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Budget vote approaching

on June 27, 2009

The roller coaster ride of city budget-balancing will not come to an end on July 1, at least according to several Oakland City Council members at last week’s meeting.  However, looking at Mayor Dellums’ original proposal to balance an $83-85 million general fund deficit in comparison with the revised proposal that four city council members put forth on June 11 gives us a slightly clearer picture of what to expect .

Here’s how some of the departments will be affected:

Public Works:
Under the council members’ revised proposal, this department will still cut 61 full time positions, even though financing for four tree maintenance staff and eight park maintenance staff were added back in to the budget.

Zac Wald, council member Jane Brunner’s chief of staff, listed the city’s parks and green spaces as the recipients of some of the most difficult cuts, because median maintenance and “anything beyond mowing” will be discontinued in many green areas of the city.

“We [will] have fewer people maintaining the landscape in the entire city than I’ve seen at some fancy hotels.  It’s ridiculous,” Wald said, citing the 73 employees slated to be laid off in the original proposal. Council member Brunner was working on a way to continue maintaining the parks in the council member’s district but didn’t have a specific plan yet, said Wald.

Kristine Shaff, Public Information Officer for the Public Works Department also said that they were taking very significant cuts.

“In 2008 we had just about 800 employees, this last year we’ve had about 650 and in the proposed budget we’ll have about 570,” she said.  “As the costs of things continue to increase, the amount of work that needs to be done increases because our infrastructure gets older, plants grow, people use buildings and we have less staff to [maintain] it.”

Shaff said that some of the differences residents could expect include strategically focused responses to ‘high priority issues.’  “We’re not planting and we have not been planting any street trees and we will not be pruning trees,” with the exception of hazardous situations, she said.  Tree maintenance would receive the most severe cuts,

Shaff compared the department to a body, saying that the cuts, beginning last year, had affected them on a deep level.  “When you’re [cut] to the bone, you start losing things, appendages.  We’re to that point. People say, well, you can be more efficient.  If you have half or one third the staff you had before – what can you do?”

Shaff stressed that community members taking responsibility was key to maintaining the city. “We’re going to be calling even more on the public to partner with us, adopt a park, a spot, volunteer, come out for Earth day,” she said.


‘Pairing’ – or closing six libraries for all but two days a week so that staff can rotate – was taken off the table in the council members’ revised proposal.  However, the book budget would be reduced by 10 percent and the adult literacy program Second Start would have to find a new home, as the facility would be rented out.

Patrick Camacho, a vocal library advocate who has been a driving force behind the Save the Oakland Libraries campaign led an organizing meeting on Thursday evening.

The familiar bright orange signs that read ‘Keep Oakland’s Libraries Open’ have been present at every city council meeting for the past several weeks and were strewn about the West auditorium room at the Main library where the meeting took place.  One sat on a piano in the corner.

Some of the challenges Camacho listed to an audience of nine were the proposed library book budget reductions and the general fund contribution to the literacy program that would be eliminated. The fact that many libraries will remain open only five days a week rankled Camacho.  “I want seven days,” he said and spoke of the need for organization among the branches. “It really comes down to information, and communication.  If I see the library as a core service within my community and I hear that they are going to be closed, then I’m not going to let that happen.”

Community members nodded in agreement.  “During the great depression, no libraries were closed,” Camacho reminded them.

Elected Officials and Administration

Under the revised proposal, elected officials will take a five percent voluntary annual pay cut.  The City Council will take a 20 percent cut, which includes eliminating their pay-go accounts for the current year.  The City Attorney’s office would take a ten percent cut. None of the above cuts were included in the mayor’s proposal.

Scott Peterson, Public Policy Director of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce said that his staff had been looking at budgets over the last ten years and found that while staffing levels have decreased, pay for staff has increased about 73 percent per employee, on average.  “When council members are talking about how to make things more efficient…what they’re really talking about is how we can do the same level of service, or better, will less staff or less expensive staff,” he said.

Peterson thought the council members had been showing leadership by cutting their own budgets in the new proposal.  “Letting go of their pay-go money, even if it is temporary, puts them in a much stronger position,” he said.

Of course, there are other aspects to balancing the looming deficit besides slashing departmental costs.  Council member Rebecca Kaplan said that the city should be putting more time and effort into thinking about creative ways to create revenue.  “The thing missing from the conversation is revenue building projects,” she said before a Life Enrichment meeting on Tuesday.  She cited the four ballot measures in the July special election, which are aimed at raising $8-10 million for the city and include a business tax on medical marijuana and an increase in the city’s hotel tax.

The council will vote on the budget at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 30th.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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