Public to Sound Off On City Budget Deficit

Tuesday May 20, 2003

It’s public hearing night and the City Council will be hearing testimony on a number of different issues including the proposed budget and city fees. 


The proposed budget  

The public will have its first opportunity to address the council on the city manager’s proposed budget, which balances a projected $4.7 million deficit by continuing a selective hiring freeze, eliminating 23 city staff positions and raising parking meter fines from $23 to $30. 

The budget also has a built-in alternate plan in case the state budget, when it’s adopted in the fall, calls for local program cuts that are deeper than expected. The alternate plan is designed to balance a budget deficit of $6.8 million, in which case the city will eliminate 29 jobs. 

In addition to the selective hiring freeze, the city manager has already restricted travel and pager and cell phone use.  

Another public hearing on the budget will be held June 17, and City Council is required by the city charter to adopt the budget on June 24. 


City fees 

The council will also hear public testimony about a proposal to increase city fees for a variety of services including recreation programs, the animal shelter and fire permit inspections.  

Perhaps the most controversial fee hike proposal is the per-unit fee for the Rental Housing Safety Program. The Housing Advisory Commission (HAC) and the city manager are recommending that landlords be charged $18 per unit to fund the program, which is designed to catch building code violations. It is estimated to cost about $330,000 a year with three full-time employees and at least five part-time employees.  

Currently the program is funded in part by the Community Development Block Grant funds and the General Fund. Both the HAC and city manager support the fee to free additional grant funding for nonprofits. 

Landlords have complained they are already overburdened by excessive Rent Board fees and higher license fees than other types of business.  

The council will also hear comment about raising recreation fees. The city manager is proposing an overall 24 percent hike in fees for programs including athletics, swimming pools and youth and family camps. Recreation fees had a cost of living increase of 4 percent in 2002.  

The city is also planning to raise its refuse rate. Currently residents pay $17.22 for the once-a-week pick-up of a 32-gallon container of refuse. The city manager is proposing a $1.22 hike to cover union labor agreements and a 1 percent increase to fund the city’s green building program.  

Even with the hike, city residents will pay less than Oakland, Richmond and El Cerrito residents who pay between $20 and $21.46 for the same services. 

Higher sewer fees are also proposed. The new rates would include a 6 percent raise for 2004, which will net approximately $13 million in new revenue, followed by a second 6 percent raise in 2005 for another $13.7 million.  

What that means for the average homeowner is an increase from $36 per month to $40.50 per month by 2005. Duplex owners will pay $65 a month in 2005 and triplex owners will pay $96 a month. 

Sewer charges pay for city sewer system maintenance, construction and administration.  

Without the increase, sewer funding would face a shortfall of $800,000 by next year. If that occurred, the city would have to reduce repairs, which could affect the city’s 30-year plan to eliminate San Francisco Bay pollution.  

There is also a proposal to increase fire safety fees from $41.50 to $53. Animal shelter boarding fees are also slated to go up. The per-day cost to board a dog, for example, will go from $10 to $15. 


School Protest Planned 

Teachers, librarians, clerks and other professionals will demonstrate in front of Berkeley Unified School District’s Administration Building Tuesday, May 20, from 3:45 to 4:15 p.m. Protesters are concerned that cuts recommended by Superintendent Michele Lawrence go beyond what is necessary to solve the budget crisis. 

More than 100 teachers received final layoff notices last week, forcing increases in class size and cuts in other programs.