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”.