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Alameda: More Taxes, Higher Fees and Less Services to Bridge $4.4 million Deficit in 2012-2013

By Erica Madison

“We’re cutting out the bone marrow now. I don’t think we can absorb more cuts, City Councilmember Lena Tam said, at the second special City Council five year budget forecast meeting.

The City of Alameda is facing hard decisions in terms of generating enough money to prevent dipping below their twenty percent baseline. This is a point, Assistant City Manager Lisa Goldman has been predicting for the five year budget forecast. It was originally predicted that Alameda would face a $7.4 million deficit, but the new forecast shows a $3 million change to a $4.4 million deficit in the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

Although this is an improvement it doesn’t stop the City of Alameda from being forced to consider more departmental budget cuts.

At the meeting on February 23, 2012, the City Manager’s office presented five percent and ten percent cuts to all department budgets.

Here is what some of the cuts would look like:

  • Reduce police officer positions
  • Close Fire Station 3 and stop ambulance service for Fire Station 4
  • Close free after school playground programs
  • Stop holiday celebrations such as: Fourth of July and Easter egg hunts
  • Close all libraries except the main library

Although this list was the worst-case scenario that the City Manager’s office presented, council members were concerned that at this time nothing could be reduced, because harsh cuts have already been made.

“I would like to focus on finding more revenue than more cuts,” Councilmember Tam said.

One suggestion made by City Manager John Russo was to raise fees on city services.

“Some of our fees are the lowest [when compared to neighboring cities]. If we raise fees we will still make sure they remain the lowest. I believe we will raise a lot of fees…” Russo said.

Raising taxes and creating more taxes was another big topic at the meeting. EMC research presented a report on a survey taken to see how Alamedans feel about raising taxes. The results showed that Alamedans are willing to accept a sales tax increase.

This survey was supported by the results of the first round of the budget challenge. So far 263 people have taken the interactive survey on the Alameda City website. Of the 263 participants, 110 people balanced the budget. These participants were polled on taxes and 65% said they would raise taxes.

The meeting turned sour when City Manager John Russo said he wanted to add a special tax to the June 2012 Primary. The special tax will bring in $54 million over a 30 year period. The money generated would be used to reopen the Carnegie Library, build a new swimming center in downtown Alameda and update Police and Fire buildings as well as Police and Fire vehicles and purchase a training facility.

All of the council members were disappointed that none of the money would be used to offset the deficit.

“I’m not sure how the public will receive this,” councilmember Beverly Johnson said. “What about restoring Library hours?”

Russo argued that while this special tax wouldn’t alleviate any of the current problems that Alameda City faces, this would set a precedent to prevent Alameda from having to close services in the future. Currently Alameda doesn’t have a budget for building or equipment maintenance.

“If you don’t replace the equipment you will be closing these services later on,” Russo said.

Despite Russo’s argument, the council members wanted to see alternate options for using the money to improve current services such as more library hours. Russo was ordered to present another proposal at the March 7, 2012 meeting.

“I don’t support it,” City Manager John Russo said. “We won’t solve problems…this won’t get the job done”.

10 comments to Alameda: More Taxes, Higher Fees and Less Services to Bridge $4.4 million Deficit in 2012-2013

  • DHL

    A: the $3M number is so interesting, isn’t it? This is about exactly the number we’d saved if the mayor, city council and Russo were willing to extract a 10% reduction across the board from the fire unions. And if they had, like most cities were doing last year, we wouldn’t be in this extreme predicament today.

    B: If the the mayor, city council and Russo, had heeded the city auditor and city treasurer’s (the Kevins’) guidance, warnings, and advice, they would have extracted 10% from fire, and we wouldn’t be in this extreme predicament. You’ll remember that the M/CC/R did not even listen to the Kevins, and worse.

    C. Another freaking tax on Alamedans? Between the exhorbitant (highest in the Bay Area) school taxes and unending hospital tax, residents are drowning in tax!

    I find it curious that Russo want to levy another tax on us to provide an aquatic center when other cities negotiate with big box stores to do so. CASE IN POINT: When Target approached San Clemente to put a store there, what did San Clemente negotiate for and get? 14 acres of sport-fields (baseball, soccer, etc.) plus a tournament-quality multi-pool aquatic facility to serve both age-group training/competition and seniors and ADAs. How? Target bought 14 acres from the City of San Clemente and gave it to the City; which payed for the facilities (capital improvements). And guess what? The annual revenue the city received from Target’s business there? Covers all the maintenance and repairs each year for the facilities. We’re getting a Target…and bike rack. Woohoo.

    Something is SO WRONG here in Alameda. Sadly, residents are so unengaged—apathetic or entitled—that they won’t believe that each of us has to get engaged and be smarter, vote smarter, demand better. Will it take the city shutting down valued services, facilities, and events to wake people up? Sure looks like it.

  • Liz Williams

    I can solve the budget crisis with one decision: outsource fire and ambulance to the county of Alameda. It solves many of the above problems: It immediately saves between 4-5 million (or it did for San Leandro when they made the same move) and eliminates the need for an ongoing equipment budget for fire.

    This is the exact proposal that played a large part in getting Anne Marie Gallant fired. If she were still here, and the council had listened to her, we wouldn’t be in this position.

    I’m with Denise on the aquatic center: Why aren’t we demanding that as a part of Target’s moving here?

    As for Russo’s proposal, it seems to have madness shot all through it.

  • Pat Berton

    You couldn’t be more wrong regarding fire & ambulance service. EVERY city that contracts with ALCO Fire PAYS for the fire apparatus within the city that is contracted. The COA has a fleet of fire apparatus that are well beyond NFPA guidelines regarding service time. The COA knowingly chooses to ignore those guidelines while ALCO strictly adheres to those guidelines and bills the contract city back for full payment up front. No financing or delayed payments. ALCO strictly follows ADA requirements for public buildings and stringent living conditions for the contracted public safety personnel. The COA does not adhere to the rules or conditions like ALCO. The estimated up front payment for just these items for the COA is about $8 million dollars. As far as the county new transport provider “Paramedics Plus” let’s just say that everything promised is not what is being delivered. If you want a 75% reduction in dedicated ambulances in your city & non-compliant response times , I encourage you to push full steam ahead for greater fire & life loss in the COA.

  • Pat – would you mind sharing your affiliation with the City of Alameda and/or the Alameda Fire Department and/or the IAFF, so readers can put your opinions into context? You are too well-versed in these matters to simply be a layperson. thx.

  • Pat Berton

    I reside in San Leandro & pay very close attention to the services my tax $$ is spent on and my neighbor works for Alameda County Enviornmental Services and has first hand knowledge of these items in a professional capacity

  • Pat Berton

    I’m a retired federal employee that worked in Alameda until 1997 when I was layed off as a result of the base closure.

  • carol gottstein

    Thanks, Dave, especially for the Carnegie alert. When I was on the Museum & Planning Boards in the 1990’s, no one worked harder than me to convince the City to give the Alameda Museum a new home in the Carnegie Building. Ironically, at the time I was opposed by 2 members of the Historical Advisory Board, Dave Plummer & Judy Pollard, who wanted to fill it with computers as part of an ill-conceived library expansion{the new library building we have today had not been funded or built.]. It’s also of note that the home of the Carnegie’s builder, Charles H. Foster, sits right behind it [the former Boys & Girls library].That should be preserved , too.
    But Why is Russo’s partner, Melissa Rosengard {Alamedan???] on this committee & not a community “Stakeholder” [like me]?

  • DHL

    I’ve looked at the numbers from cities that have been integrated into the ACFD (Alameda County Fire Department) and it’s a good deal for those cities. Improved services plus a reduction in costs of a minimum of 10%. Moreover, the ACFD Chief was named 2011 Chief of the year. He’s qualified and then some.

  • Pat Berton

    Denise you should look a little deeper into San Leandro in respect to their ongoing dispute with Sheldon Gilbert over the additional overtime expense they were charged by ALCO above and beyond the contract for service price that was inclusive of overtime. Everything is not always what it seems on the surface.