The annual budgets of neighborhood councils could soon become a victim of the recession and the need to reduce Los Angeles’ $543 million deficit.

A proposal from the Budget and Finance Committee of the Los Angeles City Council would reduce the local advisory boards’ allotments to $11,200 a year. Currently, neighborhood councils receive $50,000 annually from the city’s general fund.

The committee, after hearing from representatives of practically all of the neighborhood councils, on Tuesday, May 12th agreed to consider restoring $35,000 to their budgets before the meeting came to an end at 6 p.m.

The committee continued its meeting on the next day.

BongHwan Kim, general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, notified the 89 neighborhood councils in a bulletin sent out May 6th about the possible cuts to the advisory boards’ subsidiaries.

“This is to inform you that the Budget and Finance Committee will be recommending to the City Council that the neighborhood council funding program be reduced to a total of $1 million for next year,” Kim wrote. “This roughly breaks down to $11,200, instead of the $50,000 per neighborhood council.”

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had previously announced that he would seek to cut the local advisory boards’ funding by ten percent, which would have taken $5,000 from their budgets.

Eleventh District Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who is a member of the budget committee, said that he is committed to fighting to have the neighborhood council funding returned to the mayor’s original proposal of a ten-percent cut.

“While the committee considered moving the amount back to $35,000 from $11,200, I will continue to fight to get it back to $45,000,” Rosendahl told The Argonaut minutes after Tuesday’s hearing ended.

Representatives from the city’s neighborhood councils packed the committee room to lobby the committee to adopt the mayor’s earlier recommendation and to express their collective opinions on how each community would be harmed by the cutbacks.

“I anticipate that there will be a large cut in community projects if our budget is cut,” Marc Saltzberg of the Venice Neighborhood Council said a day before the committee met. “This would hurt our ability to help our stakeholders.”

Venice’s board has been very active in seeking out and awarding funds to individuals and organizations throughout the community for a wide variety of projects that include neighborhood beautification, the creation of a newsletter and several artistic initiatives. The council donated $40,000 last year and $20,00 this year, said Mike Newhouse, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council.

“We’re hoping that there won’t be budget cuts,” Newhouse said in an earlier interview. “The community improvement projects have really made a difference in how we have been able to improve the quality of life in Venice.”

In Westchester, the sentiment is the same.

“These are very draconian cuts,” said Denny Schneider, a member of the Neighborhood Council of Westchester —Playa. “It shows a lack of regard for neighborhood councils.”

Some neighborhood councils, like Del Rey, have surpluses, which could come in handy over the next several years when the city will be facing large budget deficits.

“We’ve been very fiscally responsible and we will meet the community’s needs going forward in 2010,” Mark Redick, the Del Rey council’s president, said.

One of the reasons for the proposal to slash the neighborhood council appropriation was the fact that the Los Angeles city clerk will be responsible for conducting the elections of the local councils beginning next year. According to city estimates, that could cost approximately $4 million.

Rosendahl said that he would try to work with the city clerk over the next few weeks to see if some of the costs can be streamlined.

“That’s what we’re hoping to do,” he said. “It’s all a work in progress right now, but the reality is, we have some serious fiscal challenges ahead of us.”

Villaraigosa’s announcement before the budget committee convened regarding the city’s financial status cast a pall over the budget talks. The mayor said that as many as 1,000 municipal employees could be laid off beginning July 1st, but thousands more could follow next fiscal year, due to the magnitude of the budget deficit.

“The gravity of the fiscal emergency that we face is enormous,” Villaraigosa said. “Unless we act with urgency, the city will face a cash flow crisis, raising the prospect of running out of cash between November and February (2010).”

Rosendahl was pleased to see so many representatives from the advisory councils at the meeting.

“I was very grateful to see all of my neighborhood councils represented,” he said. “I appreciate their views and I appreciate that they have truly become an extension of our democracy.”

But he warned that while he would fight to have as much of the financial allotment as possible restored, city officials are facing some very difficult budget choices.

“The impact is very real,” the councilman acknowledged. “As elected officials, we have to be very sensitive to the city’s priorities.”

“Neighborhood councils are the best ways to fund community needs and neighborhood projects,” Redick said.

The City Council will begin holding hearings on Monday, May 18th to consider the committee’s proposals, and will submit its recommendations on or before June 1st to the mayor.

Villaraigosa reiterated his stance on what he feels should be cut from neighborhood council budgets on Wednesday.

“My proposal was to cut these neighborhood council budgets by the same ten percent that we cut every other (department) budget,” Villaraigosa said. “I don’t support any further cuts.”

As The Argonaut went to press, the budget committee was still debating how much should be cut from the neighborhood council budgets.

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