Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Long Beach Port Tapped For Muni Band Support

The governing board for the Port of Long Beach has approved a $50,000 grant to help keep the 101-year-old Long Beach Municipal Band afloat during the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

Long Beach City Hall, which had been providing more than $430,000 a year to support the professional musical group's 39 concerts a year in the city, had been looking at drastically cutting city budget funds for the band as a cost-cutting measure. The Long Beach City Council, now moving into the final steps of finalizing the city budget, is grappling with a projected $18 million budget shortfall in FY2011.
Public outrage at the cuts have led the City Council to seek previously untapped funding sources, such as the port, which is operated by city's semi-autonomous Harbor Department.

The Municipal Band funding is just the latest in a recent spate of incidents where the cash-strapped City Hall has turned to the port either for direct funding of city projects and programs, or offset funding through the city's Tidelands Fund. Under state law, port funds can only be used for specific uses that benefit the citizens of the entire state, and then only in the traditional tidelands area of the city. The city charter provides for the transfer of 10 percent of the port's annual profits to the city Tidelands Fund--though these funds must still be used in accordance with state law. The city typically uses these tidelands funds to offset general fund expenses such as police and fire service in the tidelands areas.

Millions of dollars in port funds have also been tapped in recent years to pay for such things as new fire stations in the port area, support of the financially-embattled Aquarium of the Pacific and the renovation of a local lagoon. City Hall is also planning to use more than $9.5 million in port funds to pay for a project to re-build aging seawalls that protect the exclusive Naples area of the city.
Port officials have estimated that the port has directly and indirectly provided more than $150 million for community projects over the past 15 years.

A City Council-supported proposition headed to voters in November would, if approved, reformulate the way the annual port transfer to the Tidelands Fund is calculated. The change would increase the amount of port funds headed to the Tidelands Funds by about 15 percent each year. This year, the port transfer was $12.4 million.