Berkeley Police Department’s budget increases for 2016, 2017 fiscal years

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Berkeley Police Department’s total annual budget has grown by about 9.8 percent from 2013 to 2017, with salaries and benefits making up about 91 percent of the adopted budget for 2017.

Berkeley City Council sets a biennial budget, with its fiscal year 2016 and 2017 budgets projecting increases in all types of expenditures for the police department, such as salaries and benefits. The police department’s budget composes 18 percent of the overall city budget, according to an email from Rama Murty, the city’s senior management analyst.

“The budget increases due to increases primarily in personnel costs from one year to the next plus any additional adjustment made for non-personnel budgets,” Murty said in an email.

From 2013 to 2017, the police department’s total budget increased by about 2.4 percent per year, with the amount spent on salaries and benefits increasing by about 2 percent annually.

According to BPD spokesperson Sgt. Andrew Frankel, the police chief, city director of finance, city manager and deputy city manager are all involved in budgetary discussions.

In fiscal year 2016, about 92 percent of the BPD budget was allocated from the city’s general fund, with the remaining amount funded through federal grants, state and county grants and parking funds, among other sources. In comparison, about 90 percent of Oakland Police Department funding comes from Oakland’s general purpose fund.

BPD salaries and benefits are expected to cost $56,484,465 for the department’s 270 employees, including sworn officers and professional staff, in fiscal year 2016. Police officers in Berkeley earn between $92,832 and $115,536 annually, compared to the national average of $61,210 and the state average of $93,550.

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Salaries and benefits increase because of the cost of living in the area, according to city auditor Ann-Marie Hogan. But Andrea Prichett, a founding member of activist group Berkeley Copwatch, said the funds used for officers’ salaries could be better spent on mental health services.

“We should reduce the amount we spend on police salaries and increase the amount spent on mental health,” Prichett said. “We live in a town where there is just a glaring, desperate need for emergency mental health services.”

Prichett added that police officers, rather than qualified mental health professionals, often respond to mental health emergencies, creating a “dangerous mix” of armed officers and individuals who would be better served by emergency mental health personnel.

Aside from salaries, external factors such as health care costs can influence personnel-related expenditures. Murty said in an email that negotiations between the city and health care providers determine the costs for employee benefits and that retirement costs are set by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, or CalPERS.

“We can try to keep these costs at a modest increase but they do increase every year based on the operating costs for the providers,” Murty said in an email.

CalPERS, a public pension fund, sets contribution rates for employers to fund pension plans, though employers may share costs with employees. In Berkeley, the contribution rate is set to increase slightly in the next fiscal year for the police pension plan.

CalPERS spokesperson Amy Morgan said the employer contribution rate has increased primarily because the majority of public employees are living longer.

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Health benefits have also become more costly, with the city paying more for the same number of BPD employees because health insurance is “hugely more expensive than it used to be,” Hogan said.

From 2013 to 2017, expenditures for services and materials have increased by more than a million dollars, as the costs of these goods and services rise each year, according to an email from Murty. Funding is used for office supplies such as telephones, as well as procedures required for investigations such as DNA testing, he added.

While BPD expenditures increase, the city’s revenues are expected to continue rising as well. Higher housing prices in Berkeley have translated into more revenue from property taxes, with the city anticipating a 5.6 percent increase in property tax revenue in fiscal year 2016.

“There was some cost of living additions to our revenues, and there have been some cost of living additions to our expenses,” Hogan said.

City Council will finalize the budgets for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 next year.

Contact Patricia Serpa and Sareen Habeshian at [email protected].

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article misspelled Andrea Prichett’s name.