Sorry, no Monday morning distractions today. Instead, I thought I’d share what Jane Brunner said about the budget process at Saturday’s BRT forum. Don’t worry, next week I’ll bring you something more lighthearted to start off your week.
On Friday, the council and the mayor had a budget retreat and spent the entire day discussing how to close the deficit. Brunner explained that the city only has $110 million in discretionary spending available, since the rest of our budget is tied up in fixed costs that have been mandated (ie by voter initiative). Out of this $110 million, the council has to cut $37.5 million fromt the budget. That’s 34% of the budget they have to cut – no easy feat.
Why do we have such a large gap to fill? Brunner said it’s because real estate sales and taxes are down and because the police department spent $11 million over their allocated budget. Brunner also mentioned that the police spent $27 million alone on overtime this year. She even went so far as to say that for the past five years, the police department has been operating as if they did not have a budget at all. (As someone who manages departments and has to deal wtih budgeting, I can imagine how maddening this must be for the council, though if it’s been going on for five years, why hasn’t this problem been addressed?)
Brunner then laid out the three options the council has to close the budget gap:
- Shut the city down once a week (except for essential services, like fire and police), which would also cut all workers’ pay by 20%.
- Lay offs – the mayor has already proposed 84 lay offs, but the council will likely need to recommend more.
- Give backs by the unions, in the form of salaries, benefits, pensions, etc. Brunner said that negotiations with the unions are ongoing, but they are unlikely to reach a resolution before the budget is due.
Brunner said that she supports a hybrid of shut downs and lay offs, and she thinks that is the direction the council is headed in. That hybrid plan could include shutting down the city once a month, and maybe shutting down the city between Chritmas and New Years. It would also include more layoffs – 160 was the number she tossed out. She also said they were looking for city staff to volunteer to retire early and some employees who would voluntarily move to working four days a week.
Additionally, Brunner said the council will be looking into all expenses to see what can be cut. For example, they’re looking at the parades and festivals (like Art and Soul) that the city pays for to see what can be cut. (This is so, so sad.) Ultimately, Brunner said that things are going to be very different in Oakland – potholes and sidewalks won’t get fixed as fast.
Brunner then took questions from the audience (most of which were very thoughtful), and answered them. She said the council probably won’t decide to close parks (yay!). They are looking at revenue increasing measures, like raising parking fees (double yay!). As for paygo – the money allocated to each council member to use in their districts – she said it would likely be cut but that north Oakland in particular really depends on these funds for improvement projects (like the benches on College Avenue). She ended by thanking everyone who had sent her suggestions for ways to close the budget gap and asked us all to keep our ideas flowing.
I honestly don’t know a ton about the budget situation so I’ll leave the analysis to others who know a bit more. But Brunner’s presentation left me with a mix of hope and dispair. Overall, her assessment was pretty grim, but she did sound confident that the council and mayor would reach a budget agreement by October 21. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens, but no matter the outcome, some program, project, or service that we all love will get cut. I really don’t envy the position the council is in.