At the last moment, Oakland City Council votes in new budget
on July 1, 2011
Three hours ahead of the new fiscal year, Oakland’s city council finally voted in a budget. The council, by a narrow vote, approved the biennial budget resolution during a special council meeting on Thursday evening.
The council—which diverged over the rehiring of laid-off police officers and other government reorganization issues—split into two groups as members voted 4-4 on a budget proposal advanced by Council President Larry Reid (District 7), Vice Mayor Desley Brooks (District 6), Councilmember Jane Brunner (District 1) and Ignacio De La Fuente (District 5). The tie was broken by Mayor Jean Quan, who voted in favor of the proposal.
The approved budget will maintain the current public library services, keep all fire stations open and continue to fund cultural arts grants. However, it will only hire back 22 laid-off police officers, as called for in Quan’s initial proposal. An alternative proposal, put forward by councilmembers Libby Schaaf (District 4), Rebecca Kaplan (At-large), Nancy Nadel (District 1) and Patricia Kernighan (District 3), had called for hiring back an additional 18 officers. Schaaf said that as Oakland continues to lose its police officers at an increasing rate, it’s very cost-effective to hire back officers who have already been trained to work in the city.
However, Brooks, on behalf of her group, said adding more officers to the city’s payroll is not a fiscally sustainable decision. De La Fuente added that it would not be fair when the other city employee unions are making great sacrifices—including concessions on salary reductions and pension contributions—to help close the city’s budget gap, while the police officers’ union is asking for a cost-of-living salary increase in 2014 and 2015.
As a compromise, Kaplan brought up the idea of setting up a public safety reserve fund, which can be utilized to hire police officers once the city’s police staffing level is too low. The other group of councilmembers, who prefer to put the money (roughly $3 million a year) into the general reserve fund, did not adopt the suggestion.
Councilmembers also debated cuts to the city’s Public Ethics Office and the elimination of Oaklanders Assistance Center (an office which helps resident navigate through city services and policies), as well as whether to lay off four tax enforcement officers. After two hours of argument, the council had to break briefly for the two factions to have caucus meetings to figure out which concessions each group could accept. During the recess, the Reid group decided to add back the funding for the Chabot Science Center and maintain the National Night Out program, which Quan told a number of reporters are the major reasons for her decision to favor the Reid group’s budget during the tie-breaking vote.
While eliminating the part-time assistant to the Public Ethics Director and Oaklanders Assistance Center, the newly adopted budget will lead to the installation of 369 parking meters, which will feed the city with more than $1 million a year.
The budget can be amended as the city fumbles through the new fiscal year, Quan told the press after casting her vote. “But we really need a budget now, or the city’s credit is going to be hurt,” she said.
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