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Council Passes Budget, Raises Parking Fines

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday June 25, 2009 - 06:40:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council adopted its two year-biennial budget Tuesday night, with the caveat—now becoming the standard refrain of the day—that the results of currently ongoing state budget action will mean that Berkeley will be tinkering with its finances into the fall. Since no one expects that the results of the Sacramento deliberations will be more money going back to local governments in California, this will mean that Berkeley’s budget adjustments will either be cutbacks or revenue increases, or some combination of the two. 

“The budget does not account for the full brunt of the effects of state action,” Budget Manager Tracey Veseley told the City Council Tuesday night. “We need to be prepared for that.” 

For the time being, Berkeley is running on a $299.7 million total operating budget for fiscal year 2009 ($138 million in general funds), with a $17 million decrease in total operating funds and a $6 million increase in general funds for the following year. 

Most of the details of the budget have been in place for several weeks. 

In order to balance the budget, for the second time this year the council raised across-the-board parking fines by $5 per citation. Fines for most overtime parking violations will jump from $35 to $40, while no parking zone violations will go from $56 to $61. 

And as part of its preparation for expected state cutbacks, the council will consider three other parking-related fee increases—raising the meter rate by 25 cents, adding meters to new areas, and a 15-percent residential preferred parking fee increase—in the coming weeks. 

While supporting the parking fine increase, Councilmember Gordon Wozniak asked staff to come back with recommendations for a possible break on the sharp increase in fines when motorists fail to pay their parking tickets on time. The current $35 fine adds a $30 penalty after payment is 28 days late, another $50 after 47 days late, bringing the total possible fine to $115. Wozniak said that the late-fee increase made Berkeley “worse than credit card companies.” 

Councilmember Susan Wengraf said that the parking fine increase was a “temporary” response to the state budget cutbacks to local governments, saying that in a “good faith gesture,” the city “should let people know that this is a temporary measure, and we will lower the fee when the state returns the money to us.” 

But City Manager Phil Kamlarz threw cold water on that idea, saying that it is “unlikely that the state will ever give the money back.” 

In other action at Tuesday night’s meeting, the council postponed until the next meeting—at Kamlarz’ request—setting the direction for regulation of Berkeley’s wireless telecommunications (cell phone) facilities.