Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Budget Advisory Group May Lack City's Poorest


The Citizen
When mayoral candidate Stephen Cassidy called for a committee of San Leandro residents to help determine possible budget cuts in the near future, he envisioned its composition to be more reflective of the city's population than the plan the city council approved Monday night.

The committee unanimously approved by the San Leandro City Council will consist of 13 members each chosen by a councilmember from each district along representatives from the city's employee and homeowners associations. The need for such a group arose from incidents of public upheaval this past year over budget cuts to the swimming pool at Farrelly Park and funding for school crossing guards.

Cassidy said the advisory committee was "a step in the right direction", but questioned how members will be chosen, "Members of the task force will likely not reflect the diversity of San Leandro, and will be persons handpicked by city officials," he said.

It is not clear how a group absent minorities, low income residents and a growing number of unemployed San Leandrans will be represented on the committee, especially when those groups tend to disproportionately bear the brunt of cuts. Only Councilman Jim Prola has nominated a member from his district.

Perry Carter, the city's acting budget director, said he plans for the committee to meet five times between November and February of next year. In addition, Carter believes one work session will be needed to educate the group on the basic framework of working within the city's general fund.

"I am concerned the task force will serve as no more than a rubber stamp for the approach city hall is taking to the budget crisis – raise taxes, fail to bring spending under control," said Cassidy.

Prola had no qualms with how the advisory committee will be formed and defended the need for business interests to come to terms with the state of the city's budget, "We're going to have hard negotiations with our employer associations," he said, "so they have to understand what kind of situation we're in and it's going to be really tough on them because they're going to have to give up a lot and everybody is, for that matter."

Vice Mayor and mayoral candidate Joyce Starosciak also accepted the makeup of the new advisory committee, although she noted no plan is perfect, "Sure, it could be done better, but by having this balance and an open discussion we will be better along than a year ago."

In May, a chorus of parents and young children howled at the city's plans to temporarily suspend the use of Farrelly pool this summer. Numerous young boys and girls spoke before the council pleading to keep the pool open. At the time, Starosciak--in her first public indication of running for mayor--called for residents to make certain priorities in this wounded economy and voted against the budget proposal.

Regardless of the outcome of the advisory committees recommendations, Starosciak believes getting citizens involved in their local government is beneficial and alluded to a similar group in 2002 where no actual decision was reached, yet they were able to influence future development such as the new senior center, "Their discussion was solid enough that it gave the staff new ideas on how the senior center and other projects could get built," said Starosciak, "I think that's some of the value that comes out of these community committees."

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