The Santa Monica City Council has been presented a proposed $510 million budget that calls for various fee increases and other cost-saving measures but avoids layoffs and furloughs that are impacting other municipalities in the region.

In presenting the more than half a billion dollar budget to the City Council Tuesday, May 26th, City Manager P. Lamont Ewell said the proposal includes $262.3 million in general fund expenditures and has decreased 8.1 percent from the previous year.

Stressing that the city, like the country, is facing unprecedented economic challenges, Ewell said that the budget calls for a combination of expenditure reductions, limited enhancements and fee adjustments to help close a potential $14 million deficit.

“The budget strategy allows us to balance all of our priorities in an unprecedented economic time,” the city manager told the council.

Ewell explained to the council that the city is “not alone” in facing budgetary struggles and compared to other local cities, does not have to make as drastic cuts and can avoid laying off employees. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed a $7 billion city budget Tuesday, June 2nd that calls for up to 1,200 layoffs and 26 furlough days to help close a $530 million shortfall. The budget additionally halts any hiring to increase the size of the police department.

Santa Monica city staff have recommended several measures to tighten the budget gaps.

“Ultimately we embarked upon a budget that would allow us to be very strategic in our focus,” Ewell told council members.

The council has set aside an economic uncertainty reserve of $8.2 million, which Ewell said will allow the city to respond to the downturn in a thoughtful way instead of having to make severe cuts.

City departments were asked to ensure that their actual expenditures for fiscal year 2008-09 were below budget by three percent, Ewell said. The proposal also takes into account a hiring freeze placed on non-sworn positions that has left 18 positions vacant and provides the opportunity to address further budget challenges.

Under the budget plan, departments were asked to reduce their budgets by five percent. The proposals would only apply to those with minimal impact on the community and would create a savings of about $5.7 million, Ewell said.

“We’re trying to manage any cuts in a very rational way over several years,” Kate Vernez, assistant to the city manager, said of the proposals.

Through a series of recommended fee increases, such as parking meter violations, overdue library fines and recreation fees, the city would receive about $4.3 million in additional revenue.

Parking citation hikes, which have not been implemented since 2003 and include expired meter fees increasing from $40 to $47 and street sweeping fees rising from $52 to $61, would total $2.2 million. Proposed increases in sports program and Swim Center fees would create an additional $400,000.

The spending plan adds about nine full-time positions and eight temporary positions for public safety related jobs, such as staffing for the Fire Department Communication Center.

“The budget is balanced based on what we know today and also makes sure we cover our community priorities,” Ewell said. “It attempts to mitigate service level impacts and maintains public safety as the highest priority.”

The City Council is scheduled to vote on the budget plan at its meeting Tuesday, June 23rd.