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Outside Audit Finds Santa Monica Far Outspent Peer Cities for Services

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

January 18, 2018 -- From police protection to City libraries, planning, housing and buses, the City of Santa Monica generally far outspent comparable peers in Southern California on a per capita basis in the last fiscal year, an outside audit has found.

A draft of the audit, which was presented to the City Audit Subcommittee in November, found that Santa Monica residents paid more than $900 each for policing in the past fiscal year, more than $800 for public bus service and nearly $250 for “facilities maintenance.”

Preliminary findings from the audit by Moss Adams shows the operating costs per capita for thec city of 93,834 almost always far exceed the 11 other municipalities used for comparison purposes across a wide swath of City services.

The audit does not provide overall numbers for combined spending but divides it by department.

The total operating cost for policing in Santa Monica in the 2016-17 fiscal year was almost $87 million, the highest among comparable cities. That amounted to $932 per person, compared to the $554 average cost per resident among comparable municipalities, the report found.

The smallest amount reported elsewhere for police was $393 per person; the maximum was $952, according to the findings. The report does not include which cities had the minimum or maximum costs.

The SMPD operates Downtown information services, community services, a local jail, animal control, the homeless liaison program and traffic enforcement, the report said.

Auditors noted Santa Monica’s daytime population increases to 250,000 including workers and visitors, requiring that many City services be expanded.

Per resident spending for the Santa Monica Fire Department was $426 in the last fiscal year, compared to an average of $347 for the other municipalities. The minimum was $275, while the maximum was $561.

Operating costs for the Big Blue Bus system was $805 per resident, about one and a half times more than the average per capita cost of $319 in the other cities included in the study.

The audit notes, however, that the BBB "serves 59 square miles surrounding Santa Monica.”

While four peer cities also operate transit systems, "no peer city operates a standalone transit agency structured like Big Blue Bus,” the report said.

The City's bus system has lost riders for the last seven years ("Ridership Plunges on Santa Monica City Buses as Expo Popularity Soars," January 17, 2018).

Santa Monica far outdistanced its peers in the cost for “facilities maintenance,” spending $240 per resident, compared to the average peer cost of $60. The maximum was $83 per person.

The operating cost for the City’s Main Library and four branches was $137 per resident last fiscal year, compared to the average of $65 among the eleven other cities scrutinized by Moss Adams.

Per resident costs for the Office of the City Attorney was pegged at $111.72 a year -- more than double the average per capita cost of $44.67 and far outdistancing the maximum of $55.40 found elsewhere.

“The City of Santa Monica’s City Attorney’s Office provides unique services, including serving as an advocate for city residents by actively pursuing consumer protection and code enforcement cases to protect the quality of life in Santa Monica,” the analysis found.

In the past fiscal year, the City Attorney’s Office "recouped $12.1 million in revenues for the City,” it said.

As comparable cities, the report looked at Redondo Beach, Inglewood, Glendale, Burbank, Beverly Hills, Culver City, Torrance, Pasadena, El Segundo, Santa Barbara and Anaheim.

The report said auditors had to weigh many variables, including lack of information sought for some comparable cities.

Other factors potentially impacting comparisons between cities include “community priorities, level of outsourcing, geography, and departmental organization,” auditors said.

The findings “attempt to compare similar services across cities using industry standard data,” they said.

The audit sought to determine “gaps between current City and peer practices and, to the greatest extent possible, reasons for gaps.”

Moss Adams’ 50-page report analyzes compensation in each City department, comparing per capita costs to operating budgets for the City compared to average, minimum and maximum spending.

It delves further as well, looking at total costs per full-time employees, and scanning costs of various individual positions -- such as department heads -- in Santa Monica and its peers.

Typically, Santa Monica also finds itself high up in those lists as well.

In some instances, the audit compares City compensation to what those City job-holders might earn in the private sector.

For instance, the position of Director Housing and Economic Development received median compensation of $213,867 -- 16 percent higher than the peer median of $184,091 -- but 21 percent lower than the private section median of $270,449, the study found.

Meanwhile, the position of Director of Public Works received median compensation of $225,057. That is 13 percent more than counterparts in peer cities of $198,738. But in the private sector, the position would fetch a median of $410,037, or 45 percent more.

The audit also looks at performance measures.

A date for release of the final report is not yet set. The preliminary version has also been presented to an ad hoc citizen’s panel formed in reaction to long-time criticism of the City’s spending practices.


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