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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