City Council Set to Pass Budget By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday June 28, 2005

On Tuesday the City Council will have one last chance to “Save the Safety Net”. 

For the past few months that has been the rallying cry for community agencies facing their third straight year of cuts. 

At this week’s council meeting push comes to shove as the council must adopt its fiscal year 2006 budget. Councilmembers on the left are pushing for funding the agencies with an additional $600,000 from money set aside for capital projects like fixing streets, while a majority of councilmembers have been hesitant to reallocate the money. 

“I’m sure we’ll do a little horse trading to see if we can come up with a budget we can all live with,” said Max Anderson, who has pushed for more funding to the agencies, which serve low income residents. 

Berkeley must close an $8.9 million deficit in its general fund this year. To balance the budget, city departments and community agencies that rely on city money have faced budget cuts that average 10 percent. 

But while the city continues to cut back to balance its structural budget deficit, rising revenue from property transfers have left the city with a $3.5 million windfall. Following the advice of City Manager Phil Kamlarz, the council has set aside most of the money for projects that don’t typically have recurring costs, including a new police dispatch system and new technology to improve customer service. 

On Friday, Mayor Tom Bates released his latest proposal on how to allocate the roughly $800,000 that is still in play in the city’s $261 million budget. 

The mayor’s amended proposal restored some money to the agencies, but also preserved several city programs. He called for keeping an animal control officer position slated for elimination, setting aside an extra $10,000 for detoxification programs, including a city-funded acupuncture program, and adding an extra $1,000 to RISE, a mentoring program for local high school students.  

Bates also proposed a review of fire department service and staffing before the end of the year, and doubling the amount of civic arts grants immediately available. 

Overall the mayor proposed spending $397,724 when the fiscal year begins in July and spending an additional $405,853 in December if revenues from property transfers remain strong. 

Dona Spring, an advocate of fully funding the agencies, said the mayor “has done an admirable job, but didn’t go far enough to restore the safety net.” 

“I’d like to see us do better with small non-profits that help the neediest people in Berkeley,” she said. 

Berkeley is one of few cities that directly fund community agencies. As the city’s budget deficit has soared in recent years, the agencies have faced cutbacks. 

Last year, the city cut agency by roughly $400,000. 

With Berkeley flush from unanticipated money from property transfers, Spring, along with councilmembers Darryl Moore, Kriss Worthington and Anderson have called for the city to drop most of the roughly $600,000 in cuts scheduled for the agencies. 

Spring said she would propose transferring $500,000 the council set aside for street repair and customer service upgrades to fund the agencies. 

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli said he would back the mayor’s proposal and press the agencies to consolidate their operations so they could deliver services more efficiently. 

Also Tuesday, the council will again consider a proposal from Mayor Bates and Councilmember Worthington to require public review before the council acts on a settlement for land use litigation. Specifically the proposal calls for confidentiality agreements the city enters into to include provisions for public review of proposed settlements. 

The proposal is in response to the recent settlement of a lawsuit between the city and UC Berkeley. In that case a confidentiality agreement prevented the council from releasing details of the settlement until it was final. 

Last week the council held over the proposal because it did not have enough time to debate it. 

Also, the council will consider a proposal to use money received from the sale of surplus property to bolster the city’s affordable housing trust fund. Earlier this year the council earmarked all of the money in the fund over the next several years for future projects. The city has proposed selling its former health office at 2344 Sixth St. valued at $2.4 million.