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.