OAKLAND — The Oakland City Council patched its latest budget deficit late Tuesday by cutting or freezing about 20 city positions and directing the Police Department to identify $4.3 million in spending cuts, among other changes.
The cuts were the latest in a string of reductions and came four weeks after the council took measures to close what was an $83 million general fund deficit June 30.
"We have been scaling back and back and back," said Councilmember Patricia Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown), "and (we) are now absolutely down to the bone."
No doubt the job was difficult. It was made easier, though, after Oakland police officers agreed to contract concessions worth $11.8 million a year and after the U.S. Justice Department's announcement that Oakland will receive $19.7 million over a three-year period to pay for 41 police officers.
The $19.7 million was the most Oakland could get after the Justice Department put caps on how much policing agencies would receive from the federal COPS grants.
The council ditched some unpopular suggestions city departments had offered up as budget fixes, including a proposal to slash four neighborhood services coordinators in the Police Department and another to cut the Main Library's days of weekly operation from seven to five.
Also set aside were proposals to cut the city's two park rangers and close the San Antonio Recreation Center and lease the space to an outside organization.
In the lead-up to Tuesday's meeting, budget projections showed Oakland with an $18.7 million general deficit. The police concessions solved $8.5 million of that problem — some of the $11.8 million in savings comes from outside the general fund.
The council opted against putting $2.1 million into the budget for possible repayment of Oakland's Measure Y fund after the city was successfully sued for misuse of voter-approved Measure Y money. Oakland is still weighing its appeals options in that case.
That left $8.1 million worth of cuts, and the council unanimously approved a package put forward by Kernighan, Council President Jane Brunner (North Oakland), and Councilmembers Jean Quan (Montclair-Laurel) and Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale).
Jobs will be either eliminated or frozen in the library, public works, parks and recreation, finance and management, human resources, and civilian operations of the police and fire departments.
The council also grounded the police helicopter except in cases of emergency; transferred a number of programs outside the general fund; and cut City Auditor Courtney Ruby's budget by $70,000 — a move Quan said was fair because it would mean the same 10 percent reduction other departments are taking.
Ruby said she didn't learn about the cut until 4:45 p.m. Tuesday. She said her office should have twice the auditors it has and added that when Oakland is receiving millions of federal stimulus dollars, auditing is needed more than ever.
"When we look where Oakland is, we don't have the luxury to reduce oversight," she said.
As for the police, Acting Chief Howard Jordan said the department has a plan to meet the $4.3 million cut but that he could not discuss it publicly at this point. De La Fuente said it was a fair reduction.
"I believe they can do this," he said. "This is absolutely doable if you just sit down with your team — your deputy chiefs and all of that — and you look at the way you deploy and the way you allocate your resources."
Still pending is a question of how, exactly, the state of California's recently passed budget will affect Oakland, and officials acknowledged their long budget saga probably isn't over.
Tuesday was the council's last scheduled meeting before its summer recess, and more cuts could be on the way in September or October.
Reach Kelly Rayburn at 510-208-6435.