A couple of weeks ago, I got into this big fight with a friend over whether or not the City should be paying for food and bottled water at his Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) meetings. I said that provision of basic services is much more important that food and water at public meetings, and that if even, like, half a job could be spared by eliminating that expense, then it was a luxury that should be cut.
He countered that people would not come to the NCPC meeting if they were not going to be fed dinner, and that NCPCs are vital to community policing, which is a fundamental service of the City. Therefore, buying food for NCPC meetings is essential to public safety, and cutting that budget would jeopardize the entire concept of community policing in Oakland.
I don’t buy it. Sure, when I go to those zoning meetings and they have that little tray of supermarket cookies, I usually eat one. But I think I’d live just fine without it, too. The amount of money the City spends on things like food and bottled water seems small in the context of a $1 billion budget, and, well, it is small. But hey, proposed cuts that will be devastating to service delivery are also saving really small amounts of money, so we’re really in a situation where every penny matters.
Also, bottled water really bothers me in general – we have excellent water in Oakland, folks! Get a cup and drink from the damn tap! Also, it’s horribly wasteful – so much plastic everywhere. For a City that prides itself so much on its environmental sustainability, the number of plastic water bottles lying around City Hall is obscene.
So with this in mind, as I was paging through the budget detail by line item (PDF), I took note of the funding budgeted for food and bottled water in the next year: $440,560. That’s insane. I mean, I understand that there are some cases where it makes sense to provide food and water. Like, if you had some big park cleaning volunteer day or something, and people are going to be working and it’s all hot and yeah, they’re going to get thirsty and it is outside and not everyone will have had the foresight to bring their own water. Or people who did might drink it all and want more. But I can’t imagine that it would be that painful to cut that figure in half.
Other categories of expenses where it seems like you could probably save some money include:
- Official Hospitality: $77,160
- Minor furniture and office equipment: $363,480
- Stationery and office supplies: $1,700,110
- Books: $173,160 (excludes library)
- Periodical subscriptions: $69,800 (excludes library)
- Stipend to volunteers: $223,060
- Printing and duplicating: $1,111,590
I’m certainly not suggesting that every penny spent on these activities is wasteful. The City is a large enterprise – obviously, we have to print things and make copies. Likewise, we need to spend something on office supplies – we can’t expect City employees to bring their own pens and paper and then sit on the floor while they work. And I know that industry periodicals are often important for professional development. But in most offices I’ve ever worked in, we received multiple copies of like, every professional publication, and most of them never got read. And people tend to print way more than they need to, and be profligate with pens and highlighters and post-its, and I have a very difficult time imagining the City of Oakland is any exception to this. So it really seems like reducing some of those costs shouldn’t present too much of a challenge.