Berkeley’s era of budget deficits could be over by 2009, City Manager Phil Kamlarz told the City Council Tuesday. But to get out of the red, which the city has been in since 2003, Kamlarz is proposing a litany of cuts this year to close an $8.9 million deficit.
If the council approves Kamlarz’s recommendations, city residents can expect fewer school crossing guards, no winter pool access, fewer youth recreation programs, reduced fire service, monthly closures at City Hall, and fewer citizen boards and commissions. Nonprofits will face 10 percent cuts in city funds.
City employees will also will be asked to sacrifice. The city is budgeting zero raises for its unionized employees for two years after their current contracts expire.
“This all hinges on controlling our labor costs,” Kamlarz said.
Seniors’ programs were left untouched in the budget plan due mainly to a city proposal to start a case management program that would receive $300,000 in Medi-Cal reimbursements.
Berkeley’s budget plunged into deficits three years ago as stagnant revenues failed to keep pace with rising employee benefit costs. Under the city manager’s revised budget forecast, Berkeley faces structural deficits of $8.9 million for fiscal year 2006, which would decrease to $1.6 million in 2007, $1.3 million in 2008 and $0 in 2009 under his recommended cuts. The council must pass a balanced budget, and is scheduled to vote on a final plan in June, before the new fiscal year begins in July.
The city will have an extra $3.4 million to spend this year from higher than anticipated property taxes. Kamlarz recommended the council dedicate the money to several projects, including $2.4 million for a new computer dispatch system, but councilmembers delayed a vote on that until next week.
“I don’t see why we have to allocate this money tonight,” Councilmember Darryl Moore said.
Kamlarz has been insistent that the council not use the money to reduce this year’s deficit because he believes that will only mean delaying hard cuts to future years.
The council voted Tuesday to set aside $100,000 to move ahead with a plan to put the city, not PG&E, in charge of buying its energy.
Kamlarz’s plan assumes that the housing market will remain strong, local business revenue will stabilize, pension costs will level off and that federal and state aid will hold steady. The projections, which Kamlarz said “weren’t all conservative,” drew concern from Councilmember Laurie Capitelli.
“It looks like we’re using spit and chewing gum to hold this together,” he said.
The city is already facing the potential loss of up to $4.2 million in funding from the proposed elimination of a federal urban development program and next year will lose McKevitt Volvo, one of its top sales tax generators.
Berkeley’s $8.9 million deficit for 2006 is comprised of a $7.5 million gap in the general fund and a combined $1.4 million shortfall in funds for street light repair, parking meter oversight and paramedic services. Most of the savings will come from shrinking the city’s work force. Kamlarz proposed eliminating 84 full-time positions—most of which are vacant—that will comprise 77 percent of budget cuts over the next two years
The city limited cuts to the city attorney’s office, Planning, Transportation, and the Office of Economic Development, Deputy City Manager Lisa Caronna said, because they are seen as necessary to manage the council’s top priority projects.
Kamlarz also announced that the Police Review Commission will not face cuts this year after commissioners warned that they could not afford to lose another staff person.
On school crossing guards, Kamlarz backed off his initial recommendation to eliminate the program entirely. Instead he is calling to cut city funding from $256,000 to $103,000. The plan, he said, will mean that some city schools located on relatively quiet streets won’t have any crossing guards.
To save $1.1 million on employee overtime costs, the Fire Department is proposing to rotate engine and truck company closures throughout the year. The plan gives the department more flexibility than taking one of its ladder trucks out of operation, said Chief Debra Pryor.
For the first time, Berkeley swimmers might have to leave the city to find an open pool next winter. All three city pools are scheduled to be closed from Oct. 1 through April 15 because the city can’t afford the estimated $92,000 to keep any one pool open, said Parks and Recreation Director Marc Seleznow.
Seleznow also proposed that the city scale back an after school program at Willard Middle School, raise fees for recreation programs and eliminate a program to drive kids home from the Young Adult Project.
“We are truly a no-frills operation at this point,” Seleznow told the council.
Kamlarz is also recommending that the city eliminate two of the city’s 45 citizen commissions—Disaster and Solid Waste—and scale back meeting frequencies for 26 others. The move would relieve city employees of 5,412 annual hours spent staffing the commissions.
Additionally, he is proposing cutting an animal control officer from the Berkeley shelter, which drew the ire of a couple of councilmembers. Concerned that the move would force the shelter to close its doors one day a week, councilmembers Betty Olds and Dona Spring proposed cutting the shelter’s volunteer coordinator instead.