The City Council unanimously approved the city’s $524 million two-year budget Tuesday with a unanimous vote and many are saying the rare council consensus is an endorsement of City Manager Weldon Rucker.
“The manager really tried to include the desires of the councilmembers and meet the needs of the city,” said Dayle Bartlett, aide to Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek. “And as evidence of his success there was a 9 to nothing vote to support him.”
Rucker is quick to deflect praise by saying it was a cooperative council that is really responsible for the smooth budget process, which in the past has been fraught with ill will and acrimony.
“The results were favorable, but it is really due to the staff and the commissioners buying into the process and the participation of all the councilmembers establishing their priorities,” Rucker said. “From there it was relatively easy to focus in on including those priorities.”
Rucker also gave credit for the success of the budget to staff members Deputy City Manager Phil Kamlarz and Budget Manager Paul Navazio who were the architects of the budget. He said working out a municipal budget is like trying to hit a moving target because revenues are subject to uncertainties such as the current energy crisis, which can cause fluctuations in state and federal funding as well as the local economy.
“Phil may be one of the best budget people in the nation and Paul brought a tremendous energy to the process,” Rucker said.
The last biennial budget was approved on June 22, 1999 by vote of 5-3 with one abstention. According to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, that budget was approved after the progressives fought with the moderates who were aligned with former City Manager James Keene. Keene left Berkeley in August to take the city manager post in Tucson, Ariz.
Rucker, who has worked for the city for 29 years, was previously acting city manager from 1993 to 1996. He assumed the post as acting city manager again after Keene’s departure and was given the position officially by the City Council in February.
Rucker is credited by both factions on the council for proposing a budget that found a solid middle ground between council priorities and what was available in the city’s coffers.
“It was an astronomical improvement over the last budget process,” Worthington said. “The city manager took both the mayor’s suggestions and (Councilmember) Dona (Spring)’s suggestions and put almost all of them in and took the time to explain the reasons for those suggestions he didn’t include.”
Both Mayor Shirley Dean and Spring submitted budget recommendations for programs they felt needed more funding or for new programs that were not included in the city manager’s proposed budget.
Dean agreed that Rucker did a good job of finding a practical middle ground. An example is the recommendations for arts grants. Dean suggested $143,000 in her proposal; Spring wanted $70,000 and the city manager suggested $100,000 which is the amount the council finally approved.
Dean said it’s important the council work to stay focused on the current budget proposals and not try to add programs that would tip the budget’s balance.
“The city manager certainly deserves a lot of credit for balancing the budget and getting unanimous agreement,” Dean said. “But the budget is only a plan. Now it’s up to the council to stick by what’s been approved and not wander all over the place.”
Currently the budget is not technically balanced. For example in the adopted budget expenditures during the first year are greater than revenues by nearly $5 million. But according to Kamlarz, the budget cannot legally pencil in certain grants or include unspent funds from previous year’s programs, both of which he said would cover expenditures.
Bartlett summed up the budget process:
“The councilmembers are happy, our reserves are healthy and if there’s any problems, we still have the midyear review opportunity to rethink, redo and if necessary reformulate things.”