Budget Bits No. 6 – Our First Take on The Mayor’s Proposed Budget

Yesterday, Mayor Schaaf released her proposed budget with a televised press conference and a “Budget Beer Bash” at Oakland’s Linden Street Brewery. The budget will be presented to City Council on Tuesday, May 5 at 5:00 p.m.  It must ultimately be passed by Council, and will be the subject of much debate, and almost certainly significant amendment over the next two months. Make Oakland Better Now! will be diving deeply into its almost 400 pages and publishing a good deal of analysis in the coming weeks. But here are some of our first impressions:

  • Police staffing: We are, of course, pleased to see the mayor budgeting for three police academies in the first year, two in the second, and an increase of forty more officers, taking us to 762. The mayor’s stated goal is to get the department to 800 by the end of her first term. We support this with three caveats: First, 800 is not the goal. When we get to 800, we need to have a resource allocation study to find out how many officers we really need (the mayor committed to this during her campaign), and follow the results of that study where it leads us. Second, if Oakland finds grants or other alternate funding sources for officers, the department rebuilding process should be sped up. And third, Oakland needs to design and implement a plan to significantly reduce its attrition rate. The city assumes a loss of 6 officers per month to retirement, transfer, resignation and termination. Reducing this number to 4 would save the city more than $2 million per year in recruitment and training.
  • Operation Ceasefire: We applaud the mayor’s support for ten case managers for the City’s Operation Ceasefire strategy. When we supported Measure Z, we did so in part because it required support for violence prevention and intervention strategies directed at youth and young adults shown by data analysis to be most likely involved in violence. No strategy more closely meets this requirement than Operation Ceasefire, and there will be other aspects of this strategy that also need Measure Z resources.
  • Unfunded Liabilities: The mayor proposes placing $20 million  toward the unfunded or all but unfunded OPEB (retiree health benefits)  and CALPERS (pensions). This is positive, although we agree with the mayor that it is not enough.
  • Negative Fund Balances: The City has more than 60 funds with negative balances, resulting from overspending, under-recovery and cost increases outpacing revenue growth. These funds cost interest and must be repaid. Many, but not all, are on payment plans. We support the mayor’s budget proposal to use some one-time fund sources to pay down three of those balances. This will reduce the total owed from nearly $20 million to $13 million and eliminate significant interest payments.
  • Department of Transportation: One of Make Oakland Better Now!’s missions is to improve public works, and we have been very concerned about the state of Oakland’s streets and sidewalks. If this means a shake-up in those improvements and a more aggressive approach, it will be a positive development.
  • Increased Civlianization of Police Functions: The police department requested funding to add 34 or more civilian positions, including 12 to take over functions (public information officer, property and facilities supervisors, 911 center supervision, others) presently performed by officers. Total cost of this was at least $3.8 million for year, and it is hardly a surprise they were not included in the budget. However, we believe the mayor and city administrator need to be on the lookout for ways to civilianize more positions.
  • Rainy Day Fund: In the Mayor and City Administrator’s introductory letter, they point out that although the City’s “New Rainy Day Policy” takes effect this budget cycle, there is no requirement that rainy day funds be set aside, because there is no projected Real Estate Transfer Tax. This demonstrates why Oakland needs a charter-based Rainy Day Fund requirement with regular required contributions.

We’ll have many more observations in the days and weeks ahead, so Oaklanders should stay with us.

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