OAKLAND -- The city will have to cut 80 percent of its discretionary spending by July, and with one exception -- maybe two -- nothing is off the table, Mayor Jean Quan and her staff said Monday.
Quan, the City Council and the heads of most city departments met in a grueling daylong retreat at the Joaquin Miller Community Center to consider how to handle a structural budget deficit now estimated at $58 million, a figure that puts the city $12 million deeper in the hole than Quan's first reports.
The meeting was designed in part to give Quan a sense a priorities from the council, which will have to vote on a final budget in time for the July 1 beginning of the next fiscal year. Department heads made the case for their staffs, offering arguments why they should be spared the deepest cuts and proposing ideas should those cuts be mandated.
While council members expressed support and sympathy for most departments' needs, nobody said "absolutely not" to any proposal.
"I'm not laying off any cops," Quan said. "If anything, I'm going to bring on more." Also probably safe, she said, is the Oakland Film Office, which coordinates between the city and filmmakers who produce work in the city and which drew a handful of supporters to give public comment.
But pretty much everything else could go on the chopping block as the city faces budget challenges that council President Larry Reid said are greater than any the current council members have ever faced.
"We're going to have to get into this budget like we've never done before," Reid said.
The city's total budget is just under $1 billion, with less than half of that made up by the general fund, where the deficit lies, largely as a result of plummeting property taxes. Of those funds, Budget Director Sabrina Landreth said, only about $72 million is discretionary at this point, leaving almost no wiggle room to tackle the $58 million deficit.
Among the proposed cuts are slashing 22 full-time jobs in parking enforcement, closing an unnamed library branch, eliminating street-sweeping services, closing or otherwise reducing costs for senior centers and requiring furlough days for police officers.
Many department heads argued that cuts to their services will result in costlier losses to the city: less parking enforcement, for example, would mean less revenue from violations, while leaving the city's already-crumbling roadways in disrepair only necessitates an increasing number of ineffective patch jobs.
Interim City Administrator Lamont Ewell said, "The reality is that everyone will be impacted by this."
"If we're not careful," he added, "if we're using primarily one-time remedies, or gimmicks ... credit rating agencies will begin downgrading the city's rating and that will mean costing more long term with more expensive debt," Ewell said.
Quan used the meeting to advocate for her proposed special election to ask voters for a five-year $80 parcel tax, an effort opposed by at least two of the council's eight members.
Without the estimated $11 million the tax would bring in each year, Quan said to the council, "you'll need to make all these cuts and a few million dollars more."
The parcel tax issue is scheduled to be voted on at the council meetings May 3 and May 17.
One major issue that was barely discussed was how to handle PFRS, a police and fire pension system that's come due for a $45.6 million contribution from Oakland after a massive investment in bonds bought the city a 15-year payment holiday. Quan's proposed a new set of more short-term bonds along with a $5 million annual payment, which has been hotly opposed by City Attorney John Russo, but hasn't yet seen much loud opposition from council members other than Ignacio De La Fuente, who represents the Fruitvale district. Quan said she'll likely use that plan in the budget she submits to the council at the end of April.
In the meantime, Quan is inviting public comments to be emailed to email@example.com.
Contact Sean Maher at 510-208-6430.