OAKLAND -- Mayor Jean Quan released a budget plan Wednesday that would boost police staffing and end library closures but delay tackling Oakland's potentially crippling long-term debts.
The mayor's two-year, nearly $1 billion operating budget includes funding for four 26-week police academy courses, which are projected to expand the force to nearly 700 officers by the middle of 2015.
Rebounding tax revenue will help pay for more police, but Quan said a new round of cuts still was needed to balance the city's books.
She proposed eliminating 86 full-time equivalent positions over two years. Many of those jobs are already vacant, but city officials said the cuts could result in layoffs.
Quan also proposed reducing funds to nonprofits such as the Oakland Zoo and Chabot Space and Science Center and cutting hours at city recreation centers. The state's elimination of its redevelopment program is projected to reduce the city's affordable housing budget from $13 million to $2 million.
The City Council has final authority over budgetary matters. It will take up Quan's plan on April 30 and must pass a final budget by the end of June.
"Our decisions will still be hard, but by working together, we can seize this chance and realize our vision of long-term success, safety and stability for all of Oakland," the mayor said.
Oakland's budget situation isn't nearly as dire as two years ago, when the city faced a $58 million shortfall and Quan threatened to shutter libraries if city workers didn't agree to concessions.
Tax revenue is up across the board this year, prompting the city to budget for an additional $19 million through the middle of 2015.
Quan's plan would maintain a rainy day reserve, reduce Oakland's dependence on one-time funds to pay for long-term expenses and provide new funds for job training and business attraction.
It doesn't project cost-of-living raises for city workers, but it would put an end to employee furloughs and givebacks that resulted in periodic library and City Hall closures.
Oakland's three civilian unions, whose contracts expire in June, noted in a joint statement that the city's projected $430 million operating budget next year and $457 million operating budget the following year goes overwhelmingly to fund police and fire. The unions said they expect the city to restore prior concessions and "refrain from proposing other cuts in the budget and our contracts."
Despite a rebounding economy, Oakland's finances are hardly on firm footing. Employee pension costs are expected to jump by 25 percent over the next two years as the state pension fund finally accounts for losses sustained during the recent recession. The city also is bracing to find out how much it will have to pay for federal oversight of the Police Department.
Oakland still faces an estimated $1.6 billion in unfunded liabilities and deferred maintenance work. Plans to begin adequately putting aside money to fund retiree medical benefits and a separate pension fund for retired police and firefighters aren't slated to begin over the next two years.
Oakland's improved financial standing comes in part from the council's decision last year to stabilize that pension fund by issuing $210 million in bonds.
Had the council not essentially borrowed to push back pension costs, it would have had to have paid $30 million into the fund this year -- effectively wiping out the planned increases to the current police force.
Chief Howard Jordan praised Quan's proposal. "It really shows that the city is going to invest in a (long-term) solution to address the lack of resources in the Police Department," he said.
The proposal would boost Oakland's police force from its current staffing of 648 to 665 officers by next June and about 700 the following year. Oakland last topped 700 police officers in 2010.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.