OAKLAND — Mayor Ron Dellums will release a budget plan today that will call for laying off as many as 140 police officers this year if outside funding cannot be identified, the Tribune has learned.
The potential cuts to police services are just one part of what will be a broad plan to fill a general fund deficit of at least $83 million, and the city could see sweeping layoffs, furloughs and deep cuts across all departments after the City Council adopts a new budget in June.
But the idea of cutting police will likely strike a nerve in a community where crime is a top concern.
The city has applied for $67 million over a three-year period from the federal COPS Hiring Recovery Program to fund 140 officers.
The COPS program is designed to supplement, not replace, police jobs. That means jurisdictions are eligible only if they cannot afford to fill vacant positions or are looking to hire laid off officers or officers who would be laid off without the grant.
Dellums, who has visited Washington, D.C., a number of times to lobby for federal money for Oakland, said he has been told not to count on the COPS money as the city puts together its spending plan for the next two years.
"We've been admonished to deal with our budget deficit in a very straightforward way," Dellums said recently, "to do it in a way that assumes that the COPS program doesn't even exist."
City Administrator Dan Lindheim said Monday the budget
The city will know by Sept. 30, at the latest, whether it will receive COPS funding and, if so, how much. Until that point, the budget calls for funding 739 officers with local dollars, Lindheim said. Measure Y, the 2004 ballot measure, would continue to fund additional police officers as well.
The budget plan does not call for cutting firefighters, Lindheim said.
That's likely because the city must maintain a certain level of fire services as well as budgeted funding for 739 police officers to continue collecting the roughly $18 million generated annually by Measure Y for police, fire and violence prevention.
Officials are reluctant to talk about it, lest they lose out on the chance for COPS funding, but if the city does not get the full amount from the COPS program, they might look for other funding to avoid laying off officers. But the council is expecting it will have to vote on a spending plan before knowing how much money it will receive from COPS.
Councilmember Larry Reid (Elmhurst-East Oakland), head of the council's public safety committee, said when all is said and done he "certainly hopes" the level of officers on the streets can be maintained.
"Crime is our number one priority," he said. "I think the mayor as well as the members of the City Council understand the consequences of taking officers off the street when we worked so hard to get up to 803."
Measure Y calls for 803 officers, and it wasn't until the end of 2008 — more than four years after voters approved the measure — that the Police Department reached that staffing level.
Acting Police Chief Howard Jordan said protecting sworn staff is his top budgetary priority.
"We're hoping it doesn't happen," Jordan said. "Anytime you start cutting sworn (officers), it has a huge impact on our ability to deal with crime."
Sgt. Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, was blunter, saying if officers are cut, "Crime will go up. More people will be murdered. With the economy the way it is, I understand. But fewer cops means fewer services."
The city's budget figures are daunting.
Projections released last month showed anticipated general fund expenditures surpassing the $414 million in anticipated revenue by $83 million due largely to lower-than-expected tax revenues in the beginning of 2009.
Complicating matters further is the fact that officials have limited discretion when it comes to the budget cuts they can make.
They cannot, for example, take away from programs mandated by the federal or state government, or from debt-service requirements. Nor can they forgo expenditures guaranteed by local measures for libraries and children's programs, for example. Dellums said that if police and fire cuts are taken off the table too, the city would be left with about $100 million from which it would have to cut $83 million.
If that were the case, the mayor said, "We might as well pack up and go home, because you'd have to abandon government. You'd only have $17 million to deal with all of the other programs that are out there — the recreation department, libraries, etc."
Jeff Levin, a vice president of Local 21 of Professional & Technical Engineers, which represents about 1,000 city workers, said the union has been working with SEIU Local 1021 to prepare an alternative budget plan after Dellums' is released.
That plan will be organized around the principles of preserving jobs; fairness among city departments; protecting services for Oakland's most vulnerable; preserving Oakland's neighborhoods; and protecting public safety, both police and fire programs as well as crime-prevention efforts.
"We're looking for a budget that reflects these values because we think those are the values the people of Oakland hold," Levin said.
Reach Kelly Rayburn at 510-208-6435.