Last night, the City Council began the painful process of hashing out a budget for the next two years. The city is facing a $4 million deficit next year, and things aren’t looking any better for the foreseeable future.
City Manager Debra Kurita asked every city department head to present a budget that includes an 8 percent cut (except for police and fire, which were asked to make about a 4 percent cut, and planning and building, which has to pay for itself already). The cuts being considered include rolling fire station closures, reduced library hours, fewer staff for the city’s parks and cuts to summer playground programs.
City officials are also considering a bevy of new taxes and fees, including new ambulance service and fire inspection fees, an increase in the property transfer tax (paid when a property is sold) and possibly, another parcel tax.
Not surprisingly, the folks on the City Council weren’t thrilled with their choices, which included borrowing money to help pay the city’s operating costs. They were even less thrilled with some of the city’s underperforming resources, including the Alameda Naval Air Station (which the city still does not, in fact, own) and the Chuck Corica Golf Center, which has burned through much of what was once a pretty healthy reserve and is facing a $700,000 deficit this year (they’re slated to lose their unfilled general manager position, golf services manager and a maintenance worker). The council also considered jettisoning the historic Meyers House Museum.
Nearly three dozen firefighters were on hand to show their opposition to the proposed fire cuts; the department would lose two staffers and also $820,000 in overtime, causing the station closures. “This proposal has dramatic impacts to the health and safety to the citizens of this town,” Domenick Weaver of the firefighters’ union said.
Robb Ratto, head of the Park Street Business Association, also came out to strongly support public safety, which uses about 60 percent of the city’s $75.4 million general fund budget (the total budget for next year is estimated at $307.1 million). His plan for raising revenues? Sponsorships. (Think Washington Park sponsored by Wonder Bread. He said it. No lie.) “How much would Coca-Cola or Pepsi possibly pay to have their logo on every mat at the driving range? You don’t know unless you go ask them,” he said.
The council will move forward with this enjoyable process with meetings on June 5 and 9. If you are a brave soul who wants to look through 119 pages of budget documents, they’re here.