City Council to vote on budget proposals











With the Berkeley City Council set to adopt a city budget at its meeting Tuesday, a number of employee layoffs and reductions to city programs may result.

The city is looking at eliminating about 79 positions — some of which are already vacant — over the next two years in order to cope with a projected $12.2 million deficit in the next fiscal year — down about $4 million from last year — as suggested by the biennial budget proposal recommended by City Manager Phil Kamlarz, which was presented to the council May 3.

Since that time, Kamlarz said the impact of the layoffs have been somewhat mitigated through attrition.

At the June 14 city council meeting, an agreement was announced with the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 — which represents the city’s maintenance and clerical workers. Under the agreement, a two-tiered pension system will be established along with the deferral of a 4 percent pay increase the union was scheduled to receive by 2012.

“Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is mitigate the layoffs,” said City Budget Manager Teresa Berkeley-Simmons. “We don’t want to have any layoffs if at all possible.”

Though Berkeley-Simmons said the city has been doing everything it can to minimize the amount of layoffs that actually occur, she said there will be positions eliminated. Last year, the city deferred 30 of 77 proposed layoffs through reduced work schedules and voluntary time off.

But the city manager’s proposals are not the only options on the table.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington is one of several on the council who have submitted  budgetary recommendations. Worthington’s recommendations propose cutting some of  the city’s overtime pay funds to alleviate proposed cuts to its social service programs.

“I think there’s about a dozen key programs that need just a little bit of money and I think we can keep all of those things going,” Worthington said.

In conjunction with Councilmember Darryl Moore, Worthington has compiled a recommendation regarding Berkeley’s Warm Water Pool, which is slated to close later this year. Worthington and Moore have recommended the preparation of a report regarding the therapeutic benefits of warm pools and recommendations for a new warm pool, as well as pre-bond planning for all four of the city’s pools.

In all of this, uncertainty in the amount of state funding may require additional adjustments in the city’s budget down the road, Kamlarz said.

Especially susceptible to further state cuts, Kamlarz said, is the city’s health department. The Public Health Divsion will already be decreasing clinic and case management services under the proposed budget.

“We don’t know what that all means yet,” he said. “Nothing’s specific.”

Contributing significantly to the city’s overall budgetary woes is the rising cost of health care and pension. Health care rates risen about 70 percent since fiscal year 2005. Furthermore, increasing rates of CalPERS — the city’s contribution to the state-wide pension agency — will cost the city about $7 million over the next two fiscal years.

Though cities across the state are grappling with deficits and uncertain state funds, Berkeley-Simmons said Berkeley has been able to brace itself to some extent through policies including the use of one-time revenue increases for one-time projects, such as road maintenance, instead of continued expenditures such as salaries.

“We have policies in place which have really helped us weather this storm,” she said.

J.D. Morris is an assistant news editor.