With the nation’s attention focused on the national credit crisis and President George Bush’s proposed $700 billion bailout package, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums released his proposals to address Oakland’s fiscal crisis, a $37.4 million shortfall in the 2008-09 budget.
In presentations to a City Hall press conference Friday and four days later to a special budget session of the Oakland City Council, Dellums proposed $13 million in revenue increases and $15 million in staff cuts and fund transfers, as well as saying that the remaining $10 million deficit could be closed either by a once-per-week city business shutdown or 120 additional layoffs. The mayor said he is not proposing reneging on his promise to fully staff the 803 Oakland Police Department uniformed positions by the end of the year. “We made a promise at the beginning of the year and we’re going to keep it,” the mayor said.
Among the proposed revenue increases would be hikes in parking-meter rates, parking-citation fines, and street-sweeping citations.
The mayor is also proposing that a separate $5 million deficit in the city’s Landscaping and Lighting Assessment District Fund be closed by eliminating 46 budgeted staff positions, including 34 staff layoffs.
Oakland City Council has tentatively scheduled discussions on Dellums’ proposed 2008-09 budget cuts for this Friday, Oct. 10, 10 a.m., at the Lakeside Garden Center and Thursday, Oct. 16, 4 p.m., at a location to be determined. Adoption of the budget changes is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 21, 6 p.m., at City Council Chambers in Oakland City Hall.
Dellums has left little doubt that the councilmembers have a difficult task ahead of them.
At a standing-room-only Friday afternoon press conference packed with media representatives, anxious city workers, and at least two city councilmembers, the mayor spoke for 35 minutes on the budget details, without any documentation in front of him, indicating the depth of his involvement in the budget process. Acting City Manager and mayoral budget director Dan Lindheim stood nearby but did not speak, and only once briefly came over to the mayor to give him any information. Dellums has been facing charges in some media outlets, particularly by San Francisco Chronicle East Bay columnist Chip Johnson, that he has not been “fully engaged” in his work as mayor. In addition, local developer Phil Tagami last week called for the mayor to begin turning in a time sheet, charging that the mayor was not regularly turning in a 40-hour week. As if to answer those charges, Dellums tapped his head, and said, “I don’t have any notes. I’ve got it all up here.”
The mayor said his budget adjustments were made in close consultation with councilmembers and city staff representatives.
“I can sum up our situation in one sentence,” the mayor said. “Oakland is living beyond its means.” Dellums said that his administration inherited “long-term, systematic, historical structural problems with the budget,” including carrying over fund liability deficits for years.
“We all know the stories about emergency requests coming in to the city for $2 million for some program or other, and the administrator saying there’s no money in the budet,” Dellums said, “and then the administrator going back and working the figures and then—just like magic—coming back in a week with the $2 million.”
“But we’ve only been robbing Peter to pay Paul,” the mayor said, saying it was borrowing from future budgets to pay for current needs. “This cannot continue to happen. We’ve got to stop engaging in this ‘magic.’ ‘Magic’ is what got us into this problem. There is no ‘magic.’ It’s all over.”
The mayor said as soon as the current budget-deficit problem is addressed, he will move forward in the next budget cycle with proposals to end the city’s process of carrying over structural fund deficits.
A spokesperson for the Service Employees International Union, which represents many of Oakland’s city workers, said the union was “concerned about the lack of city service delivery based upon the limited alternatives suggested by the mayor. We have other alternatives that don’t necessarily limit city services.”
At a packed Tuesday evening City Council meeting filled largely with city workers represented by Local 1021 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the mayor’s proposals were received by somber councilmembers who must make the final decision on where the cuts will take place.
“I’m glad we’re being told the truth [about the dire budget situation],” Councilmember Pat Kernighan said. “I know we haven’t been told the truth for a long time. We’ve been given a rosy scenario.”
Kernighan called the budget situation “a sad day for Oakland.”
Councilmember Jean Quan, chair of the council Finance Committee agreed, adding that “nobody’s going to be happy in the end.”
At least two councilmembers indicated that they may turn their attention to Oakland’s police services budget, which Dellums left largely untouched in his proposals.
“Police overtime has caused some of the problem,” Councilmember Jane Brunner said. And Councilmember Desley Brooks said, “It looks like we’re bankrupting the rest of the city for public safety. We’re saying that law enforcement can’t do it by themselves, but if you look at our budget, we’re turning over most of our resources to the police.”
Brooks said, “I know the mayor agrees with me that we have to have a comprehensive solution to our public safety problems.”
Local 1021 workers insisted that wherever the cuts ultimately come, it shouldn’t be at the expense of city workers and city services.
Oakland's Budget Deficit at a Glance
The 2008-09 problem
$37.4 million shortfall in the current budget year general fund.
$5 million shortfall in the Landscaping and Lighting Assessment District Fund (LLAD).
Dellums' 2008-09 solutions
$13 million in revenue increases, including limited-duration increases in non-moving traffic violation fines.
$5 million in various fund transfers and reductions (no effect on services or personnel).
$5 million in hiring freezes and elimination of vacant positions.
$4 million in layoffs of 50 city employees.
Total savings: $27.4 million.
$5 million in cuts to LLAD services, including 46 position cuts, closing some smaller parks, and reductions in some services to parks and street light repairs.
Council's $10 million alternatives
Mayor suggested City Council could:
Shut city services down one day a week through the end of the fiscal year.
Lay off 120 city workers.
Some combination of the two.