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City rediscovers budget deficit

By Matthew Artz Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday October 16, 2002

City Council spared two popular programs from the chopping block Tuesday, including winter swimming at Willard Pool. But as officials dealt with city budget forecasts, they agreed that additional across-the-board cuts would be inevitable. 

“The future doesn’t look that great,” said Deputy City Manager Phil Kamlarz.  

Berkeley will have to cut $6.4 million to balance the 2004/2005 budget, according to a city report presented Tuesday. An additional $3.1 million in savings will be needed to balance the 2006/2007 budget. 

This means the city will likely reduce employees and cut programs over the next five years, Kamlarz said. 

Despite the grim news, council opted to use $100,000 carried over from last year’s budget to keep Willard Pool open this winter and hire a new coordinator for the city’s green business program.  

Against the advice of staff, council voted 7-3 not to devote an additional $70,000 carried over to finance a study on unearthing Strawberry Creek to run above ground through the downtown or conduct a study to determine if UC Berkeley should pay more for city services. 

A final determination on those projects as well as additional funding for the city’s animal shelter were tabled until Nov. 12. 

Advocates for the salvaged programs were predictably excited. 

“There is definitely a sense that we have been given a new lease on life,” said Karen Davis of the Willard Swimmers Association, which fought to keep the pool at Telegraph Avenue and Derby Street open this winter. 

But the council is likely to leave several programs without sufficient funding in 2003. These include a plan to use environmentally-friendly fuels in city sanitation trucks, the hiring of additional traffic officers and a pedestrian safety coordinator and grants to several nonprofits that serve the city, including the City CarShare program. 

Gina Moreland, executive director of Habitot, a downtown Berkeley children’s discovery museum, was disappointed that the city planned to reject her request for $25,000 to help fund free admissions for low-income kids. 

“The city is now giving us less than 2 percent of our budget which isn’t right considering how much we serve the community and how much business we bring to downtown,” she said. 

The city’s budget shortfall is primarily due to the rising costs of the state Public Employee Retirement System, according to Kamlarz. The public retirement fund has lost investment money over the past few years and the state is charging cities more to make up for losses. 

“Retirement benefits are going through the roof,” said Kamlarz. 

To help offset the deficit, the city manager’s office has instituted a hiring freeze on nonessential city jobs and has asked council to implement a moratorium on new spending until the 2004/2005 budget is finalized in June 2003. 

Also, the city manager’s office is developing a list of further program and service cuts that it will recommend to council at a January budget meeting. Kamlarz said it was premature to discuss the programs that might be affected.  

Berkeley may actually be in worse financial shape than current estimates indicate, Kamlarz added. He said that this year’s state budget – which included funding for Berkeley – failed to reduce mounting state deficits. Consequently, upcoming state budgets would likely reduce state money given to Berkeley, he said. 


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