$7.7 million – spend it now, pay for it later

If you’re reading this, odds are that you’ve also read one of the many stories in local newspapers about Ron Dellums’s police recruitment proposal over the last three weeks. You may also have read some of my thoughts on the plan.

So you probably already know that Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums is asking the Council for $7.7 million from Measure Y funds to fund a new strategy to fully staff the police force by the end of this year. Did you ever wonder about all that cash? Like, where it came from? Or why we aren’t using it already if it’s just sitting there ready to spend? Or what it’s supposed to go to?

I said I’d cover the money way back when I first looked at the proposal. I’m starting to realize that saying I’m going to write something on this blog practically guarantees that I won’t get around to it anytime soon. Anyway, you’d think that these questions might have occurred to someone else in the three weeks since then, and that I would have missed my chance to answer them here. You’d be wrong. Here’s a sample of the detailed attention given to the source of the funds from other local media:

But the Trib article fails to note that the city’s general fund is facing a $15 million deficit this year while the Measure Y fund is sitting atop a reserve in excess of $17 million (see page 11 of the mayor’s plan). In other words, the flush Measure Y fund can pay for the mayor’s plan but the cash-strapped general fund can’t.

That would be scandalous if it were, you know, true.

Let’s back up a second.

Oakland voters passed Measure Y back in November of 2004. Measure Y is a 10 year long parcel and parking tax that raises roughly $20 million each year for fire and violence prevention efforts.

A $4 million chunk goes straight off the top and to the fire department. Of what’s remaining, 40% goes to violence prevention programs. The rest is earmarked for the police. This comes out to about $9.5 million a year, which is supposed to fund 63 police officers. 57 of them are Problem Solving Officers assigned to individual beats throughout the city. 6 of them belong to a crime reduction team that is supposed to work on the homicide and drug problems in the most violence-plagued Oakland neighborhoods.

This all sounds great, right? 69.6% of voters thought so three years ago anyway. Problem is, we haven’t been able to hire enough officers to fill all those positions. Since the police money has to be spent on, well, police, the funding for the missing officers is just sitting around collecting interest.

At the end of last fiscal year, Measure Y had a fund balance of $17,043,532. This is the figure that Gammon is referring to, although it isn’t, as he calls it, a reserve – it’s the total balance of the fund. (It’s Gammon, not Dellums, who gets this wrong – the Mayor’s proposal (PDF!) correctly refers only to the balance, not to the reserve, although it could be argued that the phrasing is misleading.) Of course, most of that money is there to pay for all those things Measure Y pays for. When you look at the amount of money that has not been spent or otherwise obligated to date, you’re left with roughly $7.7 million. Read all about it – here (PDF!), page 7. Conveniently for Dellums, this is the exact amount he claims to need to fund his recruitment efforts. So the plan Dellums submitted to the Council would erase the entirety of the Measure Y police services fund reserves.

Perhaps you’re wondering what exactly is wrong with this. After all, it has to be spent sometime, right? There’s no reason to just leave it sitting around forever. The thing is…nobody had any intention of letting that money sit around forever. You see, although Measure Y calls on the City to hire an additional 63 police officers, it doesn’t actually raise enough money annually to pay for all 63 of those officers. This isn’t a problem now, since many of the positions created by the tax lie empty. But once we do manage to get the department closer to full staffing, we’re in trouble. Starting this fiscal year, the costs of Measure Y police are projected to outpace revenues by anywhere from just shy of $600,000 to over $1.7 million each year. The $7.7 million currently sitting in a reserve will be used to cover that shortfall. Using our current projections, Measure Y will end its 10 year life with only $1 million police services dollars to spare. If we spend that $7.7 million now, we’re going to have to find somewhere else to come up with $569,750 this year, $1,739,035 next year, and $853,853 the year after that. (You can view the police services fund projections for the lifetime of Measure Y on page 11 of this document (PDF!)

Why has nobody mentioned this? Isn’t it important? Doesn’t knowing that we actually need this money to pay for the police it will theoretically hire make the decision to spend it now just a little bit more complicated?

I’m not saying that the fact that Measure Y revenue projections say this reserve will soon be depleted are necessarily in and of themselves a reason to reject the proposal. If I felt that Dellums’s recruitment strategy would actually result in a significant number of police officers added to the force this year, I might not have a problem spending the money. It’s reasonable to say “Yes, I want to put this towards recruitment, I want the police as soon as possible, and I recognize that this decision does mean I will have to give up $1.73 million from another part of the City budget next year.” Not everyone would agree with that decision, but I think you’d find a majority of Oakland residents call it sound logic.

What bothers me is that nobody seems to realize that’s the choice we have before us. Ron Dellums is essentially asking us to borrow from our revenues for the next seven years to pay for advertising, extra academies, etc. If it doesn’t work, it isn’t like we have another pool of money lying around to give us a second shot. Taking a sober look at the financial implications of this spending decision gives our Council ample justification for considering this plan as carefully as possible, and not letting Dellums railroad it through unexamined.

16 thoughts on “$7.7 million – spend it now, pay for it later

  1. Ms Manitoba

    Thank you so much for that summary! I’ve been following this (like many Oakland folks) in the Trib and the articles always left me with questions and nagging thoughts that I couldn’t even form into questions. Now I understand why the City Council members want more time to review. Plus, I understand how complicated the money issues are.

    I feel like you heeded Denzil Washington’s line in Philadelphia: “Explain it to me like I’m a six year old.”

    I’m adding your blog to my daily reading list. Keep up the good work!

  2. Mercedes Corbell

    THANK YOU for actually presenting the kind of detail that we should be getting from the Trib and the Chronicle, including Chip Johnson who thank god is finally focusing some attention on our beleaguered but wonderful city but missing some key details. I too am adding your blog to my regular reading list. Good work!!

  3. Mike Hardy

    First, thanks for the in-depth coverage – sfgate.com just turned me on to your site

    If one is to believe Steven Levitt (Freakonomics fame), hiring police has a causal link to reducing crime (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Levitt#Police_hiring) so we will necessarily save money elsewhere with crime down. Given that the deficit sums you’re talking about if the positions are staffed aren’t that large (they don’t seem very large to me?) I’m all for attempting recruitment now and letting it sort out later. Reasonable people can obviously disagree about that (feel free ;-) ), but if we don’t try to recruit, it’s all moot anyway and the money will just sit there forever since no one will be hired. I can’t see the point in that and would rather be biased towards action than inaction.

    Something I’m still curious about though, what is the current recruiting budget, and will these funds *augment* the current budget, or is this just a convenient way to pay for normal recruiting out of special funds that exist, versus general funds that don’t seem to exist because the general fund is in deficit. If it’s the latter, then this is just an accounting trick and I can’t support it all. Apologies if you’ve already covered that in previous articles – I haven’t read your site too deeply (yet)


  4. Robert

    You miss the true brilliance of the Dellums plan. By spending all of the $7.7M balance, there will not be enough money to pay for the 63 additional officers next year. Since we can’t possibly take that out of other vital – read preferred by Dellums – projects, Oakland will not be able to bring the police up to the approved staffing levels of 804 officers. Which is exactly the endpoint that Dellums wants, since he does not really believe that enforcement is part of the answer to crime in Oakland.

  5. Bruce Bowles

    I read Mr Johnson’s column this morning and it mentioned this blog. I moved from San Francisco to Oakland and have lived here for the past 15 years and think it is a wonderful place to live. I was very dismayed when Dellums was elected. I believed that all we would get from him was pretty speeches and that is pretty much what we have received thus far from him. A big part of the problem with Dellums is two fold. First he is mired in a 60′s mentality and it is 2008. The citizens of Oakland have had to hit repeatedly him over the head with the fact that yes indeed we really do want more police officers. He was resistant to the idea of more police because of his archaic mind sent. Secondly he is not the type of person who gets involved in details. He keeps running back to Washington when the work is here. It’s as if there is a comfort level back in DC and he doesn’t really want to address the problems that are real, here in Oakland.

  6. hedera

    Only slightly off this topic: has anyone else been following the saga of the city of Vallejo in the S.F. Chronicle? Is anyone else wondering how long it will take Oakland to get to that point? Believe me – I’m wondering. Sooner or later, we as a city – as a citizenry – have to realize that the bills will come due. And I love Oakland dearly and want to stay here too.

  7. Jonathan C. Breault

    If Oakland was not perceived as being crime infested AND adamantly hostile to professionals whose job it is to aggressively enforce the law–commonly known as Police Officers–then many of it’s law enforcement dilemmas could be more easily resolved. The fact is if given the option to make a choice the vast, overwhelming preponderance of candidates who wish to make police work their career will choose to go “anywhere but Oakland!’

    Until the citizens of Oakland conform to some reasonable, rational attitudes about crime–the veritable wake-up-call-to-reality many have hoped for–then the absence of sufficient funds for the job will not be the most urgent problem. Now a hopelessly disorganized municipal government does’nt help matters and a Mayor clearly disengaged and out of his depth also is problematic.

    I think Measure Y is a classic boondoggle with enormous sums being squandered due to inefficiencies and mismanagement. The premise was flawed and the implementation inept.

    So Very OAKLAND!

  8. pallewog

    Those darn “citizens” getting in the way again. I’m not clear on your criticism Jonathan. Who are you referring too? What do you define as a “reasonable and rational attitude?” I’m a citizen of Oakland and I would like to think of myself as relatively reasonable.

  9. Jonathan C. Breault

    Fair or unfair, the perception of Oakland is that it is very soft on crime. Presumably the electorate approves of the politicians in Oakland otherwise why are they re-elected time-after-time? It is not as if crime has just descended upon Oakland, surprise, surprise! Something radically different has to take place or crime will escalate unabated. I don’t think the citizenry of Oakland is serious about crime. Fair assessment or not, I am not alone in this opinion. Without a doubt I am in the distinct minority but nevertheless it deters me not one bit in my advocacy for a doubling the size of the OPD. Most people in Oakland quite apparently disagree and given the appalling crime epidemic that seems unreasonable and irrational.

  10. nereide

    As a rational citizen of Oakland, i feel ambiguous about the police. I am appalled by the level of violence, 24 murders in 60 days! But I remember the police brutality of the “riders” and wonder if we need more than police officers to truly reduce violence. Has the police department dealt with internal corruption and racism enough to be an effective police force? Has anyone followed the reforms that were supposed to take place after the “riders” scandal?
    (Here’s a summary of the riders scandal)

  11. fityonefity

    As a “rational” citizen of Oakland, nereide, did you follow the riders trials? Yes, there were TWO of them, and the juries in both cases could not agree to fault the officers involved. If you want to follow the reforms, go to: http://www.opdimt.net

  12. Navigator

    To say that Oakland is “soft on crime,” is not accurate. Oakland spends a huge amount of its budget on the Oakland Police Department. This Department is dysfunctional, corrupt, and is virtually an overtime accumulating boondoggle with no restrains, no transparency, and no accountability for its inept performance. This is a department populated by officers making an average of 132,000 dollars per year (the second highest payed department in the Nation) who then take this income to places like Pleasanton, San Ramon, Castro Valley, and Alameda. These officers denigrated the city as a viable place to live, years ago, when they were fighting a residency requirement. This outrageous expenditure out of the general fund transfers the tax wealth of Oakland residents directly to the shopping malls of the suburbs via its extraordinarily compensated and mercenary police force. In return, the citizens of Oakland receive a high crime rate while a small fraction of the 715 officers on the force actually patrol the streets. And when this Department is challenged, as they were with the Riders case, their reactions is basically, OK, NOW you’ll see what happens when we ignore crime and allow it to get out of control. Strange how Oakland managed to reduce the homicide rate a few year ago under Jerry Brown when there were only 66 homicides in the city, when Oakland had a smaller police force than what it currently has. Throwing money at this archaic, incompetent, and self-serving police force is not the answer to Oakland’s crime problems.

  13. Valerie Winemiller

    In response to the positive mention of Jerry Brown’s record on the murder rate, I am submitting OPD statistics for 1999 through last year. The low number cited by Navigator was for the year Jerry *took office.* Note that Jerry’s term ended with a murder rate 246% of that number.

    Jerry was Mayor from January 1999 to early January 2007, when Ron Dellums was sworn in. Below are OPD’s murder stats from http://gismaps.oaklandnet.com/crimewatch/pdf/HistoricalData.htm

    (1992 165 murders – peak)
    1999 60 murders – Jerry takes office in January, soon fires OPD Chief Samuels
    2000 80
    2001 84
    2002 108
    2003 109
    2004 82
    2005 93
    2006 148 – highest in ten years, and Jerry’s last full year as Mayor. Murder rate is up 246% during his two terms.
    2007 127 — Ron Dellums takes office in January. Murder rate is down about 14% by the end of the year.

    The causes for these numbers are complex, and no mayor has complete control of them. But anybody want to say why Jerry gets so much credit from so many people for a non-accomplishment, but in less than a year, Ron Dellums became Public Enemy Number 1? I submit that it is at least partly Jerry’s mastery of utilization of the media with the snappy one-liner and quotable quote, which got him lots of favorable face time on the evening news.

  14. V Smoothe Post author

    Readers interested in historical crime statistics may find the old post Crime Over Time, in which I provide visual representation of Oakland’s felony assaults, auto thefts, burglaries, homicides, larcenies, rapes, and robberies between 1996 and 2006.

  15. Jonathan C. Breault

    The extraordinary extent to which people will go to try to obviate from reality is amazing and confounding. In the current context and assuming that one is really serious about the matter of what relevance is Jerry Brown in the current discussion? I mean who could possible care about whether he was or was not “successful” in fighting crime? This is 2008 and Oakland has a profound, deadly serious problem and people who to my way of thinking are afflicted by a serious case of denial would prefer to quibble about irrefutable nonsense and irrelevancies. The dollars invested in law enforcement are not necessarily in any way correlated to whether a town is serious about crime. And IF, as declared by some, money is wasted on inefficient police work then the chief is responsible in conjunction with the politicians whose mandate is clearly stated that public safety should be of paramount importance and the number one priority. Dollars invested are not the issue. Results are the issue. I mean, look around. Where does one presume that public safety is not at the forefront of citizen’s concern? That is not a NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCE under which people ought to live. Something is seriously wrong in Oakland and the people in charge have to grow up and deal with it like adults.