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Friday, June 28, 2013

Oakland Passes A Two-Year Budget Shaded Toward Public Safety

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL//BUDGET | A two-year budget including increased funding for public safety was passed by the Oakland City Council late Thursday. The “all-in” budget compromise backed by Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Dan Kalb and Lynette Gibson McElhaney was approved, 5-3, with dissent coming from the authors of a competing proposal.

“This budget will improve public safety, enhance economic prosperity and improve quality of life for our residents,” said Kaplan. “It responsibly allocates resources to meet the needs of our residents.”

The so-called “all-in” budget includes almost $12 million to form four police academies over the next two fiscal years, in addition to 17 civilian employees for the police department and five 911 dispatchers. The budget also includes funding for various quality of life issues, including replacement of $1.5 million for Headstart, previously cuts by federal sequestration cuts. The plan also sets aside $5.2 million in city savings.

McElhaney said the new budget does not include rosy forecasts even though revenues could potentially be higher than expected in the next two years. “Rather than counting those chickens before they were hatched, we dealt with the most conservative numbers and still said, if you look at this through the lens of love, opportunity, prosperity, you would be able to satisfy everyone.”

However, Councilmember Desley Brooks said McElhaney originally belonged with the budget plan laid out by herself and Councilmembers Noel Gallo and Larry Reid. She claimed McElhaney violated the Brown Act after reaching out to the competing proposal thereby privately discussing the item with more than the quorum of the council.

Brooks also called labeled the months-long finance discussion “one of the worst budget processes I’ve seen in the 10 years I’ve been on this council.” At times, though, sour grapes may have also been present. Reid called the all-in budget “irresponsible” and at one point, in a rambling speech, hinted he might run for mayor next year. “You know what? I don’t know, maybe I should freaking run for mayor of this city and the more I think about it, the more and more I’m just waiting for a signal from God.”

Both Brooks and Reid criticized passing a budget without first finalizing a major labor agreement still in progress. “We have a balanced budget and we want to squeeze our employees,” declared Brooks. McElhaney, though, disagreed. “There were some who tried to pit public safety against employees as if they had to be a zero-sum game. We said that was not true.” Meanwhile, negotiations with city employees continue without resolution. The budget, however, includes $6 million in additional funds for bargaining with its labor unions.

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