Berkeley Council Worksession Discusses Reduced Schedules for Employees, Cuts to Berkeley Mental Health

By Charlotte Perry-Houts
Thursday December 09, 2010 - 10:30:00 PM

Berkeley City Council held a worksession this Tuesday night, hearing a budget update for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2011 and an assessment and action plan of the Berkeley Mental Health Division. No action was taken by the Council. 

The big concern regarding the budget is that the city's reserves, typically maintained at at least 8% of the general fund revenue, have been reduced to 7%. The reserves are kept to cushion losses incurred from state and federal revenue losses, support city operations during emergencies, address one-time priority programs, and generally provide flexibility. Last fiscal year, $2.5 million was taken from the reserve to pay for a deficit in the general fund, the result of a continuing decline in revenue since the economic crisis hit. 

To reduce expenditures, the City has instated a hiring freeze and “Voluntary Time Off” days (VTOs). VTOs are said to delay lay-offs from happening, but may not be a sustainable program for saving money, and additional cuts are likely to be necessary. VTOs are primarily affecting administrative and professional staff, but several programs are being affected. The senior center is closed on the fourth Friday of each month, and many offices used by residents are overcrowded before and after VTOs. 

The Berkeley Mental Health Department is one of many programs being affected by the lack of funds. BMH serves 600 residents of Berkeley and Albany and provides MediCal services to all of Alameda County. The department currently owes the State $6 million, and is trying to become fiscally sustainable by reducing its expenditures by $2 million this Fiscal Year. 

The report given to the Council, based on a study conducted by Management Partners Consulting, Inc. explained that the main goals of BMH are to internally reorganize staff resources and create a mutually beneficial contract with Alameda County. While state-wide, most public mental health systems are administered by counties, Berkeley Mental Health is operated by the City of Berkeley. It does not receive funding from the City of Albany, even though it serves 100 Albany residents. 

Based on the demographic that BMH currently serves, there is concern that women, Latinos, and Asians may be under-served. Councilmember Worthington and one public commentator each expressed concern that, in reducing BMH's expenditures, many patients in need of care could be preemptively screened out. 

In the midst of the financial troubles facing the Berkeley Mental Health Department, its employees are doing their best. Andy Belknap, the Regional Vice President of Management Partners Consulting, Inc., said of his experience studying the Department, “The caring and motivation of [Berkeley's] mental health employees would rank I'm sure in the top 1%. They really, really want to do a good job for their clients.”