City Officials Propose Cutting 77 Positions to Counter Budget Woes

Photo: City Manager Phil Kamlarz listens to Rachel Kane, 18, discuss the importance of the Peer Health Education program.
Skyler Reid/Staff
City Manager Phil Kamlarz listens to Rachel Kane, 18, discuss the importance of the Peer Health Education program.

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Berkeley city officials proposed a plan Tuesday to eliminate 77 positions across departments in order to combat a projected overall deficit of $16.2 million next fiscal year.

Of the positions being cut-the majority from public health and public works sectors-47 are currently vacant and the remaining 30 are filled.

The budget plan reduces expenditures by about $11.9 million-including the 77 position eliminations-and relies on $4.3 million in new revenues. Since labor costs account for 77 percent of the city's expenses, it is difficult to make significant cuts without reducing positions, the plan said.

Due to expected but unprecedented increases in costs and sharp losses in multiple tax streams-including property, sales and hotel taxes-City Manager Phil Kamlarz forecasted a $6.5 million deficit in the general fund alone. The city also faces a nearly $4 million hit from the refuse fund and a $2.7 million shortfall in public health.

"It's one of the biggest deficits ... (and) staff reductions we've faced in years," said Tracy Vesely, city budget manager. "To us it felt horrible, but when you compare to other cities it doesn't feel as bad."

Tom Manheim, communications director for the city of San Jose, said San Jose-which has an overall budget of $1.37 billion with a projected deficit of $118.5 million-will eliminate about 967 positions across departments in the next fiscal year.

He added that in the past years, the city has eliminated more vacant positions than filled ones, but in this round of cuts, only 323 positions are vacant.

Kamlarz said the city will see some impacts to community services as a result of the elimination of positions.

In the Public Health Division, a total of 18.25 positions, five of which are vacant, will be eliminated under the plan to save $2.2 million in expenses. The plan estimates a 30 percent reduction in the number of residents served as a result of the cuts.

During the public comment period, Sandra Lewis, treasurer for the SEIU Local 1021, stepped up to the podium with roughly five other union members and urged the council to discuss other cost-saving measures with the union.

"We want to be able to help with this deficit," she said. "We are asking for the council's assistance in moving these conversations forward because time is ticking. We want to save the services."

Councilmember Max Anderson said working with unions to reduce the number of layoffs would help to "fiscally and emotionally absorb the magnitude of these impacts."

"I think that's an offer we can never refuse and we never will obviously," Anderson said.

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said by reducing benefits for employees, the city can afford to keep more employees.

"It's a real tragedy we have to lay people off," he said. "There are other ways that are a bit more complicated."

Wozniak said the Public Health Division is absorbing a bulk of the costs because its funding comes primarily from state grants, which have been reduced in light of the state's own-and much worse-budget woes.

"There's no way that the general fund can make that up," he said. "It's not a Band-Aid."

While the city has until June 22 to adopt its budget, Vesely said the plan will likely undergo many revisions.

"The city of Berkeley to date has done an exceptional job at managing its budget," she said. "We're getting some indication that things might be improving but very, very slowly."


Stephanie Baer is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected]

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