Dellums outlines Oakland budget cuts

May 5, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A city dealing with a serious crime problem could be forced to lay-off more than 100 police officers. Oakland is struggling with an $83 million deficit and the proposed cuts will be deep and painful. At city hall a special session of the council was held to outline the cuts.

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The City of Oakland recently spent millions to recruit and train about 177 new officers. Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums pushed hard for that feat and now he's willing to dismantle one of this prized political victories.

Mayor Dellums laid out his proposed budget before the city council and layoffs were definitely at the top of the list, but residents of Oakland are going to feel the pain too. There will be fewer services and increased fees. Dellum's plan includes shutting branch libraries, cutting back a senior shuttle service, raising recreation and park fees, and increasing parking tickets.

"Altogether the proposed budget eliminates 319 positions, potentially resulting in 249 layoffs," said Mayor Dellums.

Fewer police officers, unfilled potholes, hundreds of city workers laid off are the realities Oakland faces as it struggles to close a massive $83 million budget deficit.

"The fiscal issues that must be addressed in this budget are deep and widespread, touching virtually nearly every single service that Oakland provides," said Mayor Dellums.

Other proposed reductions include a 10 percent pay cut, mostly from union workers.

"I'm not quite sure if the residents understand the magnitude of the problem," said Andre Spearman, from SEIU Local 1021.

To help get the city out of the red, Mayor Dellums proposes eliminating 140 police officer jobs. This news comes just a few months after he touted reaching his promise of full staffing with 803 officers on the force. Police say those cuts would leave public safety in this crime-ravaged city compromised.

At the Vine Wine Bar, on Grand Avenue, owner Chris Williams compares losing security to losing business.

"If we don't continue to make the right choices for the right areas, we're going to have more problems down the road," said Williams.

"140 officers out on the street is a huge amount of officers, but we do understand in this crises the city is seeing right now with a $83 million deficit, there's not too many more places that can be cut," said Jeff Thomason, with the Oakland Police Department.

Oakland already cut about 200 city jobs last year and forced employees to take furlough days that even shut down city hall to save money. The union which represents the majority of city employees, like public works and park gardeners, is bracing for potentially hundreds more layoffs this time around.

"They're going to be some tough choices and some of those jobs that are out there that are considered sacred cows, if you will, we're going to have to look at them. So everybody going to have to come to the table," said Spearma.

Oakland Vice Mayor Ignacio De La Fuente says there are difficult decisions ahead.

"In this time, all of us are going to have to tighten our belt and weather the storm together. But there's going to be reductions," said De La Fuente.

Other reductions that the mayor is proposing includes cutting 24 park maintenance positions which the mayor said will result in a significant impact to the condition of the city's parks. Interestingly enough, the mayor held up a sign in the meeting that he said could be posted around city parks if these cuts are enacted that will warn city residents about the declining conditions of the parks as a result of the budget cuts.

At the end of the discussion on Tuesday night, once city council member said that what is now an $83 million budget deficit in Oakland could climb before the budget talks are closed at the end of this summer to $100 million.

Oakland could dodge one bullet and save its police officers, if it receives a $23 million federal police grant. However, it won't know if it receives the money until the end of September.

The city will go into a series of budget talks so it can hear from the community and come up with alternative plans. Regardless, city officials are expecting a major loss in services.

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