City Council Meeting Tonight: Five Budget Proposals and Lots More — It’s Going to Be A Long Night

City Council holds a special meeting tonight at 5:00 p.m., and it’s going to be very long one. Council will be deliberating over the Mayor’s Budget Proposal and the additional proposals of Council President Gibson Mcelhaney’s proposals and additional proposals by CMs Brooks, Guillen and Gallo. Also before Council will be CM Brooks’ proposed establishment of a Department of Race and Equity and alternate proposals by the Mayor and Council President Gibson Mcelhaney. Many of the reports were only issued at the end of last week, and Make Oakland Better Now! is  still evaluating the Mayor’s budget and some seven other reports.  Our initial reactions to CM budget proposals, however, are discussed in our letter today to Council:

June 22, 2015

Oakland City Council President Lynette Gibson Mcelhaney, and Members of the Oakland City Council

Re: June 22 Council Meeting Budget Deliberations,                                                                      Agenda Items 10 and 11                       

Dear President Gibson Mcelhaney and City Council Members:

Make Oakland Better Now! is a citizens’ advocacy group supporting public safety, public works, transparency and accountability in government and budget reform in the City of Oakland.

As we have during each recent two year budget cycle, we are closely monitoring this cycle’s budget process.  With a number of council member proposals having only recently been posted, our evaluation is still in process. However, we do have some initial responses which we will share with you before tonight’s meeting.

Public Safety: The city’s budget priority poll late last year showed what every poll within memory has shown:  that Oaklanders’ number one concern is public safety. This is scarcely a surprise in a city that remains one of the most violent in California (and where serious crime is actually up 5% over last year). We recognize that there are multiple elements to public safety.  However, we have seen no polling that would support, for example, allocation of resources for additional City Council staffing, council member-sponsored festivals, or banner design and fabrication.

As supporters of civilianization and increased investigative capacity, we applaud the proposed additions of police evidence technicians and crime analysts.

However, we are very concerned about the proposal to eliminate the Deputy City Attorney III position for NSA compliance. The recent Swanson report makes it clear how essential this position is to help bring our Police Department and City out from under the ongoing financial burden court oversight. That position will surely be required once court supervision ends to ensure that the NSA-related reforms are sustainable.

We also question the realism of an arbitrary cut to police overtime. We join with council, with the administration, with command staff and, quite frankly, rank and file police in their concern about the heavy burden of police overtime and ongoing overruns of the overtime budget. The department has examined and reported on the causes of this overtime, and until we address those causes – primarily severe departmental understaffing – an arbitrary, budgetary reduction is not reality based.

Fiscal Sustainability:

As shown by the Mayor’s budget, and in multiple reports received by Council over the past few years, Oakland’s long-term liabilities are crushing and have to be faced. The OPEB unfunded liability for contractually required, earned retiree health benefits is close to half a billion dollars. Negative fund balances with no source of reimbursement – which threaten the City’s bond rating – are nearly $76 million.

In past budget cycles, Council has enacted last-minute changes to its fiscal policies that steered the city away from responsibly addressing its debt (by, for example, increasing the availability of one-time funds to meet ongoing expenses instead of to reduce accrued liabilities). Accordingly, we are concerned to see several proposals from Council members to eliminate the proposed pay-down of negative fund balances and reduction of the unfunded OPEB liability. We are also concerned to see proposed reliance on revenue sources that do not yet exist (e.g., an as yet non-existent cannabis producer’s tax), or which the administration believes are unrealistic (e.g., the proposed increase to business tax revenue).  The long-term success of our city depends on a prudent management of the city’s financial obligations and a reality-based projection of revenues.

We will be corresponding and speaking further with you when we complete our analysis of all proposals. We wish you the best in your deliberations.

Sincerely,

Make Oakland Better Now!

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