The Berkeley City Council approved its fiscal year 2022 budget proposal Tuesday, prioritizing economic recovery from the pandemic.
The approval process for the $673.6 million budget, addressing items such as public safety, policing and COVID-19 recovery, was the “most extensive and transparent” in the city’s history, according to a press release from Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s office.
Over the past year, the city experienced significant revenue losses that have resulted in deficits expected to persist for many years, the press release adds. This year’s $22.7 million deficit is expected to be resolved primarily through project deferrals and tapping into reserve funds.
The city received $66.6 million from the American Rescue Plan, which will be used to provide assistance to small businesses, households, nonprofits and “hard hit” industries among other provisions, the press release reads.
City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley spoke at the beginning of the session, reporting that the city was unable to come to an agreement on union negotiations with the Service Employees International Union’s Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act, or PEPRA, members.
The union called for a reduction in pension contributions of PEPRA employees over a three-year time frame while the city instead offered six years, according to Williams-Ridley.
“In fiscal year 2021, we’ve had to take really swift action to balance the budget,” Williams-Ridley said at the meeting. “The total cost of the union’s … proposal is $26 million over two years. … (The city’s proposed) $13 million versus a $26 million cost is unacceptable.”
A majority of public comments toward the end of the meeting included disagreements from PEPRA members, asking that the city’s budget address pay equity. Speakers noted that the city is allegedly ignoring pay and pension inequalities for its PEPRA workers.
The budget prioritized funding for public safety, with the proposed amount for the Berkeley Police Department being about $73 million and about $37 million going toward the Berkeley Fire Department.
This year, Berkeley became a “nationwide leader” in reimagining public safety, according to the press release. Several reforms are being implemented, including the Specialized Care Unit, which would reassign noncriminal police service calls to trained crisis-response field workers.
By reassigning these services, the press release adds that other community services will have access to more resources and police can focus on “serious crimes and prevention.”
The budget also includes financing for the expansion of homeless services, sustainable infrastructure and plans to study the impacts of climate change.
“Berkeley’s budget is a reflection of our values and a sign of our city’s resiliency as we begin our COVID-19 recovery,” Arreguín said in the press release. “City spending will reflect the needs and requests of our community, including reimagining public safety and community policing, traffic safety and economic recovery.”