So the Council passed their budget adjustment last night and we get to stop worrying about it for a while. Well, for a little while, anyway. As time goes on and we either do or don’t receive the revenue we budgeted for, the Finance & Management Committee will have to make monthly adjustments.
But it’s over for now, and I, for one, am really happy about that. Dellums kicked off the discussion, and as usual, had nothing remotely useful or interesting to say. He went on about how, when he submitted his new budget, he provided an “unprecedented” amount of information to the citizens of Oakland, even though, well, making the budget public is not only well-precedented, it’s the law. Then he wasted more time by making generic little speeches about each individual Councilmember and how great they are (“I thank you for your candor and your discipline”) which, well, as someone put it to me during the meeting “He would have learned these characteristics about them a long time ago if he’d bothered to meet them before this week.”
Once that was over, we moved on to the budget proposals. As you might remember, the Mayor had previously submitted a budget that would eliminate $32 million of our $42 million deficit, and left it up to the Council to find the last $10 million. They’ve been discussing it over the course of the last few weeks, and last Thursday, Jean Quan and Ignacio De La Fuente presented a proposal they had come up with to close the gap.
So, based on feedback received between Thursday night and Tuesday, they put out a revised proposal, and of course Desley Brooks had put together her own plan. Poor Desley. So, despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy of the plan Brooks was passing out, but based on her comments, it would have meant no shutdowns and it would have restored many of the cuts the Mayor had made to basic services like libraries and parks. My understanding (although, again, I didn’t actually see her paper) is that this involved additional cuts to the police department, based on the premise that everyone should share the pain.
Since the beginning of the budget discussions, Brooks has been criticizing the Mayor’s reluctance to cut the police budget, asserting that we should not sacrifice everything else in the city for the sake of public safety. At the initial budget workshop in October, she pointed out that the police keep telling us that they can’t solve the problem on their own, so based on their own statements, it makes no sense to sacrifice everything else to spare them. It’s a reasonable argument, and one I’m not unsympathetic to, but cutting public safety funding is politically unpalatable, and well, it just wasn’t realistic right now, whether or not forcing the Police Department to tighten their belts is the right thing to do. Alas.
Brook’s budget also relied on roughly $4 million owed to us by the DMV that we haven’t yet collected, but are expecting to. Brooks thought that money hadn’t been included in this year’s budget, and that once we added it, we’d have some extra funds to work with. Turns out it had been included in the budget after all. The DMV discussion went on for a while, with Brooks arguing that we were most likely going to collect more of the money than we had anticipated in the budget, and staff arguing that they had included projections in the budget based on the percentage we have traditionally been able to collect out of what’s owed. I felt bad for Brooks – it totally sucks to think you’ve found some money but then learn it isn’t there after all. But it would have been irresponsible to pass yet another budget based on overly rosy projections.
And then it was onto public comment. Arts funding advocates packed City Hall, bringing so many people that the Fire Marshal had push the crowds into overflow rooms. And like I said in a comment yesterday, if you can turn out a couple hundred people over a million dollars in funding, you win. The presentations overall were excellent. The speakers gave a series well-prepared, well-presented speeches, they were sympathetic, and stayed on message, arguing for the value of arts programming to Oakland’s youth and economy. If only all advocacy groups could be so well organized! It was truly refreshing.
The best part of the entire meeting came during the public comment, when this little girl got up with her Chinese string instrument (I think she receives training through the Purple Silk Music Education Foundation, a recipient of an Arts in the Schools grant) and playing the most beautiful, sweet, calming song. She came smack in the middle of the seemingly endless public comment, and it was exactly what everyone needed at that point. The only criticism I’d make is that since this all happened after the Council had already announced that they were restoring the grants, it probably wasn’t necessary to have two hours of speeches. Between the budget and an appeal about Aaron Metals, it all took so long that they had to postone basically the entire agenda. (This is the Council’s fault for putting the budget on the agenda of a normal meeting, instead of having a budget-specific meeting, BTW.) But overall, kudos.
In the clamor over the arts grants, a lot of the other tough losses we’re facing got kind of overlooked, which I think is sad. A number of speakers showed up to voice support for senior services, the animal shelter, and the library’s adult literacy program, and they all kind of got lost in the shuffle.
Anyway, this is what we’re going to be doing to close the deficit, on top of the changes the Mayor submitted at the end of September:
- Reduce the proposed City shutdown from one day a week to one day a month plus Dec 26-Jan 2: Save $3,860,000
- Freeze non-sworn, non-emergency overtime: Save $175,000
- Reduce FY08-09 Pay-Go by 50%: Save $950,000
- Recommend Elected Officials voluntarily take 5% annual pay reduction: Save $58,555
- Eliminate funding for parades, runs, and street festivals after January 1, 2009: Save $43,500
- Eliminate Program Analyst II from Cultural Arts Program: Save $113,063
- Eliminate personnel funding for Public Art Program, transfer personnel to Public Art Fund to continue the program: Save $318,003
- Eliminate GPF-portion of Marketing, retain Film and KTOP: Save $354,008
- Restore Senior Shuttle: Cost $180,000
- Restore funding for 2 positions in the adult literacy program: Cost $102,667
- Eliminate Human Resource Analyst (EEO) and Downgrade Manager, Affirmative Action: Save $153,693
- Eliminate Oakland Convention and Vistors Bureau Contract: Save $325,000
- Restore 3 Rangers, Eliminate Ranger overtime except for emergencies: Cost $260,261
- Eliminate salary contingency reserve for Fire arbitration; Save $455,000
- Decrease insurance and bonding set-aside: Save $200,000
- Restore Animal Control Coordinator: $53,333
- OPD must eliminate two $100k+ positions: Save $322,000
- OPD: Reduce booking fee amount to $200k: Save $300,000
- Move taxi inspections to Public Works and administrative functions to City Administrator, making one sergeant and two police officers available for other responsibilities: Save 26,183
- Add .5 FTE Admin Asst to City Administrator for taxi administration: Cost $26,833
- Fire Department eliminate Administrative Assistant I, II, and Emergency Services Manager: Save $229,717
- Fire Battalion Chief (Training Director) downgraded to Captain: Save $26,833
- Reduce Mayors office budget: Save $430,000
- Eliminate Senior Supervising Human Resource Analyst, Principal Financial Analyst, and Principal Human Resources Analyst from Finance & Management Agency: Save $425,602
- Eliminate from Parks & Rec: Program Analyst II part-time, downgrade various positions, eliminate additional $100k+ position: Save $393,529
- Restore Graphics Design Coordinator to Museum: Cost $92,178
- Restore positions for Tree Trimming services: Cost $300,000
- Restore $75,000 for Bookmobile, transfers from books & supplies fund.
- Eliminated bottled water, food, and flowers: Save $100,000
- Eliminate Management Leave: Save $1.5 million
- Eliminate Professional Development Allowance: Save $110,000-$125,000
- Transfer funding from Public Campaign Finance: Get $226,600
- Use one-time revenue from health benefit savings: Get $259,000
- Lay off 11 additional FTEs: Save $720,189
So, again, all that’s on top of the budget cuts, including the 84 layoffs the Mayor had already submitted to the Council. Wherever it says “restore” or “cost,” those are changes to what the Mayor had submitted. They’re restoring positions to the budget that the Mayor had proposed cutting, not restoring positions that were already eliminated.
So, what do I think? Well, mostly I’m just glad it’s over. I think that in their rush to appease various constituencies, the Council is using some money that the probably shouldn’t be. Relying on one-time revenues and dipping into contingency funds is one of the reasons we got into this mess to start with. That money certainly must be tempting when you’re faced with lots of angry citizens, it doesn’t seem like you need it right now but we keep reserves for a reason. Still, the Council had an incredibly tough job in front of them and they did the best they can. I disagree with some of their decisions and priorities, but none of this was an easy call, so I don’t begrudge any of it.
Moving forward, we will be adopting a new two year policy budget next summer. It’s time the City made a commitment to a thorough examination of our spending priorities, and in that spirit, I hope we can engage in a real six-month budget, zero-base budget process. I hope the Council will also work, during that process, to restore an appropriate level of cash to our reserve, which is currently at a point so low that it’s endangering our bonding capacity and credit rating. Even if it means cutting some popular programs or making long-term decisions that will anger the unions. Sometimes immediate citizen anger needs to be swallowed for the sake of long-term fiscal solvency.