Commentary: Berkeley BudgetWatch Offers Plans For Services, Elections and Personnel

Friday April 30, 2004

Residents from all neighborhoods in Berkeley have come together around the city’s current budget crisis as evidenced by their active participation at various City meetings. This is a Preliminary Statement that, in expanded form, was sent to all members of the City Council to respond to various proposals that have been put forward to date. 

We recommend that the following policies guide all future budget decision. 


1. Minimize impacts on essential services to the community. 

Safe neighborhoods are the foundation of a healthy city. So, we are extremely concerned to find that in the city manager’s Jan. 27 options to balance fiscal year 2005 budget and five-year projections the Fire Department is the only department listed for cuts in fiscal year 2007, and those cuts proposed for the department are $1,300,000. The report also details deep cuts proposed for fiscal year 2005 and 2006 to both the fire and police departments. These cuts are unacceptable. 

While our first priority is public safety, we also regard the arts and services to the homeless, youth, seniors and the mentally ill as essential. 


2. Additional local revenues must be broad-based rather than targeted to property-owners, and used solely for an identified service, program or purpose. 

Many residents have voiced their concern about Berkeley having the highest taxes in the state. It is apparent that you are planning for tax increases for the November ballot. We will not be fooled that the need for these tax increases is based upon avoiding deep cuts to essential public safety services, when what you intend to do is to shift General Fund moneys from essential services, and use that money to fund other services. This does not mean that we will not come to the conclusion that new revenue is needed, but any new revenues must meet the test of being broad-based rather than targeted to property-owners. 


3) The process to approve new revenues based on Assessment Districts must require a majority of ‘yes’ votes. 

Currently, assessment districts are based on formulae that must achieve a majority vote. Only the “no” votes are used to determine whether a majority objects. This makes it impossible for an assessment district to be turned down by the people in the proposed district. The council must reverse this procedure and require a majority of “yes” votes to approve new assessment districts. 


4) Minimize impact of reductions and require at least 45-day notice to employees, and agencies of impending layoffs, reductions or cuts. 


5) Take no action without full discussion with employees and community and without opportunity for response from affected parties. 


In order to carry out these policies, the City Council should: 

1. Identify quickly and clearly which services are deemed essential. The public is watching and we request that you undertake this process in public, not in the privacy of the Agenda Committee, nor at a 5 p.m. “workshop” when the public isn’t watching. 

2. Institute a requirement that in new and future budget reports, various departments and divisions of the city identify programs and services for which they are responsible, number of employees (FTE) assigned to implement those programs and services and the sources of funding that each program and service depends upon. 

3. Commit to the future development of accountability standards for each of the city’s programs/services, including agencies which are funded by the city to carry out various programs, and to include a timeline for completion of each step in the development of such accountability standards. 

4. Immediately clarify the city’s policy on staff layoffs. 

The city has had a no layoff policy for years but the city manager is currently exploring voluntary and involuntary one-day-a month layoffs for non-essential employees. If the City Council wishes to maintain a no layoff policy, how will it balance the budget? If the City Council intends to lay off employees, what services, if any, does it intend to offer to those employees who are affected? 

We have reviewed the city manager’s proposed budget cuts and agree with 70 cuts totaling approximately $3,200,000 if they can be implemented prior to the new fiscal year. (Our specific recommendations have been sent to the City Council.) The city manager states in his report that most of these cuts will have little or no impact on city services. However, we strongly disagree with the city manager’s proposed cuts of an additional $2,100,000 in the police and fire departments and are very concerned about reductions in animal services, mental health services, hours at senior centers, recreation programs for youth, civic arts funding, park maintenance, graffiti abatement, zoning code enforcement, elimination of ZAB video streaming and traffic control. 


BudgetWatch signatories: Barbara Allen, Marie Bowman, Kent Brown, John Cecil, Shirley Dean, Sam Herbert, Laura Menard, Dean Metzger, Bob Migdal, Terrylynne Turner,  

Trudy Washburn