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Think Oakland’s deficit is easy to fix? Use this to do it yourself

on December 16, 2010

After studying a recent New York Times interactive that offered readers a way to try different cuts and tax increases to decrease the national budget deficit, Oakland North decided to do the same—but on a smaller scale, focusing only on Oakland. Our interactive gives Oaklanders a way to try grappling with the city’s budget deficit themselves.

To manage what had been a deficit of $32 million for the current 2010-11 fiscal year, Oakland city officials are still implementing changes to break even. With millions of dollars in expenditures, the inability to intermingle city funds, and contracts that essentially keep city officials from making some proposed changes, solving the budget deficit can seem more like trying to pull a hat trick than like balancing a checkbook.

What would you do?  You could lay off police officers, as the city chose to do, despite Police Chief Anthony Batts’ warning that Oakland’s department is already dangerously understaffed. You could cut spending in city administration and services.  You could shut down a firehouse, or implement rotating closures. You could increase taxes and revenue sources, or both. But few of these options are easy or immediately available–some, which we identify in the interactive, require voter approval or are currently prohibited by  contract agreements with the city.

There’s no mention of school funding here, which may look like an oversight, but the Oakland Unified School District’s funds are entirely separate from the city’s.  That means the city does not provide funding for any schools, nor decide where those funds are disbursed.

The city has already begun implementing its cost-cutting measures, slashing the the police force to 637 sworn officers (which includes the officers who will be rehired as a result of the passing of Measure BB, the measure revising Oakland’s parking lot and parcel tax) and paring down city agencies’ and departments’ administrative staff.  So we invite readers to see whether their own choices align with the city’s ideas of how best to navigate a difficult financial situation.

The numbers in the Oakland North Budget Fix come from multiple sources, including City Administrator Dan Lindheim, and are based on the city’s 2010-11 budget, which is in effect now. Because these budgets are always planned in advance, the numbers used in this interactive were set out in June, so some may have changed since then—for example, because they assumed future revenues that haven’t materialized because the ballot measures required to gather them failed in November.  And, importantly, each of these cuts and increases would have its own ripple effects on the city’s economy, well-being, and future budgets.  We hope to try illustrating some of those complications in coming multimedia projects.

*The category “Services” in the chart above includes 2010-2011 budgets for Oakland’s museums, libraries, parks and recreation, human services, public works, community and economic development, the capital improvement program and other non-departmental programs. “Administration” includes offices of the mayor, city council, city administrator, city attorney, city auditor, city clerk, contracting and purchasing, information technology, finance and management, and human resources.

[This multimedia report is no longer available.]

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
Oakland North

Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to:

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