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Nonprofits Suffer Cuts

Friday May 23, 2003

Several nonprofits protested the city manager’s proposed budget cuts Tuesday night, citing crippling reductions in services and potential program cessation. Among them was the Family Violence Law Center, whose executive director forecast that the 10 percent cut could contribute to the loss of two vital positions. 

Tuesday’s public hearing was the first of two scheduled before City Council adopts the budget June 24. The budget looks to balance a projected $4.7 million deficit in part by the reducing grant and general fund allocations for many nonprofits and city agencies.  

The proposal also continues a selective hiring freeze, eliminates 23 city staff positions and increases parking meter fines. 

City Manager Weldon Rucker kicked off the hearing with some encouraging news on the state budget. He said that Governor Gray Davis has reinstated the full Vehicle License Fees in his most recent budget proposal. Rucker warned, however, that it is too soon to count on that funding because the state legislature is not likely to finalize their budget until sometime in the fall.  

Since 1998, the Vehicle License Fees have gradually been reduced by 68 percent. The average vehicle owner now saves about $124 annually. If the legislature reinstates the fees in the state budget, California cities will have access to an additional $3.8 billion. 

“If the fees are restored, we may be able to avoid further cost cutting,” he said. “But I have to warn you, that we have a long way to go before the state budget is adopted.”  

The executive director of the Family Violence Law Center, Julia Arno, asked the council to rethink the 10 percent cut proposed for her organization. The cut would amount to $7,500. The Family Violence Law Center helps battered women get the legal assistance they need to escape the cycle of violence. 

“I know it doesn’t sound like a lot, but because of the poor economy, we are being cut from a variety of funding sources,” she said. “The cuts could harm the family violence prevention program, which is key to what we do.” 

Arno said two positions would likely be threatened by the cuts. The first is a coordinator who works with the Berkeley Police Department to provide housing, legal and medical resources to women involved in domestic disturbance calls. 

The other is an attorney who works with battered women to remove the violent offender from the home, establish stay away orders and represent them in child custody hearings.  

“Studies show that 80 percent of battered women who get civil protection orders do not fall back into the cycle of violence,” Arno said. “If we loose these two positions, we will may not loose our ability to help these women.” 

A group of parents also protested the complete withdrawal of funds from Totland’s Young Artist program. Last year the city gave the program, which holds art classes for 150 kids a week, received $28,000 from the city’s general fund. This year the city manager recommended it receive none because it is a “low priority”, according to Totland Program Director Jennifer Burke  

Parent John King, whose daughter has been in the program for three years, said the cuts could mean the end of the program. “To cut this program back totally raises the risk of killing it, and once it’s dead, you can’t easily bring it back,” he said.  

Others who addressed the council were a group of swimming pool advocates who came to both thank the council and argue against proposed fee hikes at the James Kenny West Campus Pool.  

At one point during her testimony, swimming advocate Gail Alcott broke into song and was followed by a chorus. 

The council will hold another public hearing on June 17th after making adjustments during a council meeting on June 10th. The budget is required by law to be adopted at the council’s June 24 meeting.  

In addition to the council meetings, the city manager is holding a series of community meetings on the budget. One is being held at the West Berkeley Senior Center on May 29th and another at St. John’s Church on College Avenue on June 5th.