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City adopts final budget

By Kurtis Alexander, Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday June 26, 2002

Council members make difficult
decisions during tough
economic year

Many Berkeley residents have noticed that the hooting and hollering over how to spend city dollars has been more restrained this budget season as compared with past years. 

With the city forced to make $3.1 million worth of cuts due to the weak economy, city leaders might appreciate the relative lack of antagonism. But the city manager’s office says the silence is not reassuring. 

“It been easy so far, but things are about to get more difficult,” said Phil Kamlarz, deputy city manager. 

The city’s budget was successfully adopted Tuesday night, but with the somber understanding that two issues will likely throw the weighty fiscal document back into disarray: city employee contract negotiations and state budget cuts. 

More than 1,000 city employees are pushing city managers for better wages and benefits, as union contracts come up for renewal next month. 

Mayor Shirley Dean says money has been set aside for new contracts, but it is not known whether enough money is there to fund whatever settlement is reached. 

Dean noted that nearly 80 percent of the city’s $100 million budget goes to employees’ salaries. 

As for pending state cuts, most political experts say it is unlikely that California Legislators will meet the July 1 deadline for adopting a budget, and unanswered will be how much money cities and towns will receive. 

“The state will soon do something and it’s not going to be good whatever it is,” said Kamlarz. 

Most measures adopted by the city to patch the $3.1 million shortfall involve cutting administrative services and eliminating employment positions. Nearly every city department, from public works to police, will share in the reductions. 

“The idea was to avoid any big cuts,” Kamlarz noted. 

While major cutbacks may have been avoided so far, funding increases to city departments and partnering nonprofits were also bypassed. To this end, City Council established a list of funding requests Tuesday night that they will revisit in September. 

One group that felt slighted in the budget process was those who support the city’s fledgling Green Building Program. 

“The city has created good resolutions for green building, but now it’s not following through,” said Michael Green, with the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health. 

Passed last year, a city resolution put forth a plan to review building and construction policies with energy savings and nontoxic building materials in mind. The idea was lauded as a landmark environmental plan. 

However, revenue to launch the Green Building Program, expected to come through city utility taxes, did not materialize and the plan is yet to get off the ground. Environmentalists have urged the city to find another way to pay for the $96,000 program next year, but have proved unsuccessful. 

“I recognize that the city budget is not in great shape, but the pain should be spread equally,” said Ed Gulick, program manager for the Berkeley-based Green Resource Center. 

Gulick noted that the program would have eventually paid for itself through energy savings and would have been a big economic boost for local retailers of building materials. 

City officials say the Green Building Program will be one of the items revisited in September.