Bad news: The city of Alameda is buried so deeply in debt that it will take years to crawl out. Good news: Most of the City Council candidates consider the budget their top priority.

The city already cut police staffing by 11 percent and fire by 6 percent over the past five years. Animal shelter operation was outsourced and library hours were cut. Yet the general fund still has a structural deficit that will drain all reserves over the next five years.

Meanwhile, employee retirement plans are at least $285 million underfunded. That's about $3,800 per resident. It equals six years of city payroll. It's like a giant credit card balance with escalating payments that will further erode the budget.

Jane Sullwold and Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft stand out as the candidates who best understand the seriousness of the situation and are prepared to address it. We were impressed by how well they had studied the issue.

They are both attorneys with professional mediation experience. They're going to need it as they try to navigate a financial maze. If city officials don't take major action now, the problem will worsen. As Sullwold said, everything must be put on the table.

There's no sugarcoating it. More people are going to lose jobs. Those who remain will have to give up more financially. And residents might be asked again to approve a tax increase. There are no easy solutions here. Only tough ones.