These are tough times for many of us. And most cities are hurting. The economic downturn has brought with it a big drop in sales and real estate transfer taxes, which has left Oakland's budget-like those of many other cities-with a huge deficit.
Annual revenues for Oakland are $70 million less than they were four years ago.
In tough times there are no easy solutions, and we must all come together, make tough choices, and share the burden.
Last night, the Oakland City Council made one of those tough choices, by voting to cut 80 police officers. I want to explain why we had to do this.
First, Oakland's police are doing a terrific job under the leadership of our stellar new Police Chief Anthony Batts, and we owe every Oakland Police Officer an immense debt of gratitude for the hard work they do every day to keep Oakland safe.
Cutting police is something we do as a last resort in Oakland. For the past year and a half, we have been cutting significant expenses, while steering clear of any cuts to public safety. All departments other than Police and Fire have taken substantial cuts, some by as much as 50 percent.
But with the economy continuing to lag, the budget deficit kept growing. Before last night's Council meeting, our budget gap for this fiscal year stood at $31 million.
Prior to last night, the Council had discussed making $18 million in cuts to every department except Police and Fire. Administration, Libraries, and Parks would be cut to the bone. But this still wouldn't close the budget gap.
The Police and Fire Departments make up 72 percent of the General Fund, so it would be impossible to balance our budget without public safety sharing some of the burden.
If police and fire fighters both agreed to make concessions, the budget gap could be closed for this year and no police would lose their jobs this year. In my opinion, this would be the best possible outcome.
Unfortunately, the police officers association didn't come to an agreement with the City, and the only other option for closing the budget gap was to lay off police officers.
In order to fully balance the budget last night, the City would have had to cut almost 200 officers immediately. However, we decided on a different, less painful option. Instead we cut 80 officers, and are planning on placing an initiative on the November ballot asking Oaklanders to make an amendment to Measure Y, our public safety tax measure.
The November ballot initiative will not increase taxes. It will provide more flexibility so that we can maintain funding for police. Measure Y says that the tax can be collected only if the City funds a certain minimum number of officers. The November ballot measure would simply remove that minimum. Without this amendment though, we would no longer receive the $10 million for police salaries and $6 million for violence prevention programs that Measure Y brings in each year.
Placing this initiative on the November ballot is a gamble, but one worth taking in order to hopefully prevent the cutting of more police officers.
During the public comment portion of last night's Council meeting, we heard from many Oaklanders, and the general consensus was that people want balance in our City services. Libraries and parks make a difference in people's lives. Rec programs for kids contribute to the safety of our community just as police officers patrolling our neighborhoods. Oaklanders also expressed profound gratitude for our police officers, as well as the sentiment that we all have to come together in challenging times and make sacrifices to solve our collective problems.
I strongly agree with that, and over the coming months I look forward to working closely with you and with all Oaklanders to ensure the long-term stability of our public services. We need to re-examine the way our City operates, to guarantee that public funds are spent wisely and efficiently.
Oakland has always been a community that pulls together and makes sacrifices for the greater good. I think if the City is able to share clear and honest information about what the facts are, then we as a community will make the right choices to keep our government serving its citizens in this new era of smaller resources.
I believe that these dark days will end and our great city will emerge stronger and better.
Please stay engaged and please help us get back on our feet. With your support, we will build the community we want and deserve.
Councilmember Pat Kernighan
P.S. For more detailed information about why the City is in this situation, please click here to read my longer newsletter. There is also good factual information in the City Administrator's report considered at last night's budget meeting. Thank you.