City May Raise Fees in Light of State Cutbacks

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday June 11, 2009 - 07:54:00 PM

In what Mayor Tom Bates called “a sobering update,” City of Berkeley Budget Manager Tracy Vesely told the City Council Tuesday night that proposed cutbacks in state funds being discussed in Sacramento could cost Berkeley as much as $8.2 million in the upcoming fiscal year. 

While City Manager Phil Kamlarz said it was still uncertain how California will handle an estimated $23 billion in budget cutbacks caused by the economic downturn, “whatever the state does, it’s not going to be good [for Berkeley].” 

Vesely said cuts being considered by the state Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to close the state’s budget gap include cutbacks in funds for Proposition 1A property taxes and sales taxes (a possible $4.8 million loss to Berkeley), Proposition 42 transportation funding (estimated $800,000 loss), gas tax transportation funding (estimated $1.7 million loss), and public health and mental health programs (estimated $900,000  


Vesely said that she will come back to the council in October with an update on the final state budget actions, with the council expected to vote on revisions to the city budget in January, if necessary. 

While the details and full extent of the state cutbacks to Berkeley’s government will not be known until after the June 23 deadline for passage of Berkeley’s new budget, the city is already moving forward to remedy the shortfall. On Tuesday, the council gave Kamlarz authority to draw up legislation for the city manager’s proposals to raise new revenues, including a proposed $5 parking citation increase, a 25-cent per hour parking meter rate increase, the addition of 641 new parking meters, and a proposed 15 percent increase in residential preferred parking permit fees. The council is expected to vote on those proposals as part of its June 23 budget vote. 

The fee-increase proposal passed on an 8-0-1 vote, with only Councilmember Gordon Wozniak abstaining, saying that he felt the parking meter increase would be “counter-productive” and worried that the increase would “scare customers away from our commercial districts.”  

The proposed parking fine increases would come on top of a $5 across-the-board increase approved by the council in March in response to a previous state fund take-away measure. 

Councilmember Linda Maio, who made the motion to move forward with the fee increases, called the action a “distasteful thing” and said that “I think nobody on the council wants to initiate these increases.” 

And Bates said that it is “terrible to be raising revenue in this way, but the legislature and the people have closed the avenues for local government to manage themselves. Prop. 13 has done so much damage to this state. We have the lowest industrial property assessed evaluation in the nation in California. If we had the right assessed evaluation we’d be able to fully fund our schools, we’d be able to fund a lot of things. The two-thirds requirement in Prop. 218 makes it almost impossible to raise tax rates. So in order to raise revenue, you’ve got to be as creative as possible, and it ends up being things like parking tickets and parking meters.” Bates said that the city had “no choice” but to go through with the increases, “even though it’s odious.”