Berkeley City Council discusses a budget update for 2021

Berkeley City Council
Jacob Souza/File

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Berkeley City Council discussed a budget update for fiscal year 2021 and unanimously passed the Annual Appropriations Ordinance at its regular Zoom meeting Tuesday.

The council members’ opening statements kicked off the meeting, as they commended Berkeley businesses and residents for their efforts in supporting each other amid the coronavirus pandemic. Mayor Jesse Arreguín thanked both city staff and first responders, and reassured the public that “staying home is working to flatten the curve.

“We encourage everyone to take this time to dig deep and to rediscover who you are and who we are and what we want to see,” said City Councilmember Ben Bartlett during the meeting. “This is the time when we can recreate ourselves and our communities.”

Issues surrounding budget and money allocations remained prevalent throughout the meeting, with the Annual Appropriations Ordinance being pulled to discussion. City Councilmember Kate Harrison spoke first, questioning why this money allocation had to be approved during the Tuesday meeting. Harrison said there is a possibility that the city will be financially stable this year, but budget cuts are needed now. 

According to Teresa Berkeley-Simmons, the city’s director of budget and fiscal management, the special fund expenditures in the ordinance are tied to the city infrastructure and facilities grants, which must be allocated in order for the city not to be required to give the money back.

City Councilmembers Sophie Hahn and Cheryl Davila wanted to discuss the item for reasons different from Harrison’s. Both stated that anything related to budget should be on the action calendar for thorough discussion during the pandemic. The Annual Appropriations Ordinance was unanimously approved after discussion.

According to Berkeley-Simmons, there is an estimated $28.5 million greater shortfall in the budget than previously estimated for fiscal year 2021. The city plans to implement budget strategies such as identifying expenditures that can be deferred, pursuing other revenue and assistance, managing and replenishing reserves and continuing to serve the community, Berkeley-Simmons added.

Berkeley-Simmons also said, for fund reserves, the city intends to maintain its stability reserve, as well as amend its catastrophic reserve to include health outbreaks and allow for a flexible time frame. According to Henry Oyekanmi, director of finance at the city manager’s office, the city has to have good estimated numbers because data drives the decisions that council members make.

City Councilmember Lori Droste thanked staff members at the meeting for their budget update presentation and acknowledged the monthlong period that council members have to give input regarding the budget. According to Davila, city management could take a decrease in pay, as it would be “wise” for each department to consider unfunded liabilities in the future.

“To the greatest extent possible, we need to keep people employed, not just because we care about them and we need to continue delivering services, but because the money we pay them is part of how we rebuild our economy,” Hahn said at the meeting. “We should be considering all ways that we can put public dollars to work to support a local recovery.”

Contact Marie Bellevue at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MarieBellevue_DC.