Budget Diaries 3 – The End or Just the Beginning?
on July 1, 2009
By ALEXIA UNDERWOOD
To balance an $83 million general fund deficit, the Oakland City Council passed an amended budget proposal Tuesday night that leaves many departments’ budgets substantially smaller.
The most controversial change, Council member Jean Quan noted while reading the proposal aloud, was the $13.4 million cut to the Oakland Police Department’s personnel budget. It’s equivalent to the 10 percent cut the city requested from all departments.
The police union is still in talks with the council and how the money will be re-distributed is not yet known. The city is still waiting to hear if the federal COPS grant money the city requested will be awarded; Quan said they may hear as early as July.
The new budget, approved in time for the new fiscal year that starts today, contained several changes. More than 60 city employees will be laid off, and many more vacant positions will be eliminated. Libraries will remain open five days a week, with the exception of the Main library branch, which will stay open seven days a week. The Mayor’s office will slash costs by 20 percent, the City Attorney’s office, 10 percent. The City Council also approved a 20 percent reduction for their own offices, including the elimination of their pay-go accounts for the next two years. The Oakland Zoo’s subsidy will be reduced by 10 percent, as will the Chabot Space and Science center, School of the Arts and the Cypress-Mandela training center.
Parking meter rates were raised citywide by fifty cents and meter hours will be extended until 8:00 p.m. The proposal also approved $20,000 for a new performance management software system, lauded by council member Brooks and intended to save money by increasing efficiency.
Despite a substitute proposal announced at the last minute by council members Desley Brooks and Laurence Reid, the council voted 7 to 1 to approve the proposal put forth on June 11 by four council members: President Jane Brunner, Ignacio De La Fuente, Jean Quan and Pat Kernighan. Council member Brooks cast the ‘no’ vote.
Despite the progress, the arduous balancing process is far from over.
Quan, who also holds the position of Finance Chair, said that she expects the state to take money from the city’s gas tax, redevelopment fund and property taxes – “up to 26 million in cuts,”– as Sacramento attempts to deal with California’s own budget crisis.
The budget numbers are also based on the four city measures in the upcoming special election on July 21 passing. If residents fail to pass them, then the city will have to make further budget adjustments.
“Tonight is just the beginning of buying time for the next couple of months,” De La Fuente said.
Kernighan agreed. “We know that the state will be taking more millions from us,” she said. “We’re going to be back here making even more cuts.”
After the budget was voted on by the council, the room buzzed with activity. Several people began talking as others stood up to leave. The four camera crews began breaking down their equipment. “Can we ask that everyone be quiet? We need to hear each other,” Brunner said.
Scott Peterson of the Oakland Chamber of Commerce called the move a step in the right direction, although he would have liked to see more of an emphasis on revenue production for the city. “The majority of the way they balanced the budget had to do with cuts and not revenue,” he said.
Patrick Camacho, an Oakland libraries advocate, said that it was “the beginning of the beginning,” and called for more efficiency, transparency and accountability on the behalf of the budget process.
The meeting adjourned at 8:45.
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