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Council pulls in the budget reins

By John Geluardi Daily Planet Staff
Saturday February 17, 2001

As an anticipated downturn in the economy looms, the City Council has put on the budget brakes until it can determine what city programs should have funding priority. 

The City Council Tuesday unanimously approved $679,500 for pending projects but agreed not to approve any new items until it set its priorities at budget workshops scheduled for March 3 and March 20. 

With the approval of the $679,500 in expenditures, the city is budgeted for about $1 million over the approved budget for fiscal your 2000-2001. The total budget for the year is expected to be $107.8 million. The city is expected to have enough surplus from fiscal year 2001 revenue to cover the $1 million overage. 

Mayor Shirley Dean said a slowdown in the economy means less spending. With fewer people buying homes, staying at hotels and eating at restaurants, city coffers will be harder to fill. 

“We’re OK,” Dean said. “We just have to be careful because things very well may be slowing down this year.”  

While the council agreed not to approve new budget items until it can set priorities, it did vote to fund new programs and projects that had been reviewed by the City Manager’s Office. 

The approved projects include $300,000 for Council Chambers upgrades, $22,000 for the Berkeley Guides who help with public safety downtown and $45,000 for the redesign of the Harrison Street Skate Park.  

Associate Management Analyst Rama Murty said in addition to the expected slowdown, the city was caught by the early retirement of an unknown number of fire department employees under the recently negotiated early retirement benefit. 

According to the mid-year financial summary, the early retirement will cost the city $690,600 over the original fire department budget of $1.8 million. The city is required by union agreement to pay departing officers uncollected vacation and sick pay, according to Murty. 

The fire department did not return phone calls to the Daily Planet before press time and it is unclear how many fire department employees are retiring or how much each retiree will collect from the city for vacation and sick pay. 

The mid-year financial summary estimates the city will collect an unexpected windfall revenue of $625,000 as an unintentional benefit from taxing increased utility costs. However those funds have already been set aside for an as yet undetermined energy-related program. “That money could go for mass purchases of energy efficient lighting or possibly to conservation education,” Dean said. 

Deputy City Manager Phil Kamlarz cautioned that the city has been spending money faster than it has been taking it in and now the City Council has to pay close attention to future program funding. “A lot of projects look good by themselves but now each one will have to be looked at next to all the other projects,” he said.