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Council Gives First Glimpse at Austerity Plans

Tuesday December 09, 2003

Berkeley citizens get their first look tonight (Tuesday, Dec. 9) at just how lean and mean City Council is willing to become when Council holds its first meeting in the belt-tightening, post-parcel tax era. 

Council must decide on what to do with close to $43 million in what is called “unencumbered carryover” funds: money which was allocated in last year’s budget, is not tied up in a contract, and was not spent by the end of the year.  

According to the city manager’s report, such funds are normally stay with the original budgeted item until the project is completed or the budgeted money runs out. But these aren’t normal times. 

City Manager Phil Kamlarz and Budget Director Paul Navazio have recommended that Council hold back nearly $3 million in carryover funds and transfer them to the Reserve Fund to “provide the City Council with increased flexibility in addressing projected budget deficits.” 

Among the larger items recommended for the budgetary ax are $395,000 in window replacement at the Civic Center Tower, $457,000 work on the Public Safety Building Communications Tower, and $264,000 in Clean Storm Water funds. 

At its discretion, of course, Council can hold back more of the unexpended funds than the city manager’s office recommends. Or it can keep all of the rolled-over money in the budget. 

In other fiscal matters to be taken up tonight, Council is scheduled to consider, on first reading, an ordinance increasing the amount the city manager can expend for capital improvements, supplies, and equipment without Council approval. The city manager’s office uses the money primarily in what it calls emergency situations. The item was held over from the Nov. 4 Council meeting at the request of Councilmember Kriss Worthington. 

Council has also scheduled two neighborhood-interest items held over from previous meetings. A public hearing on the Solano Avenue Business Improvement District was postponed from Nov. 18 to attempt a compromise with Solano Avenue businesses who felt that the district would not serve their particular needs. Held over from the same meeting is an appeal by neighbors of the city’s Corporation Yard, who have complained that the proposed demolition of buildings at the yard will disrupt the peace of their neighborhood. 

Tonight’s meeting will feature dueling bridge toll increase recommendations, with Councilmember Worthington favoring State Sen. Don Perata’s bill to raise area bridge tolls from $2 to $3 and Councilmember Miriam Hawley asking that Council take no position. The money raised would be set aside for Bay Area transportation projects. 

Hawley has complained that not enough of Perata’s proposed toll increase money would go to what she calls “transit-friendly” projects, while too much will be set aside for what she calls “less cost-effective” projects such as highway improvements, construction of parking lots, digging a fourth bore to the Caldecott Tunnel, and extending BART to Warm Springs. Worthington argues that the transportation infrastructure improvements are needed. 

Finally, Council will be asked to authorize a staff review of the Council Agenda Committee, including soliciting comments from the public, with a report to come back to Council in March.  

The Agenda Committee, made up of Mayor Tom Bates and councilmembers Linda Maio and Miriam Hawley, currently organizes the placement of items on Council’s agenda. A recent suggested amendment to the Agenda Committee rules, allowing them to keep city commission reports off of the agenda for one week for what committee members have called management purposes, has caused some concern among some of the city’s commission members.