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After five-hour meeting, still no council vote on Oakland city budget

on June 29, 2011

On Tuesday night the Oakland City Council once again postponed a vote to adopt a biennial budget, pushing the decision back until this Thursday, hours before the new fiscal year begins on July 1. With the divergence between councilmembers on the each others’ budget proposals, the timely adoption of a budget resolution remains uncertain.

Despite the lack of a vote, it’s positive progress for the councilmembers to finally put their proposals on the table, said Council President Larry Reid during Tuesday’s council meeting. There are currently six proposed budgets before the council; three submitted by Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, and three by various factions of the council. Last Friday, groups within the council advanced the final three budget scenarios—all based on Mayor Jean Quan’s “Option A” budget and similar to her “Option B” scenario, which assumes union concessions to avoid severe service cuts and lay-offs.

The council had previously pushed back the budget discussion twice, mainly due to unsettled union negotiations. On Monday afternoon, the city announced that it has reached tentative agreements with four major city unions, including the fire and police officers’ unions, to make concessions that would save the city about $28 million a year. The concessions include salary reductions and agreements that the workers will contribute a greater share to their pension funds. The union members will have to vote on the agreements in early July.

“We are hopeful that these concessions are very real,” said Councilmember Libby Schaaf (District 4), who joined other councilmembers to thank the unions for their contributions. Schaaf, together with Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan (At-large), Nancy Nadel (District 3) and Patricia Kernighan (District 2), drafted one of the three new proposals, under which $32 million in union concessions are needed to balance the budget in the next two years. The proposal would also hire back 44 police officers laid off last year, which will cost the city more than $3 million annually.

Compared with previous council meetings about the budget, fewer residents showed up on this raining Tuesday evening.

However, Schaaf’s proposal was questioned by Councilmember Jane Brunner (District 1) and Vice Mayor Desley Brooks (District 6), who suspected that the funding to rehire those police officers comes from one-time revenues—in other words, the $28 million proceeds from selling the Kaiser Convention Center to the city’s redevelopment agency.

“We don’t have any more one-time fixes to offer after this budget cycle,” Brooks said. “In two more years we’re probably going to be in a worse position than we are in today.” Brunner echoed Brooks’ remarks and demanded Schaaf’s team explain which expenditures in their proposal use one-time revenues.

In response, Schaaf said that the city doesn’t have to rely on one-time revenues to rehire the police officers because the attrition rate—or the number of officers leaving without being replaced—at the Oakland Police Department is currently underestimated in the mayor’s budget. By increasing the monthly rate from 3.3 to 4 officers, Schaaf said, the city would have additional savings to support those officers.

“In terms of the question about where are we putting the money from each of the savings, that’s not how we are budgeting,” said Kaplan, who added that their budget proposal wouldn’t use one-time savings to support ongoing operational costs, which could create problems in the long run.

In addition to the matter of rehiring police officers, councilmembers also have different opinions on whether or not to increase the city’s use of parking meters to generate new revenues, as well as disagreements over government reorganization issues. Two of the budget proposals—those advanced by Councilmember Igancio De La Fuente (District 5) and by the team of Brunner, Brooks and Reid—propose installing 369 more city parking meters.

During the council’s Tuesday night discussion, Schaaf proposed a motion to vote on her group’s version of the budget and include amendments later. The motion was seconded by Nadel but eventually withdrawn by Schaaf due to opposition from Brunner and Brooks, who said they were not ready to vote yet.

Kaplan said her team is willing to make compromises and work with other councilmembers to create an all-around budget. “I do think we really are not as far apart as it might look,” she said.

The council will reconvene at a special budget session on Thursday afternoon to continue the discussion on making up the city’s $58 million deficit.

Although the tentative agreements are yet to be approved by their members, the unions have done their part, said Jeff Levin, Vice President of SEIU Local 21 at Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s time [for the council] to rise above political considerations and think about what’s good for the city as a whole,” he said.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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