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City Revenue Up, But New Tax Still Possible

By Judith Scherr
Friday February 16, 2007

While Berkeley’s revenue is higher than expected and the city will be able to write checks for $3.3 million above budgeted expenditures, the City Council may need to go to the voters to pay for essential services such as police and fire, City Manager Phil Kamlarz told the council at a budget workshop, part of the council’s regular Tuesday meeting. 

Also at the meeting, the council put off adopting two ordinances which they had previously recommended, one aimed at fining those responsible for hosting parties where underage people are served alcohol and the other penalizing those responsible for excessive noise at private gatherings. Students came to the council asking that these measures be less punitive. The council will address them on Feb. 27 agenda. 

In a Housing Authority meeting, before the regular meeting, the Housing Authority director confirmed an increase in the monthly out-of-pocket tenant payments made by some low-income Section 8 renters, for studios by approximately $35 and for one-bedroom apartments by $55. Section 8 renters normally spend one-third of their income on rent and the federal government pays the balance. The federal government, however, will not fully subsidize Berkeley’s high rents, making additional out-of-pocket payments necessary. This will be back on the Housing Authority agenda for a vote on Feb. 27.  


Budget outlook—good and not-so-good 

In the short term, city staff had good news for the council: there will be an estimated $3.3 million revenue over previously predicted income, due mostly to income on investments and greater-than-expected revenue from parking fines.  

In the long term, however, the city manager is looking at new taxes to keep the city in the black. 

Meanwhile, the manager recommended that the funds be spent in the following way: $1 million for the fire department, to end rolling station closures until Dec. 2008; $200,000 to continue police, mental health and cleaning services in the Telegraph Avenue area; $100,000 to a nonprofit, Sustainable Berkeley, for planning reduction of greenhouse gases; $200,000 for maintenance agreements and other elements of the upgraded police and fire computer systems; $500,000 for various economic development projects, including funds to start south and west Berkeley business improvement districts and $1.3 million for infrastructure repair and maintenance—“That’s streets, storm drains and a new sound system for the City Council,” joked Kamlarz, as the council passed a lone microphone back and forth, due to problems with the Council Chamber’s sound system. 

Councilmembers, however, presented other priorities and will vote on spending the $3.3 million Feb. 27. 

For Councilmember Linda Maio, the priority was installing traffic-calming measures in her district, and for Councilmember Betty Olds it was improving the “rough roads.” Councilmember Darryl Moore said he wants funding for youth employment programs. 

Maio said she wanted to see a plan for the use of the $500,000 before approving the funds for economic development. 

While budget manager Tracy Vesely said she asked all department heads to submit next year’s budget with 5 percent cuts, she said that the city might need “new tax measures for public safety staffing.” 

Kamlarz agreed that new taxes might be necessary. “We face some tough choices,” he said. “We need to generate more money for public safety.” Public safety includes police, fire and disaster preparedness. 

But Councilmember Laurie Capitelli said it is not the right time to talk about new taxes.  

“We need to redevelop our economic base for the long term. It’s premature to talk about putting a tax on the ballot until councilmembers commit to economic development,” he said, adding that he did not want to commit new funds to Telegraph Avenue until he had heard a report on how city funds had been expended in the area. 


Saving Skating 

Hundreds of children as young as 4, youth, UC Berkeley students and adults paraded through the council chambers with signs and pleas, asking for council support to save Iceland, the 67-year old Ice Skating rink in central Berkeley that is up for sale. 

“Berkeley Iceland is my home away from home,” said Jimmy Duval, a student at Martin Luther King Jr. High and one of some dozen Iceland supporters who were able to address the council directly. 

“Where can I write my check?” asked Councilmember Kriss Worthington, which is exactly what the group wanted to hear. They are forming a nonprofit to try to purchase the facility, which is on the market for $6.7 million. They said that as soon as they get state approval, they’ll be able to collect funds. 

Unlike many nonprofits, they said they are not coming to the city for funds—just the council’s blessing, which the smiling council seemed to give. (Iceland was not on the agenda and was not discussed.)  

The group can be reached at