Community Development Programs to See Cutbacks

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Programs Receive Cutbacks

Stephanie Baer talks with Yousur Alhlou about the city's budget deficit.

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The Housing and Community Services Department, like most departments in the city of Berkeley, faces unprecedented financial strains in the upcoming fiscal year as the city grapples with a projected $12.5 million shortfall and external funding for community development projects dwindles.

At a Berkeley City Council special session March 22, department Director Jane Micallef outlined drastic measures to balance a projected $956,098 budget deficit for fiscal year 2012. The department makes up 8 percent of the city's gross budget.

"The consequences will be profound on our staff and the programs we fund," Micallef said at the meeting.

The deficit largely stems from cuts in federal money for block grants that support community development projects and a decrease in city funding to local community service providers.

Two-thirds of the department's budget is currently supported by state and federal grants, but until the state and federal budgets - both of which are "highly volatile," according to Micallef - are adopted, the estimated impact of the cuts will reflect the "best-case scenario." In the case of severe cuts, alternative balancing options will be presented to the council May 3.

Cuts to federal funding are based on President Barack Obama's 7.5 percent budget reduction proposal. In the "worst-case scenario," the department could experience up to 62 percent in cuts to the Community Development Block Grant, the Community Services Block Grant, weatherization programs and affordable housing initiatives, Micallef said at the meeting.

However, even the department's best-case scenario estimates are grim.

The weatherization program faces a proposed elimination come January 2012, when the current federal fiscal year contract ends, in which case five full-time positions would be eliminated. Micallef emphasized that access to program benefits would not be affected because the state is required to seek contracts with other service providers.

Moreover, the department has also proposed to cut about $141,000 to community service agencies, a reduction directly linked to the decline in revenue that has forced the city to realign and prioritize funding.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said at the meeting that he would vote against any budget proposal that included layoffs. Arreguin and Councilmember Kriss Worthington said the city should partner with unions and community members to produce creative alternatives.

"The public is going to suffer and the employees are going to suffer, and so figuring out a fair way to balance this is really critical for us to focus on," Worthington said at the meeting.

One balancing measure that would directly impact the city's elderly community is the proposed conversion of the West Berkeley Senior Center - one of three centers in the city that provides hot lunches, weekly classes and case management sessions - into a supportive service center to assist seniors with everyday medical needs.

The center serves fewer residents on average - up to 45 daily - compared with its counterparts in South and North Berkeley, which serve up to 210 daily, according to Kelly Wallace, manager of the department's Aging Services Division.

The conversion will help save the city about $300,000 over the next two fiscal years. In exchange, the city will facilitate transportation between the centers and expand services at the other centers, according to Wallace.

"Part of this decision was to directly impact as few people as possible," Wallace said.


Yousur Alhlou covers city government. Contact her at [email protected]

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