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Live Updates: City of Alameda Budget Planning Meeting

The City's final budget is not due until June, 2012.

Alameda Patch posted live updates during the City of Alameda's budget planning meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 25 at City Hall. Please be patient with typos or other errors... you can email me at eve@patch.com.

In , the City aimed to jump start budget planning for the 2012-13 fiscal year. The public has a chance to give early input and to learn more about the budget process. You can watch all public meetings live on the City's website here or on Comcast's Channel 15. 

The budget presentation is attached to this article... find it by clicking on the icon to the right of this article.

Below are reverse-order notes taken during the meeting (to start at the beginning of the discussion go to the bottom and scroll up)

9:38 p.m. The meeting is adjourned.

9:36 p.m. Council is discussing the problem of deferred maintenance and low reserve funds. City Manager Russo says that raising service fees to be on par with neighboring communities will be an important source of revenue.

9:34 p.m. Russo says staff plans to use this coming year to close the structural deficit, which projects out to be a $3.4 million gap in the 2015-16 fiscal year. "We are going to do it [close the structural deficit] with a combination of revenue and cuts, we're not going to do all cuts," Russo says. 

9:31 p.m. City Manager Russo thanks city staff for their work on tonight's presentation. He also thanks City Auditor Kennedy and City Treasurer Kearney for their work tonight and in the past. He says the council is well positioned to do the hard work in front of them. 

9:27 p.m. Councilmember Tam says many community organizations are working in different ways to help continue to provide services in difficult budget times, including at the library, Mastick Senior Center and the Alameda Animal Shelter. 

9:22 p.m. Mayor Gilmore says the budget challenge, in which everyone can tinker with budget line items using an online program, will be "a really good tool for understanding priorities."

9:18 p.m. Mayor Gilmore thanks city staff for their work on the budget. She says the presentation is far easier to follow and understand than in the past. "This is the best I've seen in years," she said, "so congratulations to all of you."

"We do need to make structural changes to our budget," says Gilmore, "since we're all in this together we need to talk to our bargaining units and have a discussion about how we're going to get through this together."

9:16 p.m. "We will do everything we can to bring you a balanced budget that does not rely on reserves," says Goldman, noting the city is using one-time funds in the current fiscal year. 

9:15 p.m. "We are not in a fiscal emergency right now," says Controller Marsh, "but we want to avoid being in a fiscal emergency." He says more cuts need to be made to keep the City solvent going forward.

9:11 p.m. Councilmember Bev Johnson says it's clear the City has done good work bringing up the reserve funds, noting that the City had several negative fund balances a few years ago. "There's a long way we need to go," she said, "but we're heading in the right direction."

Johnson says the library should be considered a core service. "I don't think we can cut more and if we can we should add hours back," Johnson said. 

9:04 p.m. Councilmember Rob Bonta says it might make sense to do some polling on the public's view of raising different taxes. "Maybe we could get some critical data on that," Bonta said. 

9:02 p.m. Tam says she'd prefer to look at a utility users tax over a sales tax because the county transportation agency is considering putting a sales tax increase on the ballot. City Manager Russo says that perhaps the City should work to support a local sales tax instead of a county-wide one. 

8:54 p.m. Councilmember Lena Tam says a guiding budget principle should be "funding things that give us the biggest bang." She says, for example, a very small amount of money to the library can "have a huge ripple effect in the community."

8:48 p.m. Councilmember Doug deHaan is asking Controller Marsh about City's costs related to deferred maintenance. 

8:45 p.m. Public comment closed, council comment opened. 

8:43 p.m. A speaker urges Council to think about the role arts can play in helping the budget of Alameda. She also says the City should look to the America's Cup as a possible source for revenue generation. "It seems like there is a terrific opportunity in 2013," she says. 

8:38 p.m. Kevin Kearney, the city's auditor, praises the City staff's presentation for the way it broke out the budget numbers and made them accessible. He also says he would like even more specificity. "I think when we get to some of these numbers maybe we could have a little more detail in the fire department, the public safety component." He says he'd like to know how the level of service in Alameda compares to other what other cities have. He says the community needs the best information possible to make smart decisions. 

8:36 p.m. Kennedy says he's encouraged by the turnout tonight, because there are usually very few people at budget meetings. (The room was packed last night for the City Planning Board's discussion .)

8:32 p.m. Kevin Kennedy, the city's treasurer, praises the budget presentation by City staff. He says that their numbers provide new perspective. "Some of these slides where it showed our funding relative to our peers didn't put dollar numbers on it, but it gave percentages," Kennedy said, going on to suggest that if the City brought itself up to the reserve levels of neighboring communities it would amount about $5 million dollars. "When you net all this out we're working on a real slim margin," Kennedy says. 

8:28 p.m. The council is discussing the procedures for and rules governing special taxes, if the City were to consider raising taxes.

8:25 p.m. A community member thanks the City Council for the budget workshop. "Having the documents early is very much appreciated by those of us like do dig into the details," she says. She says the City needs a better analysis of the cost of providing ambulance service through the Alameda Fire Department. "We need a clear understanding of what that service costs us," she says. "I hear people tugging and pulling in different directions and I think information would be helpful."

8:23 p.m. Community member Jon Spangler says unions should be involved in reducing costs as well as in enhancing revenue. "We should be taking advantage of every possible resource," he says. 

8:20 p.m. Rob Ratto, head of the Park Street Business Association, says his association wants the City to "look at other ways to enhance the revenue."

8:19 p.m. Nancy Hird of the Alameda Citizens Task Force says the City should look at the cost of ambulance transport. "I would really request that the City takes a strong look at this [the county ambulance service]," she says. "I'd like the city staff to do a really good review." Currently, Alameda firefighters provide ambulance transport; in many other cities firefighters do not serve this function.

8:16 p.m. Dom Weaver of the Alameda Firefighters Association addresses council. He says his department is best compared to the Berkeley Fire Department because that department, like Alameda, provides ambulance transport. He also invites the community to the firefighter pumpkin giveaway Friday at Franklin Park. 

8:14 p.m. A speaker from the American Association of University Women speaks on the importance of library services and continued funding for libraries.

8:10 p.m. A speaker from Friends of the Alameda Free Library speaks in support of library funding. "There is nothing left to cut from the library, it is a lean operation," she says. She says the library's operating hours have been cut by 17 percent. Branch libraries are open only four days and one night each week. All areas of library services have been negatively impacted, she says.

8:08 p.m. The City of Alameda will be participating in a budget challenge, which will allow Alamedans to make choices using an online budget tool to see if they can balance the budget. Oakland is currently participating in the budget challenge, you can see their tool here. No date yet for when Alameda's will go online.

8:05 p.m. Marsh details many of the major areas of costs the city is responsible for, including insurance coverage, sewer upkeep, retirement benefits and vehicle replacement.

7:55 p.m. There are about 50 people in the audience, though many of them are City employees. 

7:51 p.m. Controller Marsh is presenting a series of slides (available by clicking on the PDF to the right of this article) that compare the City of Alameda's budget status to neighboring cities. Comparisons include number of police officers per thousand people and the size of reserve funds. 

7:47: p.m. Money-raising possibilities include raising taxes, including sales tax and utility taxes. Goldman also says the City could revaluate current policies regarding reserves and other guiding budget principles. 

7:44 p.m. Personnel-related, money-saving possibilities include employee furloughs, cost-sharing for retirement and health care, and a two-tier benefits system for future employees. Also under consideration are pay cuts. 

7:42 p.m. Goldman says the City will be asking for feedback about how to go about making cuts. She shows a chart of how five percent and 10 percent across-the-board cuts would impact individual departments. She says staff believes that the priority should be the provision of core services. 

7:38 p.m. Goldman lists cuts made in the current fiscal year, which include a $1.3 million dollar reduction to the Police Department and $800,000 cut to Fire Department (the Police Department's cut includes the reduction from the shift in management of the Animal Shelter). Total cuts were $3.5 million dollars.

7:32 p.m. Fred Marsh, the city's controller, begins the budget presentation. Negative impacts on the city's budget include a weakened economy and housing market and budget cuts from the state. 

7:30 p.m. Lisa Goldman, the assistant city manager, introduces the budget presentation.  

7:24 p.m. A speaker says she is concerned about the closure of the Alameda Animal Shelter. Mayor Gilmore says she is happy to report that a deal was made just today to keep the shelter open with an agreement between the City and the Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter. 

7:23 p.m. City Manager John Russo apologizes for the Park Street tree removal: "On behalf of the staff, this wasn't handled well. It's not that the steps weren't taken, it's that they were stale." The review of the project took place in 2005, Russo says, when the project was first initiated. "There is a rationale. People may disagree with the rationale, but there is a rationale," Russo says.

"We will openly reconsider the plan on the Park Street," Russo says.

7:22 p.m. Mayor Marie Gilmore says that there will be public meeting (date and time not set yet) with representatives of the Public Works Department so that the community can discuss the removal on trees on Park Street.

7:20 p.m. There is a second speaker on street trees. He has brought a picture of the "Starbucks" tree on the corner of Park Street and Central Avenue, the loss of which many people are lamenting. He proposes a moratorium on cutting down trees to make sure last week's tree removal on Park Street is not repeated. "I'm just curious whether you guys knew that this was going to happen?" he asks the council.

7:17 p.m. In the open comment period before the meeting, a speaker talks about last week's . "The trees are gone but not forgotten, there's still time to honor the needs of residents and businesses," she says. "Please provide fast-growing shade trees."

7:16 p.m. The meeting begins with Boy Scouts leading the Pledge of Allegiance. 

alameda vigilante October 26, 2011 at 07:57 PM
When they thanked the "community" for showing up, I think the 2 Kevins didn't look behind them to identify the bodies! This event was "sham"-packed w/City of Alameda employees: Ott, Willis, Nguyen, Naclerio, Girish, Robbb, Chisaki, Lillard, 3 APD + 3 AFD, etc. The only "community" there was a row of LWVs + ACT-ors. I sat in the back & saw little more than a publicity stunt!
the dogfather October 27, 2011 at 03:26 AM
I am surprised that the Animal Shelter issue has been such a non-starter on this particular website.

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