Berkeley town hall discusses fiscal year 2022 budget, pandemic recovery, policing

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William Webster/File
For fiscal year 2022, the proposed city budget is $593.7 million. Berkeley’s virtual town hall also discussed recovery from the pandemic and reforms to public safety.

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Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and the City Manager’s Office met Tuesday for a virtual town hall on the city’s budget, with the discussion ranging from pandemic recovery to public safety reform. 

Arreguín was joined by City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley, interim budget manager Rama Murty and deputy city manager David White to outline the budget for fiscal year 2022. The total proposed budget for fiscal year 2022 is $593.7 million, with $219.4 million for general fund operations, $107.5 million for enterprise fund operations and $76.8 million for capital improvements, according to the presentation.

“The budget, basically, is more than just a common expenditure,” Williams-Ridley said during the meeting. “It is a real and serious document that helps us plan for our city’s future.”

Williams-Ridley noted the opportunities available for public participation in the budget process before June 30.

According to White, the city’s total revenue is $532,217,415, majoritively coming from general and enterprise funds and grants. Its largest expenditures go toward the Public Works Department, followed then by the Health, Housing and Community Services Department and the Police Department. 

The general fund was established in 2017 and comprises two parts: the stability reserve, with $15.8 million invested, and the catastrophic reserve, with $10.6 million invested. From these emergency funds, the city utilized $11.4 million during the COVID-19 pandemic to balance the budget, White said in the meeting. The city is pushing to replenish these funds.

White added that the city is in the process of accessing half of the $66,646,289 offered by the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan. The next half will be processed in the following year, and White said in the meeting it would ensure continuity in government services and support for the community.

Arreguín noted that his priority for the city’s budget is a COVID-19 response and recovery effort as the economy reopens. He thanked the community for following guidelines and lauded vaccination efforts, as roughly 65% of the city is fully vaccinated with more than 70% having had at least one dose.

“We are squashing the curve,” Arreguín said. “That enables us to open the economy and to begin to transition out of this pandemic.”

Arreguín added that he is looking to expand funding and support for the arts and small businesses in order to encourage people to return to the city’s commercial districts. Arreguín mentioned in the meeting that fiscal health is another priority, as there is a $40 million deficit due to the shelter-in-place restrictions. 

Public safety reforms, including responses to the homelessness crisis, infrastructure and police reform, are other aspects of the budget that Arreguín discussed.

“Putting people in shelters or in hotels — that’s a short-term intervention that doesn’t end homelessness,” Arreguín said during the meeting. “That doesn’t put people on a path to self-sufficiency and recovery. We must continue to prioritize housing as a solution to homelessness.”

In order to address these concerns, according to Arreguín, the city will be opening a new homeless shelter at 742 Grayson St., will invest in city roads and will assist with the creation of a specialized care unit.

Arreguín also noted his commitment to addressing racial disparities at police stops and added that the budget will maintain current police staffing as it seeks to “have a robust discussion and make appropriate decisions.”

“I want to reaffirm my commitment as part of the June budget to fund the launch of a specialized care unit — and we are making progress toward new methods of traffic enforcement,” Arreguín said during the meeting.

Dina Katgara is the lead business and economy reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dinakatgara.