This afternoon I was fortunate to attend a budget hearing sponsored by city Councilmembers Pat Kernighan (District 2), Libby Schaaf (District 4), and Ignacio De La Fuente (District 5) and attended by interim city administrator Lamont Ewell and someone from the budget office named Sabrina. (I didn’t get her last name..sorry). Former candidate for Mayor Joe Tuman was there. Sanjeev Handa, the Oakland Fire Chief and representatives from Oakland Rising, Make Better Oakland Now, APEN and more.
This meeting was an open forum that allowed members of the public to ask questions and give suggestions on the direction the Councilmembers should take in figuring out a budget by June 30th, the last day to balance the budget.
In case you weren’t aware, Oakland is projected to lose $58 million for the year 2011-12 and another $76 million for 2012-2013. Ewell said that this shortfall is not unique to Oakland. The nation, the state and other local cities are dealing with a shortfall this year.
There are three budget proposals under consideration. Click here to download description of the budget (2.4 MB) by Jean Quan’s office, and a simple one page scenario (45 KB) of possible cuts from each budget scenario.
Budget A, cuts to the budget across the board resulting in reduced services in areas such as Senior Centers, Police, Fire, Libraries (leaving only 4 branches open), Parks and Rec (closing afterschool rec programs, swimming pools) Public Works, and arts. (Shaving $58 million)
Budget B, pending contributions from city employees such as Police, Fire (which command 64% of our General Fund) we will have a small amount of cuts. (Shaving $28 million). Please note, according to the Councilmembers, all the unions and city reps are at the table ready to negotiate contributions, so this option is plausible.
Budget C, pending the passing of a $80 per year parcel tax (which would require a 2/3 vote via a special public election that would cost $800-900, 000), as well as contributions from city employees, there will be a small amount of cuts. (+ 11 m).
These simple scenarios don’t mention the other liabilities that Oakland has to pay for, including a $138 million debt that we borrowed to cover the salaries of city employees to keep police, fire and libraries open and a $1. 6 million deferred payment of city maintenance (ie street maintenance, park clean-ups etc). Finally, we need to make a huge payment to Police and Fire Pensions ($483 million I believe).
Yet there are limited ideas in how to generate new revenue. There is a proposal to sell the Henry J Kaiser Center to the redevelopment agency which will add $29 million in revenues, and a vague proposal to reduce the city attorney office by 15%.
Each Councilmember gave their opinion on the situation:
Schaaf apparently in support of Budget Scenario B, talked about how minimal the cuts would be in this scenario. The most painful cut in Scenario B is the elimination of 25 workers in Public Works. Libraries would not be closed and we would keep all our fire stations, although some employees would work flexible and part-time positions.
De La Fuente, who mentioned twice that he was pro union, was disappointed that there seems to be no other options. There is no changes in this budget scenario, and no guarantee that anything will get better. De La Fuente wonders why other groups like business associations or the Chamber of Commerce has not submitted budget proposals. (I didn’t know that they could..interesting) De La Fuente also suggested that the city go back to the basics: we need to cut things that are not essential but cost too much to maintain, such as the Montclair and Chabot Golf Courses.
Kernighan didn’t really give much of an opinion on either except to say that she was glad to be able to hear from the city of Oakland and looked forward to answering our questions.
So what did Oakland Residents Say? Some highlights: (each Councilmember had a chance to answer the questions)
- Q: Why can’t the city workers contribute more? Does the City Council make contributions? Can we force the Police to make contributions, since they have not already (the Fire Department has started contributing) A: City workers already have started making cutbacks with furlough days, and yes the City Council has started making employee contributions. Yes, we can force Police to take furlough days if they do not negotiate.
- Q: Does the city have to choose one budget scenario over another? Can we plan for B but shoot for C? A: No, they don’t have to choose just one budget scenario, they can mix and match as to what is best for the city.
- Q: If we shut down city services like the libraries, police and fire department, animal shelters, and Children’s Fairyland will that not make the city less attractive to newcomers? Who would want to live here?A. Kernighan- yes. We are in a Catch 22, and it is something that the board must consider when going forward.
- Joe Tuman: Q: Of the FTE’s to be cut, how many are going to be transferred, or just plain lost? How did the Mayor reach the $80 flat tax rate? Is the selling of the Kaiser Center legal? A: Yes some of them are transfers, but don’t know how many yet. Apparently there was a poll by Quan, (Joe mentioned that no one has seen this poll even the city administrator– interesting), but apparently this was an amount acceptable to poll respondents. Yes, the City Attorney did say that selling of the Kaiser Center is legal.
Oakland Rising Suggestions:
– instead of a flat parcel tax, adjust tax rate in accordance with personal income
– allocate future resources fairly
– come up with long-term and sustainable ideas, instead of making cuts in order to balance the budget
– Maintain the city attorney staff
– come up with alternative revenue ideas
– enforce existing laws and collect full taxes owed to the city- such as business taxes on renters and foreclosure fees.
Schaaf mentioned that: some other alternative sustainable revenue sources would be to open up labor contracts for renegotiation. Also to change our commitment to paying Police and Fire pensions. Finally to create a rainy day fund for Oakland, similar to the one San Francisco has.
Pamela Drake representing the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club mentioned that the group is for the parcel taxes because 1. It is better to spread the pain around instead of cutting key city jobs, 2. Better than increasing parking fees, 3. It’s cheaper than a month’s worth of Netflix.
What do you think?
Participate in the budget process!
Attend more City Council Budget Meetings:
- Thursday, May 26th, 5:30 pm
- Tuesday, May 31, 5:30 pm (tentative)
- Thursday, June 2, 5:30 pm (General City Council Meeting)
- Tuesday, June 21, 5:30 pm (General City Council Meeting- anticipated final passage of budget)