OAKLAND -- While laboring to produce three versions of a budget for next year to cope with the city's projected $58 million deficit, city staff found a way to temporarily stave off the bite of an $8 million shortfall still expected for this year, Budget Director Sabrina Landreth said Tuesday.

The shortfall largely comes from the city having issued fewer parking tickets, as well as $1 million in expected billboard revenue that didn't come through, Landreth told the Finance and Management Committee.

However, the city's estimates for medical costs ran high by about $9 million, she added -- the city stopped collecting medical costs from the individual departments in April and should have the shortfall made up by the end of the year.

City Councilmember Pat Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown) responded with a somewhat stunned laugh and said, "That is very lucky for us. Thank you for finding that."

Council members Ignacio De La Fuente (Fruitvale) and Desley Brooks (Easmont-Seminary) were less pleased.

Next year "is the biggest deficit we're ever going to have," De La Fuente said, and "if we are overcharging departments by $9 million "... to have that huge of an imbalance, up or down, is huge."

Brooks said that going into the coming budget process, "We know this is a shell game and we've got to stop."

Landreth assured them the medical cost differences are being included as her team works on the new budget.

Travel spending down


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Often a contentious issue under former Mayor Ron Dellums, the city's travel expenses were way down as of July, reports showed this week.

Though they comprise a very small fraction of the city's overall budget, Dellums' travel expenses drew heated criticism in 2009, with citizen groups and local press criticizing him for spending what they argued was far too much money on plane tickets, hotels and meals.

Even then, however, city expenses were down 40 percent from the previous year, Landreth reported.

The city's overall travel spending is down an additional 10 percent this year, she added. The Mayor's office as well as the police and fire departments all cut spending by more than $25,000 each.

Body armor for police

The Finance and Management committee also voted Tuesday to contract with Bricker-Mincolla Uniform Company, which registered as a small local business, to buy 400 body armor vests for the police department at a price of $699 each, or $279,600 total.

The vests are described as "soft body armor that provides ballistic protection against projectiles fired from firearms."

The model is called "Second Chance."

Quan clear-up

Mayor Jean Quan's office took exception to a chart the Tribune printed Thursday as part of a story on the city's budget.

The chart compared each city department's current funding to the cuts listed as options in a budget memo Quan sent to the City Council on March 30. At subsequent meetings, Quan told the council that unless her proposed $80 parcel tax gets on a ballot and is passed by voters, "you'll need to make all these cuts and a few million dollars more" to cover the city's $58 million structural deficit.

To give a sense of the enormity of what Quan was talking about, the Tribune added up every possible cut listed in her memo and displayed the totals in the chart. Some departments appeared to be in for a gutting while other appeared almost untouched.

However, mayoral spokeswoman Sue Piper said Quan "was speaking broadly rather than specifically, to make a point."

" 'Make all these cuts' means you're going to have to do the $58 million -- not necessarily the detail that's in the memo," Piper said. "The point is, they have to cut a dollar amount, and each department's dollar amount combined has to add up to the $58 million."

Of course, this still leaves the impact of state and federal cuts unknown -- those decisions are out of local control and there's little, if anything, the city can do to guess what those cuts will be or exactly when they'll come.

"The bottom line is OK, we'll go through this wrenching experience and have a budget in June, but when those come through we'll be right back at it," Piper said.

Three versions of the first-draft budget are expected to come out Friday.

Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.