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Budget Cuts: Bad to Worse

Friday April 11, 2003

City Council previewed four budget-cutting proposals Tuesday that could result in higher parking fines, massive cuts to city services and the loss of over 100 city jobs.  

The budget deficit for fiscal years 2004 and 2005 ranges from $2.7 million to $16.8 million, according to city officials. The council won’t know the exact amount of the shortfall until the state, which faces a $35 billion deficit, finalizes its budget, which might not occur until late summer or early fall.  

City Manager Weldon Rucker, Deputy City Manager Phil Kamlarz and Budget Manager Paul Navazio presented four budget scenarios to the council.  

“We just don’t know what the state is going to do,” Kamlarz said on Wednesday. “So we’re planning for the worst case and then we can back off.” 

During the public comment portion of the special meeting, several public swimming pool advocates, a Civics Art Commissioner and the artistic director of the Shotgun Players theater group asked the council to show restraint when making tough budget decisions.  

Depending on the severity of the budget shortfall, the council is considering several countermeasures. They include raising parking fines, putting a property tax increase measure on the November 2004 ballot and cutting city programs and jobs.  

In the best case scenario, the city will continue a hiring freeze, restrict travel for city officials and cut library, storm drain and street lighting programs. In the worst case scenario, the city will close a fire station, cut more than 100 jobs and take a serious look at revising all the city’s labor contracts. 

The council is also considering raising taxes and increasing fines. Under the proposal, an expired meter ticket might jump from $23 to $30, raising about $2 million in city revenue annually.  

Several cities have raised parking fines to contend with deficits. San Francisco just raised its expired meter fine to $35 in most commercial neighborhoods and to as much as $40 in the downtown. UC Berkeley charges $32 for expired meters. 

There was some conflict among councilmembers about raising parking fines, but overall the idea had support. 

“Our fines should be in line with other communities,” said Mayor Tom Bates, who suggested increasing meter fines to $32. “Oakland and other cities are going higher.” 

Councilmember Betty Olds was one of the few dissenting voices. “Raising parking fines is very unfriendly,” she said. “We’ll have too many Berkeley residents who will be upset.” 

Councilmembers also discussed a ballot measure that would raise about $8 million in fiscal year 2005 through increased property taxes. The exact amount of the tax or how it might be assessed has not been decided. 

City Council typically approves a two-year budget, but because uncertainty surrounds state and federal budgets, Bates proposed planning for a shorter time span.  

“Unfortunately nobody has a crystal ball telling us what the state is going to do,” Bates said. “If we do a one-year budget we won’t have to anticipate the worst and slam together a doomsday budget without knowing what the reality is.”  

The city manager will present his budget proposal to City Council at its May 13 meeting. A public hearing will be held May 20, and councilmembers will suggest amendments on June 10. After a final public hearing on June 17, the council will adopt a new budget on June 24.