Berkeley City Council renewed approximately $199,296 in funding for annual YMCA fitness memberships for city employees at its meeting Tuesday night.
The city has offered memberships to employees at the Downtown Berkeley YMCA since 1989, and according to the agenda item, the city labor contract is required to cover 75 percent of the membership fees while city employees pay 25 percent of the total membership amount.
According to YMCA Membership Services Director Albert Chan, though the number of memberships has dropped from 357 to 346 in the last fiscal year, the city will now pay $48 per membership, up $1.50 from last year due to hikes in fees at the YMCA.
“We are contractually obligated to provide the benefit,” said city spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross. “It’s already built into the budget that was adopted a couple weeks ago, so it’s not new funding.”
At its June 26 meeting, the council unanimously voted to adopt the biennial city budget update to close an estimated $1.8 million deficit for the upcoming year, allowing fiscal year 2013 to begin with a balanced budget.
According to the city budget update report, the budget gap will be closed through loan adjustments and cost reductions, some of which might lead to eliminating approximately 22 full-time equivalent city staff positions.
But according to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, paying for employees’ memberships is insignificant in comparison to Berkeley’s greater financial issues such as the city’s structural deficit.
“We absolutely need to address the issues of our structural deficit and try to reduce our complaints and liabilities (from employees),” Arreguin said. “But taking away this benefit in itself is not going to solve the problem.”
In general, Berkeley residents themselves are advocates for employee benefits like YMCA memberships.
“Cities are in this very difficult position of having to make these tough choices of programs that are totally necessary,” said Sally Hindman, executive director of Youth Spirit Artworks, a program that recently received cuts to its funding from the city. “I think our energy needs to go to the systemic changes that are needed, and not on attacking decent programs for the middle class.”
However, Councilmember Gordon Wozniak said he does not believe such benefits are necessary under the current budget circumstances for the city.
“I oppose the city subsidizing its employee memberships in the YMCA at this time when the city is cutting back on vital services, reducing staffing as well as reducing funding for community programs,” Wozniak said in an email. “City of Berkeley employees are well paid and can afford to pay for their gym memberships.”
Assistant news editor Anjuli Sastry contributed to this report.