office and we will make that available to you. In the meantime, I will work with my colleagues and attempt to build a better understanding about the differences among the council districts, having nothing to do with the individual council members!
Please join us in the process. Let your positions be known without casting blame. Be a part of the solution, not the catalyst for more problems.
Stay Involved! Rae
By Rae Gabelich, Long Beach 8th District Council Member