Having a say in the City budget

So it isn’t news to anyone right now that the City of Oakland is in, like, complete crisis. You’re probably all aware by now that our projected deficit has risen from $50 million to over $80 million, and there’s no easy way a hole of that magnitude is getting closed. I confess, the depressing weight of the forthcoming budget decisions is part of the reason I haven’t been writing so much lately. It’s just all too sad for words.

Anyway, the Mayor is supposed to deliver his proposed budget for the next two years on Monday, May 4. Hopefully, he will actually manage to do that on time, unlike last year. After that, the City Council will hold three special meetings to discuss revisions and adjustments to the Mayor’s budget proposal. These meetings will be held on: Wednesday, May 13; Thursday, May 28; and Monday, June 1st. I encourage people to go to at least one of them, both so you can speak up for the services that matter to you and so you can get a sense of what these deliberations are actually like. If you go willing to listen, you’ll probably come away with a much more sympathetic attitude towards the Council. The Council will adopt the budget for the next two years at a regular Council meeting on June 16th.

I’ll be presenting a series of posts with budget-related background information over the next couple weeks, and if you’re at all concerned about the budget and what’s going to get cut (and really, you should be!), I strongly encourage you to attend one of the three upcoming town hall meetings on the budget:

April 14, 6:30 to 8:00 PM
East Oakland Multipurpose Senior Center
9255 Edes Avenue, Oakland

April 20, 6:30 to 8:00 PM
Edna Brewer Middle School
3745 13th Avenue, Oakland
location subject to change, call 510-238-2984 to confirm [ seriously? - V ]

April 27, 6:30 to 8:00 PM
Lakeside Garden Center
666 Bellevue Avenue

And just for fun, here’s a little graph I made last year, but never got around to using, of Oakland’s historical budgeted staffing levels since 1993. That 08-09 figure is before all the midcycle budget cuts last year, BTW.

As far as next year’s budget goes, there’s no way to make this level of cuts without suffering in every department. But that doesn’t mean the City has no choices. My paranoid instincts tell me that we can expect a budget that hits basic service delivery especially and unnecessarily hard. There will be a number of taxes on the July 21st special election ballot (new hotel tax, changes to the real estate transfer tax, marijuana tax, maybe a parcel tax for parks, maybe a sales tax hike), and the City wants that money. They also know that they’ve gone to well a few too many times, and people are kind of tired of it. The solution? Guilt them into raising taxes by adopting a budget that decimates city services so much that people will feel they have no choice but to say yes. Don’t let them! Go to the town halls and go to the budget meetings and tell them what your priorities are. If you don’t, I guarantee, somebody else will, and you can take a wild guess who’s more likely to get what they want.

93 thoughts on “Having a say in the City budget

  1. Ken O

    I’m going to meetings. It would be very helpful if you were able to post a calendar of upcoming city council meetings. Either in google calendar or yahoo’s upcoming.org:

    Here’s an example of what I mean:

    Thanks in advance.

    The city grew beyond its means, like every other city. Hope we didn’t fall for any tapeworm bank investa-frauds. (Didn’t Russo claw back a few mil from the big banks a year ago?)


    April 23, 2008 07:37 PM Eastern Daylight Time
    “OAKLAND, Calif.–(EON:Enhanced Online News)–On Wednesday, April 23, the City of Oakland filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against national financial firms such as AIG Financial Products, Bank of America, Bear Stearns, JPMorgan Chase, Wachovia Bank and others.

    “City Attorney John Russo held a press conference to announce the lawsuit, which charges the companies with conspiring to gouge taxpayers in Oakland and other American cities through illegal price fixing and bid rigging.”

    Idea for John: Sue these bastards again and get more of our money back! And use that to fill some holes.

    Otherwise: City of Oakland needs to cut itself down to size. I know this is a county program, but I’d start with section8 vouchers. Conniving city hall elites better not be cutting basic services!! (Nancy Nadel, Jean Quan, and others.)

  2. MarleenLee

    The City better keep in mind that sworn officers are off the table. Under the provisions of Measure Y, the City must “appropriate” sufficient funds to employ at least 739 officers in order to keep collecting the Measure Y tax. That means the number of authorized sworn staff cannot be reduced. As for another parcel tax, I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it – the City Council is crazy for thinking we’ll go for another parcel tax after insulting us with the theft of Measure Y funds and never delivering on the promises made. I wonder if the new budget deficit numbers reflect the $15 million that will need to be paid back to the Measure Y fund, since a court has now found the City stole all that money?

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    Ken, the City has a calendar of Council meetings. You can access it here.

    Section 8 Vouchers are funded by the Federal government, and they are administered by the Housing Authority, not the City.

  4. Patrick

    Thanks for posting that employment level history. Now, how do we find out total compensation charges against which to compare it? If a commenter under today’s Chip Johnson article is correct in stating that Oakland’s total payroll is ~$350 million a year, that works out to an average annual salary of $78,731.13 assuming 4445.51 employees. Dellums is the .51

    I recently “accepted” a 15% pay cut at work. Honestly, is there any other realistic way to balance our city budget – without completely decimating what few services our city provides – than to ask for salary concessions?

    In addition, why not mandate a real-world 40 hour work week? That increases the FTE of 4445.52 into 4742 FTE, an increase of 296.49 FTE. In this economic climate, would any argument against this move be defensible?

  5. V Smoothe Post author

    It would be the same number FTEs. People would work more, I guess. Do you really think having everyone work an extra half hour a day would make much any difference in service levels? Increasing work hours while cutting pay seems like it would be rather unpalatable.

  6. Patrick

    Yes, it would be the same number of FTEs because we’d be dividing by 40 as opposed to 37.5, but as FTEs are based on hours worked, not actual bodies, the “equivalent” would rise by 296.49 assuming the 37.5 figure remained constant.

    I thought their pay was quoted as hourly but paid as salary. They’re hourly WITHOUT TIMECLOCKS? Seriously? In that case, since we agree that an increase in hours worked would not result in an increase in services, a decrease in hours won’t appreciably change service levels either. I change my suggestion: decrease their hours.

    I agree that cutting pay is unpalatable. But so is bankruptcy, which anyone who has ever successfully balanced a checkbook can see on the horizon. Of course with the spineless save-the-world-through-increased-taxes group we have in office, bankruptcy may be the only option. At least then, due to judicial precedent set in Vallejo, we’ll be able to offer employees a fair wage that we can afford to pay, as opposed to ending trash service in city parks while our well-off city workers return to their homes in other cities with a functioning government.

  7. Charles Pine

    When City Hall thought the economy was fat city, meetings for public input on the budget were not held and publicized as widely as this year’s series promises to be. The city council was quite able to hand out grants to favored private agencies and let top executives add deputies and assistants, but now that times are tight, we are supposed to come forward and say we would prefer this or that cut to services.

    So long as councilmember Quan, for example, protects the $595,000 that the City gave Chabot observatory this year, even surviving the round of cuts last Fall, she has no legitimacy in the budget process.

  8. V Smoothe Post author

    No, Patrick, it would be the same number of FTEs. A full-time employee who works 37.5 = 1 FTE. A part-time employee who works 15 hours = 0.4 FTE.

    Almost all City employees are paid by the hour, they fill out weekly timecards and get paid at their hourly rate for the hours worked. In my experience, that’s not an abnormal way to pay people.

    As for decreasing hours, the City already did that this year with the furloughs, and will almost definitely do that again next year.

  9. livegreen

    Charles, You and your minions continue to complain about the zoo, Chabot, etc. This is one of the reasons you couldn’t get elected. You’re more interested in using one-off projects that benefit the public good to catch Jean Quan than sticking to the bigger issue of her tax proposals that would also catch her, and hold her accountable not for $595k but for millions.

    You’re doing yourself a disservice by mentioning Chabot at every turn, when the bigger issue here is the biggest pockets of the City budget like payroll & benefits. As V’s research shows. It also shows how much of a gap there is between the far left and far right for the reasonable middle to find reasonable solutions.

    BTW, when I’ve been to budget meetings in past years, there have been very few attendees. The apathy of many Oakland citizens to participate in the process (and continuously vote in higher taxes without information or questions) is also a contributor to our present situation.

  10. V Smoothe Post author

    Thank you, DinaB!

    I cannot possibly overstate my agreement with livegreen’s comment about citizen apathy. When decision time rolls around and the unions are the only people showing up asking for anything, why are people then surprised that the unions are the ones who get what they want? The present crisis is as much the fault of the average Oakland citizen as it is the Council’s.

  11. Art

    I’ve heard a number of people around town suggest cutting staff hours “instead of cutting city services.” It’s important to remember that cutting staff hours *is* cutting city services.

    I like the notion of dialing down pay per hour, though, rather than actually cutting hours worked. I’d especially like this if it were set up in grades such that employees in the highest pay brackets bore the brunt of the reductions, though I imagine that might not be popular with everyone….

    And when we throw around numbers for things like Chabot or the zoo, we also need to think about 1) leveraging—sometimes a few City dollars well spent can be multiplied by other funding sources, so it may be smart to spend on a “non-essential” service in order to get more bang for the buck, so to speak, and 2) quality of life—we don’t want a downward spiral where we eliminate the non-essential budget items that make people want to come to and stay in Oakland. That’s a tricky budget balancing act, and I don’t envy Council’s task. But I don’t want anyone to lose sight of the big picture, either—the ramifications of poor decisions could extend far beyond this recession.

  12. Patrick

    You’re missing my point. If the equivalent of 4445.51 people work 37.5 hours a week, making them work 40 hours a week makes that the equivalent of 4742 employees working a 37.5 hour week.

    It’s abnormal when it has been reported that employee timecards are to be turned in on Wednesdays for the current week. There is no accountability in that. And even if that is not true, there is no way to keep 4500+ people honest when there is so much incentive for them not to be. “OK, you take tomorrow off, and I’ll take Friday off and we’ll cover for each other”.

    The furloughs are ridiculous and designed specifically to goad the public into ponying up for a parcel tax or three. It’s another “see, we need more money, honest” piece of showmanship, much like the park trash cans. The City should be open for business every day at 9am. If they need to save an average of 8 hours a month per person, then they can close on Friday at 3 instead of 5. I know, I know…the employees will make less money so they should be able to take the day off and not spend money on gas and tolls and lunch and hair gel. Sorry, I’m not biting. Our extremely well paid city employees need to work 5 days a week, even if one or more of those days is shortened. If the cost of the commute is too high, they can move closer – perhaps even to Oakland.

  13. Patrick

    So by simply showing up at meetings we can get anything we want? Regardless of the city’s ability to pay?

    Our elected officials are supposed to do what’s right – not cave in to belly-aching unions.

  14. V Smoothe Post author

    You have a lot more chance of getting what you want if you show up than if you don’t. Seriously, I’ve have it with listening to people who have never been to a Council meeting, never volunteered on a campaign, and never donated to campaign bitch about how inept or corrupt the Council is. If you don’t like the way the City is run, try to change it.

  15. Art

    Oh, I gotcha—you mean reducing the absolute number of bodies to reduce benefits costs and other per-employee costs, that sort of thing, by defining FT as 40 and reallocating hours accordingly, yah?

    I actually have no issue with the furloughs, though (as a resident, at least). NPR also had a feature this morning on Utah and the four-day, ten-hours-a-day work weeks that the state is testing. Ironically, the change isn’t getting them the building energy savings they expected (because they haven’t yet figured out how to turn off the systems completely—?!?), but has brought a sea of other benefits on productivity and they found that employees now actually prefer this schedule. I’d be down with a schedule like this, too, at least for office jobs. This could actually be leveraged to make government more accessible, not less, by having it open earlier or into the evenings.

    The timecards deal is pretty standard practice in cities I’ve worked for in three states (none of them CA, granted), so I don’t think it’s really an issue here. Adding additional layers of timecard regulation would probably cost a lot more than it would save.

  16. Robert

    Patrick, It is very common in the private sector for hourly employees to fill out time cards to report their hours, and it is not at all uncommon to fill them out before the end of the work week. If they do not work the expected number of hours, or if they work more, then they are expected to file a modified time card for the week. Very common, and the system works well IF… the supervisors actually pay attention to when the employees are actually there. Supervisors approve the time cards, and the system is totaly dependint on them being responsible. The bigger issue is how hard people work when they are in the office, no whether they are actually there during their reported hours.

  17. Rebecca Kaplan

    Thanks for posting this, and encouraging public participation.

    Each meeting will have participation by some Councilmembers. (But less than a quorum at each meeting). I will be participating in the meeting on April 27th.

    As we are trying to make the tough choices, I think it is important that we look both for more efficient service delivery, and also for being very strategic about which things end up being cut. For example, some people have complained about their streets having too frequent street-cleaning. So, if the total number of street-cleaning staff hours is going to be cut, we should be getting effective input and data about the best places to reduce the frequency of street cleaning. (E.g. for some people, less street cleaning will not feel like a “cut” they are suffering from, so targetting well will reduce the “pain” caused by the “cuts.”).

    I encourage people to bring suggestions about examples like this.

    Also, you can email my office with ideas at:

    atlarge [at] oaklandnet [dot] com

    Best wishes,
    -Rebecca Kaplan

  18. Ralph

    Professional employees on timecards is demeaning and is a practice which should be abolished.

    and Patrick your math is flawed – i think i see what you are trying to do – and in a word it is flawed

  19. Robert

    While cutting city employees pay rate may be unpalatable, it is what is going on in a lot of private sector industries right now, including unionized industry. Of course, in the private sector there is the possiblity of bancruptcy, which tends to mean that everybody loses their job, so there is more incentive for employees to take a pay cut. Unless Oakland is willing to go into bancruptcy, the union really has no reason to give back their pay. In spite of the hardship, bankruptcy might not be such a bad idea at this stage.

  20. V Smoothe Post author

    Oh, I think everyone agrees at this point that there will have to be concessions from employees, in addition to layoffs, in order to balance the budget.

  21. Robert

    Ralph, if they are paid on an hourly basis, they are not professional emplyees (with no slight intended). The State of California has some pretty strict rules about who qualifies as a non-exempt employee (hourly) and who needs to be considered an exempt employee (salaried, no overtime, etc.). The exempt employees are normally considered the professional employees. There may be an exemption because of the unionized nature of city employment, but I would be suprised if supervisors, and certainly not managers, were considered non-exempt under California labor law. Which would mean that they are professional and therefore paid on a salary (weekly, monthly) basis without overtime.

  22. Patrick

    I’ve been to 6 City Council meetings in the past year, and I’ve watched all of the rest via webcast, the first (and not last) time I volunteered for a campaign was to re-elect Gov. Bob Graham of Florida in 1983, and I routinely donate local, state and national causes (only about 20% politically oriented, however) so I can safely assume you’re not talking about me.

    I suppose I’m old fashioned, though. I believe that since it is my money, after all, that these people are spending, I have a reasonable right to expect a certain level of fairness and professionalism when drafting a budget, negotiating with a union or proposing tax increases. Of course, that notion came crashing down the night that the City Council caved in to the thinly disguised blackmail of Measure OO supporters.

  23. Patrick

    How can my math be flawed? It’s simple division. If the standard work week is 37.5 hours, and we have 4445.51 people working 37.5 hours, increasing the hours worked per week necessarily increases the “people working” if the standard workweek divisor (37.5 hours) remains constant. The 4445.51 number is a function of number of hours worked, not actual number of people. Of course, I mistakenly thought that wages are paid in the form of a salary – with an hourly wage, my math does not apply – or even make sense.

  24. Ralph

    your math is flawed because the standard work week is now 40 hours not 37.5 hours. you have to use equivalent units on both sides of the equation. i am saying the same thing as v except i just cut to the chase.

  25. Ralph

    Robert, I guess my point is I don’t buy into the concept that government employees should submit time cards. i don’t know who the hourlies are but as far as I am concerned very few, if any, govt positions should be on the hourly basis. Baiscally if it would be exempt in the private sector, it s/b exempt in the public sector

    prior: that should read formula not equation in preceding post

  26. Patrick


    I work a 40 hour week. If my boss made me work 50 hours a week with no increase in pay, that would be the equivalent of having 1.25 employees working a 40 hour week. But it only works with salaried employees.

    Incidentally, are the furloughed employees losing their entire pay for the furloughed days? How does that impact vacation accrual, retirement benefits, etc?

  27. Robert

    I certainly wouldn’t disagree with you Ralph that that is how it should be, but if V is correct that most city employees are paid hourly, then that is not how it is.

  28. MarleenLee

    Here’s my idea for saving some money – how about temporarily eliminating the position of Mayor? It would just be until the end of Dellums’ term – since he really doesn’t seem to be doing anything to justify his $183,000 salary. Eliminating all his staff (you know, the people who called IDLF and asked him the other day to retract all his unflattering remarks about Dellums) would also save a bundle. By the way, did you know that the City Charter provides in relevant part: “The Mayor shall devote his full time and attention to the duties of the Office of the Mayor…..” I think I have an idea for my next lawsuit….

  29. Robert

    I am not sure why folks aren’t understanding Patrick’s fundamental point, that if city employees worked 40 hour weeks instead of 37.5 hour weeks, you would need fewer city employees. It has been garbaged up with a lot of confusing discussion of FTEs, but I believe that that is his real point.

  30. Ralph

    i am not sure i buy this most employees are hourly as i have seen positions posted in terms of annual salary. but i admit to doing little to no research on the matter so i differ to the experts.

    Marleen, what are you waiting for? There are jobs that can be saved if you act quickly.

  31. Robert

    I am not sure that is a good indicator. We always advertised and hired based on annual salary, but paid some positions hourly.

  32. Patrick

    Robert, thank you for understanding what I was saying! I guess my years doing profit-loss statements for labor costs made my explanations a little too confusing.

    MarleenLee: How much would it cost to bring such a lawsuit? I’m completely on board. It would be impossible for the Mayor to ignore a suit like that. I’m generally not into humiliating people, but the man is Oakland’s albatross – and I see no signs of him resigning. Ridding our budget of Dellums and his staff, driver, car, security detail etc. would save the City millions over two years. MILLIONS.

  33. len raphael

    1. are managers/supervisor’s compensation reduced by the involuntary furloughs? wouldn’t expect an overtime exempt manager would be paid on an hourly basis, but this is oakland so?

    2. has the council approved any major pay increases for broad classes of employees in the last two years? i recall hearing that many of the union contracts were up for negotiation last summer (after council elections), but never heard the resolution of that.

    -len raphael

  34. Ralph

    len, employers do not reduce one’s compensation for these shutdowns. In private sector typically salaried employees either use vacation or go no pay. I assume the same rules would apply for a govt entity. I don’t know how Oakland salary works but I assume it is on some sort of grade and step, changing salary would be a separate discussion.

  35. V Smoothe Post author

    I think people are overthinking this. Professional employees in the city are salaried. Non-professional employees are hourly. Most city employees are not professional employees. Therefore, most employees are hourly.

    If you look at the budget (PDF), the section for each department has a list of all the approved staffing for that department. Some departments will, because of their function, have a larger number of professional (salaried) employees. For example, almost half of the budgeted FTEs for in Finance & Management are salaried. That makes sense. But then you look at, say, Parks and Rec – almost all of those positions are hourly. Same with Library Services. And so on.

  36. Robert

    V, are you seeing some other information somewhere that gives specific job classifications (exempt vs. nonexempt) for the various job titles? Becasue the department summaries only give titles, and titles alone are not enough in many cases to figure out whether a position should be exempt or nonexempt.

  37. Patrick

    What an interesting document. I had to laugh when I got to “Agency Director, Life Enrichment” and calculated the position can pay up to $188,076.24 a year. That’s mighty enriching!

  38. livegreen

    Sorry to be ignorant here, but I have to ask if I want to learn from this salary schedule:

    –Are the various “Steps” salary grades? If not what are they?
    –What are the pay periods/how to calculate annual salary?
    –It says normal hours are either 75 or 80 (for many positions). Does this mean bi-weekly, or what?
    –Is there a way to read how much people are actually getting paid from this, or to find out somewhere else? (Budget, etc.). Theoretical is great but actual would be even better..

    If my questions are wrong, or any explanations separate from my questions, I appreciate the feedback & info to help understand…

  39. Patrick

    The steps appear to be salary grades. I wonder if that is solely determined by seniority? The hours expressed are bi-weekly. I think the salaries are also expressed bi-weekly, so multiply by 26. Obviously, hourly is hourly.

  40. Ralph


    steps are within the grade. i believe that your specific step is determined by experience

    for salaried folk the pay was per month, the 75 or 80 is really irrelevant in this situation

    and the only way you are going to see what people are making is pry that information from the city payroll office or look at the printed disclosures for people earning over $100K -

    honestly I am not a fan of people having access to salary information for non-elected – there is really no compelling reason the public needs this information.

    public has access to the the pay scale and can the budget in detail, from that they can make some reasonable assumptions about individual pay but on this matter I agree with the city – employee pay NOYDB

  41. V Smoothe Post author

    If you want actual payroll information, you can get it from the City through a public records request, but that’s not something I’m particularly interested in. SFGate has a database of all City employees who earned over $100,000 last year.

    The “75″ number people are asking about represents the number of hours for a full-time employee in a pay period (every two weeks). The pay figure listed for salaried employees represents monthly pay. The pay figure listed for hourly employees represents hourly pay. Salary steps represent the pay increase one earns over time. You (normally) start out in Step 1, after a year of service, you go to Step 2, and so on. If you get promoted to a new position, you start back at Step 1.

    If people have more questions about employee compensation, the City’s MOUs may be able to provide some answers.

  42. Patrick

    I love being able to watch City Council meetings on my laptop while lounging around the house. But…KTOP-Cable Channel 10 shows 10 associated positions, 7 of them salaried. If fully staffed at step 1 pay grades, the payroll cost alone is $45,251.79 per month ($543,021.48 yearly). At top grade, those figures rise to $55,559.26 and $666,711.12. This figure obviously does not include value of benefits received either during employing or after retirement.

    KTOP is “on the air” 93.5 hours per week. Using the upcoming week’s program schedule, I determined that KTOP will air 41 total hours of programming that is not “Info Access” (where they show a repeating stream of static ads). Of this programming, 22 hours are things like budget meetings, committee meetings, etc. However, only 7.5 hours of this is original this coming week; all other broadcasts are repeats and one, the “Board of Port”, is a 3 hour repeat from 4-7 and will be shown twice (Friday and Saturday).

    The remaining 19 hours feature scintillating titles such as “Doin’ the Green Thing” and “Migrant Workers: California’s Hidden Gold”. In this set of programming, 4 hours are repeated within the same week. The others are unique to the week, but have been shown before.

    I would imagine that with benefits, the “people” cost of KTOP is over $1 million dollar a year. And I can’t help wonder how much these employees will cost the city during retirement. The equipment costs are probably fairly large as well. Since Jean Quan told us we had to do more than say “save MY program” and decide where to cut, here is my question: is KTOP, with only 22.5 hours of unique programming in the one week surveyed worth it?

    I tried using the prior week’s schedule for balance, but KTOP does not operate on furlough days and thus was off the air on Thursday and Friday. Saturdays and Sundays seem to be reserved for repeats of government meetings. If KTOP runs 1000 hours of original programming a year, I would be surprised. Incidentally, I couldn’t find KTOP in the budget.

  43. Patrick

    I wish I hadn’t clicked on that SFGate link. 1418 Oakland employees made over $100, 000 last year. I cannot believe how much money is spent on overtime in the police and fire departments! The only reason this overtime is financially prudent is due to the exhorbitant salaries.

    I feel badly mentioning this, but Sergeant Mark Dunakin (may he rest in peace) had the 6th highest earnings in 2008, with a total salary of $262,315, of which $114,577 was overtime pay.

  44. V Smoothe Post author

    That doesn’t make any sense. The salary schedule provides no information whatsoever about how many people are employed by the City, or in any given department. You can’t “extrapolate” anything from it.

    KTOP’s functions are not limited to airing the occasional original program, but include real-time A/V support for all those recorded City meetings, production of PSAs, recording. editing, and production of various town halls, press conferences, and other off-site events, and of course, the operation of a full service production studio available for rental by community members.

    FYI, KTOP is in the budget under the Department of the City Administrator and its staff allocation in the adopted FY07-09 budget was 11.8 FTE. In any case, it isn’t a General Fund issue. KTOP is funded from the Telecommunications Reserve Fund (cable franchise fees), which can’t be used for anything else anyway.

  45. Ralph

    Patrick, KTOP is under the City Administrator. See the paragraph on the Marketing. And yes per the budget there should be roughly 10 people, may be 10.8 I can’t recall what column I was looking at. I expect that the salary will average about the midpoint on the scale.

  46. Ralph

    and Patrick, to V’s point you may want to go the other way because the Salary Schedule may include some positions which aren’t staffed per the budget.

  47. Patrick

    I see. As the Salary Schedule listed multiple lines for the same position within the “cable” department, I thought that meant that those were the positions authorized. In any event, I’m glad that it is not a GF issue, because I would certainly miss watching the Council meetings at home when I can’t get down there.

    The actual figures are much higher than my previous figures. At lowest scale, the 11.8 FTEs would make $57,367.91 per month, $688,414.92 yearly. At highest scale, the figures are $$70,434.87 and $845,218.94 – an average salary of $71,628.72. Please keep in mind that 3.8 of the 11.8 FTEs top out at $44,323.50 per year.

    I can’t imagine actually having to produce this budget, knowing full well that our current salary structure is fiscally irresponsible and obviously unsustainable. We might as well declare bankruptcy – it’s probably our best option at this point, or will be soon.

  48. len raphael

    Ralph, you must be an hr person? i didn’t mean “compensation” as in “compensation package” but in the everyday “how much was your net paycheck this pay period”.

    Would have thought that supervisors as well as professionals were both exempt from OT rules, and were thus paid an annual salary that could not be reduced by involuntary days off. For all we know, they all actually work 70 hour work weeks :)


  49. len raphael

    Can someone sum up the consensus here on the city payroll?

    is it fair to say that oakland govt is not overstaffed, and it’s professionals are not paid more than comparable size cities, but that a big chunk of the lower paid non professional employees are paid more than the norm at other similar sized cities?

    not sure what the conclusion to draw from opd and ofd OT, until we factor in the savings from not paying benefits when we pay OT instead of hiring more cops and firefighters.

    -len raphael

  50. Patrick

    Here is a relevant .pdf for you len: http://www.abetteroakland.com/documents/salarysurvey.pdf

    Regarding this document, V stated that: “It compares salaries in Oakland to the median and mean of salaries for the same positions in the 13 largest cities and counties in the Bay Area, and finds that in almost every case, Oakland’s salary is significantly higher than area standards, as much as 20% higher for many positions.” It’s astounding when you look at it.

    The post goes on to state that between 2002 and 2007, pay rates in Oakland increased 10.1% more than CPI, with pay rates advancing 24% and CPI at 13.1%.

  51. len raphael

    Patrick, can appreciate your criticism of ktop’s programming, but i think we should push harder to expand their coverage of city government.

    Chabot Observatory, (btw two of my friends are members of the astronomy club there and enjoy it mightily). It’s a beautiful facility as is Studio One in temescal, also with what appears to an outsider to have just enough fundnig to keep the lights on with bare bones programming, hoping for better financial days in a few years.

    Gee, why couldn’t JQ and colleagues have planned just a little bit, three years ago when the real estate crash started. Now neat institutions like Chabot and Studio One will have to mothballed just to keep libraries and parks open at reduced levels.

    -len raphael

  52. Patrick

    My intention wasn’t really to criticize their programming, but to point out potential cost savings if it were shut down. However, V stated that their funding is not part of the General Fund, so it doesn’t really matter.

    Oakland hasn’t seen anything yet. Mortgages written in 2005 to 2007, the absolute “height” of the market, won’t start resetting until next year, continuing into 2012. If our budget is really off $80 million now, it is not too much to expect a $200 million dollar+ shortfall within 3 years. Worst of all, with Prop. 13, even if the market recovers, budget gains won’t match the rate of recovery as ad valorem taxes are limited to a 2% increase per year, whereas the reduction of taxes from foreclosure can be 50% or more. Unfortunately, as a “less desirable” city in areas, home values in those areas have plummeted at a faster rate than surrounding cities, so we’re frequently in the “or more” category.

  53. Ralph

    Len, as to the compensation, applying what i know about private sector, unless the employee did not have sufficient vacation to take a vacation day, the employee will not see a change in pay. Employees who do not have vacation days available typically take the day no pay.

    Patrick, re real estate taxes, it is true that short sales and foreclosures took a huge chuck out of the revenue for the foreseeable future. however this is only true if purchased to occupy. Our best hope is we have a fair number of investors buying as they will sell when the market recovers thereby shortening the time to normal. As for the other owners, the 2% rule does not apply when the assessed value falls below the base year. Thus if values recover in 2010, your tax goes back to base year and not more than 2% depending on assessed value.

    City staffing is probably still a bit top heavy despite Bobb’s previous efforts to reduce staff levels. Pay is probably more in line with private sector, but pay is a f(x) of many factors and I am not willing to say that because Oakland is significantly higher than many surrounding cities we are overpaying.

  54. Ralph

    Now that I actually looked at the salary survey – I think the methodology is flawed, but there isn’t enough data on the survey to prove it. but my gut is a fairly good indicator and my gut is calling bull.

  55. employee wife

    Ralph is incorrect. City employees at ALL GRADES have their pay reduced for furlough days. They are not allowed to use vacation for these days. Salaried employees are still paid on an hourly basis, and their pay is reduced by the hours of the furlough days.

    Exempt employees do not get paid overtime for working more than their allotted 7.5 hours per day, but if they don’t work “a day,” they must take vacation or other leave, with the exception of furlough days.

    Non-exempt employees get paid overtime (guess what police and fire are?) and any who aren’t considered essential personnel take furlough days and are not compensated (either with pay or paid leave) for these days.

    You may want to check your facts before taking a position on how city employees are paid come hell or high water. Furlough costs city employees and their families — it’s not just extra vacation. In addition, it’s not actually the fault of the furloughed employees that the city has to balance its budget on its workers. Years of fiscal mismanagement by city government — not at the staff level — have led to this situation, exacerbated of course by the wider economic situation. The council’s inability to save money when the city was flush — aided and abetted by Deborah “Hire my friends and family!” Edgerly — is not just cause to excoriate those who are fortunate enough to be employed.

    I know you consider Oakland employees on balance to be among the highest paid city employees in the region, but it’s definitely a case of the pyramid factor — few do a whole lot of work, while carrying a number who don’t pull their weight. So are some overcompensated? Probably, given how much they work. Are the ones carrying entire departments overcompensated? Probably not. Alas, this kind of nuance is difficult to capture, and difficult to experience if you’re not actually in the maze of bureaucracy that is working for Oakland. And if you think that the council has the will to clean house and get rid of employees who aren’t an asset to the City, think again. Deadwood is rampant, and often politically connected. That, however, is beside the point. Ralph’s facts are wrong, and it’s difficult to take much of the argument about furlough seriously given that.

  56. Ralph

    employee wife, do you have a degree from an OUSD school, I never stated anything as fact, I just applied what I know from private sector. I never said it applied. You assumed.

    So then you think we are overpaying for the positions?

  57. employee wife

    Ralph, I went on statements such as these: “len, employers do not reduce one’s compensation for these shutdowns. In private sector typically salaried employees either use vacation or go no pay. I assume the same rules would apply for a govt entity.” I think we’re overpaying some employees and, quite frankly, paying below market for others. I can’t speak for the City as a whole.

    Your quickness to lob personal attacks interests me. Why not just admit that you were assuming? Fine, you assumed. You were mistaken. I happen to have good information on this issue. Since you repeated your assumption more than once in this comment thread, I was moved to provide my more accurate information.

    Take a deep breath.

    P.S. My degrees are not from Oakland schools – none of them. I assume (and I acknowledge that I do not know for certain) that due to your snotty tone, yours aren’t either. However, your first sentence in your previous post is a comma splice. If I wanted to stoop to your level, I’d use your grammar prowess to judge where you went to school. I really don’t care enough to do so.

  58. V Smoothe Post author

    I don’t even understand where this idea that workers would be paid for fulough days came from. The entire point of the furlough is to save money by not paying people. We’re not doing it for fun!

  59. Ralph

    actually then if you read carefully you would see that i just assumed. i took offense with your last stmt.

  60. Oh Pleeze

    Why has this post deteriorated into a 1st year b-school analysis of salary structure minutiae? Certainly there is more to the budget crisis: Infrastructure, maintenance, supplies and public services are also critical.

    As to the comments about citizen apathy, to the city’s credit, there’s been a recent, positive shift in the City’s meeting scheduling. It wasn’t that many years ago that city meetings were held mid-week and mid-afternoon, or at locations that were hard to get to or in questionable venues. Risking one’s livlihood or life is senseless, not apathetic.

    As to the meetings themselves, I’ve attended many meetings in which city staffers bulldoze attendees into a ‘consensus,’ rather than accept questions or feedback. Those meetings make me loathe to waste my time. That’s frustration, disgust and an unwillingness to be bullied; it’s not apathy.

    Finally, when city telephones aren’t answered after 20 rings, or I’m told that letters, e-mails and faxes expressing opinions or asking questions are ‘lost’ or ‘haven’t been processed yet’ or ‘are still on somebody’s desk’ [after 6 weeks], and THEN when I’m told I “have to understand” that furloughs and staffing shortages are being used to justify neglect of normal city workflows, that’s not apathy…at least it isn’t apathy on my part.

  61. Patrick

    Ralph, I was referring to home sales, not reassessments of current owner’s homes. When I bought my house, the assessed value dropped by over $200,000. And 1.32% of $200k is $2640. How many years at a 2% Prop 13% allowed increase before Alameda County and it’s assignees can expect the taxes on my house to return to “normal”?

    And, hoping for speculators to buy the homes introduces a whole other set of problems – absentee owners generally aren’t good for a neighborhood. Although I have no proof, my guess is that the increased direct costs to the city in heavily investor-owned areas would probably outweigh any minor tax benefit.

  62. Patrick

    Minutiae? I’d like to think that learning about how the largest portion of our budget works is a little more important than that. Infrastructure is built by people, maintenance is performed by people, supplies are acquired by people and public services are performed by people. And those people get paid – which is why we’re discussing the finer points. You make it sound like we go out and buy public services by the pound.

  63. Ralph

    Patrick, I don’t disagree with you on the current sales, the county and the city need to get used to the reduced revenues from those properties until those owners sell. This is the one case I make for investors and not landlords. Investors have an interest in maintaining the property and selling for profit. It is indeed a balancing act. The houses still need to be occupied.

    I would argue that these new levels are normal and the governement was playing with funny money before. If this forces them to look at the underlying structure and the way they provide services all the better. Plan at the sustainable level and save for a rainy day and stop handing over $2MM to the children.

    Will someone please prepare my taxes!!!!

  64. V Smoothe Post author

    I don’t have a problem with the direction the discussion has taken. The City’s budget is a complicated issue, and the budgeted staffing totals I posted here were really just a starting point. There’s a lot that isn’t addressed here even when it comes to personnel as far as realities go – vacancies, mid-cycle cuts, revenue-producing positions, different types of funds and so on. But I’m trying to introduce issues in digestible pieces over time. Salaries and related personnel costs will have their own post in the future, but I’m trying to also answer questions to a reasonable extent as they come up. Since personnel costs are the biggest portion of the budget, they’re obviously going to be a huge part of any discussion of budget-related issues.

  65. Born in Oakland

    I am an exempt employee and my “salary” is based on an hourly rate. We do “flex” days (essentially work furlough) and can take as a “vacation” day (hence out of the nonproductive budget but coming out of my accrued bank) or take the day with no pay. That day’s pay is based on the hourly rate. My “benefits” are not touched but I do not accrue Earned Time Off hours for the unpaid day. Perhaps the furlough days for the The City of Oakland exempt employees work the same.

  66. len raphael

    without understanding the payroll details it is hard to evaluate the data to make broad policy decisions. i’d like to think our mayor and council or at least their close staff think about personnel costs this much. yeah right.

    From my conversations with one County staff member, they haven’t finished processing most of the assement appeals filed for the prior fiscal year. When they do, they will issue refunds as needed. ie. we have yet to see the effects of the prop 13 temporary downward reassessments. Does anyone know what percentage of Oakland’s share of property taxes comes from commercial buildings, multi family, and single family?

    OP, what can you do when staff comes up with make imaginary consensus, other than ask them for proof?

    -len raphael

  67. Ralph

    len, have you heard if the assessor is granting the appeals. i hope to benefit this year. have there been any issues with lack of sales adversely affecting valuation/assessments?

  68. len raphael

    i’m sure they’ll be granting them, and have known of two or three, but most of the ones i’ve heard about are in CC county where the assessor quickly issued downward revals to entire subdivisions. fosurer those are much easier to value than one-off commercial or single fam bldgs where there are no comparable recent sales, but i get the impression that alameda cnty assessor office is overwhelmed even getting to that point. don’t know if they’re required to pay interest on refunds.

  69. len raphael

    EW, based on my dealings w city hall, and it varies greatly among depts, but it certainly is a situation where a relatively few people carry the load for the dept. but is it any worse in oakland govt than other cities? that’s part of what people here are trying to get a handle on thru the numbers.

  70. livegreen

    Referring to V’s April 11th post, looking at SF Gate’s database, if one reviews the top 100 highest compensated employees, the vast majority are OPD and OFD employees who got a LOT of overtime.

    This begs the following questions: –Why?; –How is the use of overtime both decided and supervised?; –Is there a way to decrease the use of overtime while still having effective departments? (Or not?); –What are the projections for overtime use & policy in the near future (the coming budget year)?

    I’m sure there are other questions here but this is enough to start with. Anybody want to take a stab? I think especially experienced and/or institutional knowledge would be helpful on this subject, not hypothetical, extrapolation or guesses.

    Finally, a separate but related topic might be the transparency of the OPD budget. When Tucker was still Chief I’d heard from some C.C. offices that it was very hard to get details from him about the OPD budget or about cost overruns.
    I don’t know if this is true or not…

    Important note: Discussing the OPD budget, understanding the use of overtime, and other related questions do not make a statement one way or the other about the importance and dedication of individual or a majority of OPD officers. The questions above are, instead, policy & budget related.

  71. MarleenLee

    Livegreen – I don’t really know the overtime stuff, but I do know a bit about the OPD budget and its “transparency.” I had the opportunity to take the deposition of the person who was in charge of the books at the time, and I can tell you the situation did not look good. The books were a mess. Accountability was just not there, and there appeared to be nobody in OPD with real authority/knowlege/integrity actually overseeing the budget/accounting issues. Last I heard the person in charge of the books was placed on “administrative leave” and when I asked what had happened to him a couple months later I was told it was a “confidential personnel matter.”

  72. len raphael

    ML, what are the names of the people outside OPD who review OPD’s OT expenditures? Ultimately, isn’t Ruby’s office supposed to do some auditing of the OT accounting?

    Sounds like a cross between the incompetence of the former OUSD accounting dept (they blamed it on the computers, as compared to Dellums blaming Edgerly etc) when OUSD (wasn’t JQ president?) down the financial tube, but protected by the holy aura of being cops in a dangerous town. that’s a recipe for fiscal abuse.

    -len raphael

  73. J-Man's Dad

    Livegreen- OFD o.t. saves the city money. It cost 1.5 X for o.t., while a P.F.T.E. (permanent full time employee) cost between 1.6 & 1.84 depending on seniority, etc. when benefits are factored in. The # of personnel on duty and fire engines & trucks available to respond per day is a set figure. This is a minimum for your safety & protection. The city needs a body to fill that seat on the rig. Then add in vacations, sick days, & injuries.

    When we choose to work o.t., or are given MANDATORY (happen’s more than you think) overtime assignments, that’s an additional 24 or more hours away from our families, missing our kids growing up & putting ourselves in harms way, setting ourselves up for numerous physical & mental stresses. We work a 52 hour work week as is. The average Oakland firefighter lives for only 5-10 years after retirement.

    One last thing. The last 2 Oakland Firefighters to die in the line of duty were working overtime. Was all the money they made worth it?

  74. ConcernedOakFF

    Also, much of the OFD overtime is paid by the state, and not by the City of Oakland. Most of the people that are in the top of the pay charts are either people that went to Southern California, or Northern California for large Wildland fires, or those that stayed back to fill in for those spots. These Firefighters are paid overtime that is compensated to the city by either the Federal Government or the State Government….. not just for those firefighters that are out at the Wildland Fires, but also those that work overtime back in Oakland to maintain our staffing levels.

    So, although there is definitely overtime in the Oakland Fire Department, the grossly overblown numbers that are in the Paper are hardly representative of the actual money spent by the City of Oakland.

    In fact, the city MAKES money by sending firefighters on so called “strike teams” as a result of the State payment for vehicle maintenance, seniority pay, and higher rank structure payments…

  75. Robert

    I am really hard pressed to get upset about overtime pay for either OFD or OPD, or, for that matter, high pay base pay for either department. They are both performing work that I would not want to do because of the danger, and in the case of the OPD, are doing it in an incrediblly hostile environment.

  76. Patrick

    Well, besides the men and women who moved here and then were turned away by the abrupt cancellation of the last police academy, there’s…

    $250,000 possible with overtime. Benefits without peer. Retirement well before age 65. And the lion’s share of final pay and benefits for THE REST OF MY LIFE!? I think we could rustle up a couple of folk who’d want in on that.

  77. Quercki M. Singer

    I was reading (somewhere else–I forget where, sorry) that Oakland paid Mr. Bobb $160K for a study of where to cut the Oakland budget.
    Is it the one in this post?
    Or is it another report?

  78. livegreen

    This is a discussion of city finances. Not a discussion of why people should or should not join OPD and OFD. There are many personal reasons that go into that decision, balanced with individual preferences & priorities of community service, risk of life, financial, etc. None of that is at issue here, and if we begin discussing that it will never end (again because so much of those factors are personal and vary individually).

    If there is a budget, it needs to be managed. I appreciate what JMan’sDad and ConcernedOakFF said about OFD overtime, as well as what Marlene said about OPD budgeting. Any more input on the benefits vs. negatives of Overtime, this time for OPD? (on either side of the coin).

  79. Patrick

    I disagree with your assessment, livegreen. Robert suggested that the pay offered was necessary to attract people who are willing to do the job. I disagree. And the amount paid is intrinsic to managing a budget.

  80. livegreen

    I didn’t make an assessment on the pay side, only about the course of the discussion re. reasons people join (which is a separate but related topic). Regarding pay & overtime I agree it is intrinsic to the budget. For this I only referred to comments by JMan’s Dad and ConcernedOakFF. I did not make an assessment about those comments.

    What you say about pay and what they say about mandatory overtime and perils of the job don’t necessarily disagree with each other. Until somebody contributes more info to what they said, or contradicting that info, I’m fine taking what they said at face value.

    That being said, you might be right about the attractiveness of the pay packages. Given this economy, entry level pay scales might for both OFD & OPD might be able to be trimmed and still attract applicants (though I don’t know if there are any vacant positions).

    Of course that brings up a separate but related issue: Is it feasible to change the Salary Schedule? (If not for just OPD & OFD, then the entire city government).
    Employees participated in the benefits when the economy was good, it seems only fare that they participate now that the economy is bad.

  81. ConcernedOakFF

    Just for your information, the entry-level Firefighter pay is about 15 dollars per hour for the first 4-6 months of training and employment.

    Hardly a blockbuster salary….

  82. Rachel Richman


    Thanks for your coverage of the budget. You are absolutely right; residents need to share their ideas on the budget with the Mayor and Council. This is a time when the community needs to pull together to help solve the budget problem.

    The source of the budget crisis is no secret; the economic downturn hit most local and state government services hard. Guess this is another thing to thank Bush and his Wall St. friends for. Oakland’s income from virtually all sources dropped like a stone. We’re not alone as most CA cities are facing similar problems, but it is up to us to get involved.

    By the way, all city employees except Fire and Police have already taken a 5% pay cut as of last winter.

    We all have to share in the solution to ensure we have a budget that reflects Oakland’s community values.