Although Los Angeles is facing another rough budget year, a city panel on Monday questioned a plan by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to take funds away from grass-roots neighborhood councils.
Villaraigosa has proposed taking back some $1.9 million in "rollover" neighborhood council funds - money that individual councils had set aside for unspecified future projects.
But the City Council's Budget and Finance Committee, reviewing Villaraigosa's proposed $6.89 billion budget, said it would support protecting those funds.
"A lot of the neighborhood councils have been trying to be frugal and been saving up money for specific projects," Councilman Paul Koretz said. "And we are just pulling the rug out from under them and I don't see the fairness in that."
Each of the city's 90 neighborhood councils received $45,000 last year to fund its programs. Villaraigosa has proposed cutting that to $40,500 in fiscal 2011-12, reflecting the 10 percent reductions being imposed citywide.
B.H. Kim, manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, said the neighborhood councils are not protesting the 10 percent cut, but the seizure of funds they had set aside.
"Some of these physical infrastructure projects take more than one year to complete," Kim said. "Some City Council offices have partnered with neighborhood councils as a way to protect the funds, but not all have done that."
Councilman Bernard Parks questioned the pace ofreforms at DONE, which were promised last year, when the city backed away fro plans to consolidate DONE with the Community Development Department.
"The original recommendation was to dissolve the department," Parks said. "Then we came back and said to hold off until June 30 when we would get a plan to come forward. I didn't want to keep it as it is."
Councilman Paul Krekorian has been conducting a series of meetings to develop the reforms, intended to improve interaction between DONE and the neighborhood councils. Aides said he hopes to release his report this month.
Kim said DONE has dramatically reduced its costs and sought to deal with criticism about the handling of neighborhood council elections - they are supposed to be transferred back from the City Clerk's office - as well as how the councils reach out to increase their memberships.