Despite Balanced Budget, City Officials Call for More Planning

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City of Berkeley officials say the budget of the 2009 year is balanced but long-term planning must be done and funding secured in order to account for anticipated future state and federal funding deficits.

As part of the city's two-year budget process, city staff presented to City Council an update on the city's 2009 budget yesterday. The budget will be officially adopted in late June.

The budget is projected to be balanced for 2009, with the total city budget at $314.7 million. City staff said the 2009 budget must be balanced by reducing expenditures and raising revenue in order to plan for significant state funding cuts expected in the future for police, health and transportation.

"The state will certainly pull the plug on some of these programs," said Tracy Vesely, the city's budget manager.

With a state budget deficit of $20 billion and a federal deficit of $500 billion, it is inevitable that the deficits will impact Berkeley, although the amount is undeterminable right now, Vesely said.

"When we approach 2010 or 2011, (with) a structural deficit creeping back up again, we might need to make reductions of up to about $2 million," she said.

To balance the fire department's expected $1.9 million annual spending, the report suggests funding an additional $700,000 for overtime staff. Fire staffing is seen as a critical program due to vacancies which result in more overtime staffing. The fire department's spending cost was expected to be only $1.2 million.

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said the need to provide the additional $700,000 is "worrisome," and city staff and fire union officials need to look for alternative solutions.

City Manager Phil Kamlarz said a ballot tax measure in

November to support the fire department could help the spending problems.

But he said if it doesn't pass, rotating closures could also be considered.

Some council members expressed concern over the possibility of rotating closures.

Councilmember Linda Maio called for a need to assess response times to determine how much of a risk residents experience due to rotating closures.

The city is in good condition overall because of greater revenue than expected, Vesely said. Although it was estimated last June that the city's revenue would be $137.9 million, it is projected to be $140.9 million.

Because it has so far surpassed its goal, the city will look toward moving some of the extra funds to projects in 2009, Kamlarz said.

Kamlarz said Berkeley is also more fortunate than other cities in the East Bay because it is not experiencing a dramatic decline in the housing market.

The first public hearing for the budget will occur just prior to May 20 City Council meeting.


Jane Shin covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]

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