Three Days in May: Emeryville Budget Gets Hashed Out in Series of Meetings

June 2, 2012
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City Staff to Bring Revised Budget to City Council June 5

Citizens, city staffers, and city council members wrestled with Emeryville’s next budget during three workshops held at City Hall on May 21, May 22, and May 23.  There’s a difference between plowing through the 245-page draft budget, as members of the Finance Advisory Committee did in April, and listening to the give-and-take between city department heads, city council members, residents, and other interested parties featured in these workshops.  Both experiences taught me a lot, and the two together were invaluable.  Let me share some impressions of what I’ve learned:

City Manager Patrick O’Keefe and Treasurer Karen Reid stressed that the next budget is profoundly different than those of past decades.  Redevelopment Agency (RDA) funds are gone, about $30 million in total.  Mayor Jennifer West said, in essence, that the Redevelopment Agency driven boom growth days are over; we now need to concentrate on sustaining a vibrant and livable city with the means still available.   That’s a good starting place for making sense of the budget now under development.

City staff, which peaked at 183, will now be 147 strong.  The biggest reduction comes from the transfer of 27 fire fighters from the city to Alameda County, a move that Kevin Johnston, our Fire Chief, describes as “win-win” for the city because it saves money—about $2.6 million over five years– and improves services.  We will still have two fully manned stations, a fully staffed headquarters unit, a new regionally integrated disaster preparedness scheme, better training programs, binding contracts for support services from neighboring fire units, and other enhancements.

But not all staffing news is this positive.  A hard decision was made to eliminate 4.5 other staffers, including a respected Community Preservation Officer and an admired arts coordinator, this despite eloquent testimony regarding their talents and past services.  Hard times, serious losses.

All of the city’s department heads presented lean budgets:

  • Planning - Planning and Building, a department little affected by the loss of Redevelopment Agency (RDA) funding, still presented the lowest budget request in 10 years, with Planning Director Charlie Bryant stressing the need to protect funding for support of the city’s General Plan.
  • City Attorney - In the absence of Redevelopment Agency business, City Attorney Michael Biddle’s office will cede the Assistant City Attorney’s post.
  • Finance – The Finance Division’s Karen Reid proposed a budget that should save the city about $100,000.
  • Public Works – Public Works’ Maurice Kaufman reported steep reduction in Capital Improvement Projects—often RDA driven in the past—but promised action on sewers, sidewalk repairs, Marina dredging, trees, and maintenance programs, among other things.
  • Police – Police Chief Ken James presented a “status quo” budget, despite staffing shortfalls and an increase in crime (arrests up from 833 to 976 in the past year).  Understaffing could drive an increase in overtime for the Department.  The Chief says he’s “hopeful” about keeping the lid on overtime, but not entirely “confident” about being able to do so.  He’s at work trying to solve staffing problems.
  • Administrative Services -  It’s lean times but, more or less, business as usual for the city’s Administrative Services division and for those parts of the budget supporting the City Council, City Manager, and City Clerk.Finally, subject to negotiations, the city will spend less on lobbying in the next two years.
  • Economic Development and Housing – Two things stand out about reports from Economic Development and Housing Department head Helen Bean, and Melinda Chin of the Community Services Department.  Bean stated that affordable family housing tops the list of her department’s goals in deploying funds left after the loss of Redevelopment Agency support.  That’s good news and a good priority.  As affordable family housing goes, so, to some degree, go our schools.
  • Community Services - From Chin came the request for three new teachers, an education supervisor, and an expanded salary range for the Director of Emeryville’s Child Development Center (ECDC).  The ECDC Advisory Committee and city staffers were united behind the request, and the City Council voted 5-0 to endorse it.  Here’s another investment in the city’s future that should pay dividends.

I was also pleased to see City Council, staff, and public support for Community Promotions Grants, for ECAP, for the Rebuilding Together program, and for Emeryville’s Celebration of the Arts, all of which are still alive in the new budget.  So too is funding for city park amenities.  These are not big ticket items, but each plays a role in keeping our city vibrant.

The three days in May saw many other issues raised, debated, and dealt with or delayed.  Further, nothing is yet fixed and final, even regarding some of the items discussed above.  City staffers are now at work responding to the decisions/directions the budget workshops produced. They will bring a revised budget to Council on June 5, and the City Council will approve a final, two-year budget on June 19th.   How we spend our diminished resources affects us all.  Stay tuned in and stay in touch.

A few last words: I find the sweat equity and professionalism city staffers have put into developing the budget impressive; I find equally impressive the poking and prodding the City Council and members of the public gave their work.  I certainly don’t agree with all said or done so far in the process, but messy and difficult as it’s been, on balance it adds up to a reasonable display of local democracy.   Let’s hope we all can live gracefully with the final product, the 2013-2014  Budget for the City of Emeryville.

Bill Reuter is a Resident Member and Chair, Finance Advisory Committee, City of Emeryville

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3 Responses to Three Days in May: Emeryville Budget Gets Hashed Out in Series of Meetings

  1. Joe on June 3, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    I wish it was so, but this is a case of one individual clearly invested in seeing the City maintain status quo, spinning a tale. I watched the whole budget proceedings on the video stream and I saw something entirely different. The citizens and staff implored the City managers to be creative and fair in shaping a new budget, and to keep staff with a lot of outpouring of support for the arts, code compliance and a housing person. There is not one MANAGER who is being cut, and doesn’t look as if the City tried to implement furloughs or four day work weeks. It doesn’t seem smart to cut the people delivering services or to cut popular programs that give this town a strong identity. What I see in Emeryville is people like Mr. Reuter helping the management protect their expensive pensions and their “vision” for a city that will be more of a suburb. It is not over yet. There are two more budget meetings on June 5 and 19 when the real vote will be cast. Try as he might like his comrades in management, Mr. Reuter isn’t going to decide for the people of Emeryville. I take great offense at the tone of his piece that this is a complete process. I would say if he is that biased he should consider resigning from his position. We need fair and unbiased people in civic roles. Not suck ups to the people who are feathering their nests/pensions.

    Joe

  2. Joe on June 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Let me just add that the final decision is up to this Oversight board. It seems like more of this feathering the nest by letting the high paid Redevelopment Director to sit on this board. Of course she will try and eliminate any other positions except her own. Why not replace her right away with the code compliance person that people seem to really respect? WE NEED TO DEMAND FAIRNESS. Otherwise, not tomorrow or even next year, but when two or three years when this director (who looks in her early or mid sixties) retires, along with the City Manager we will be paying hefty pensions and benefits, and they will be long gone. Let us keep the hardworking people in the front lines who are making decent but reasonable salaries, delivering services that we need and want, and cut this emerging top heavy bureaucracy!

  3. shirley enomoto on June 6, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    i agree with joe that the city should retain lesser paid, hard working employees such as those in the department of public works but i disagree strongly that he considers mr. reuter a “suck-up,” a description i abhor seeing in a public forum. i thought the article was fair and objective. nowhere did i see any statement about mr. reuter “feathering the nests of pensions.”

    perhaps joe started writing his opinion with an agenda already in mind? applying for a seat on this committee or any committee takes great sacrifice and many, many hours of research and reading, not to mention knowledge of finance.

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