Oakland city council meets to trim budget

July 28, 2009 6:56:24 PM PDT
The city of Oakland is getting millions in federal stimulus money to fight crime, but it won't be enough. The police officers themselves are offering to make sacrifices to help.

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The city council is in a meeting right now working on that balancing act. Just last month, the city made $83 million in cuts to balance its budget and the council will try to cut millions more.

Oakland will receive $19.7 million in federal stimulus grant money to pay for 41 police officers over the next three years.

It's more than any other city in the state got and it's still not enough.

"It's real service now and it's real jobs, so they are not easy decisions," said Oakland City Council President Jane Brunner.

But now those difficult decisions must be made, the city had requested more than three times the amount it received.

Mayor Ron Dellums lobbied Washington for the money, but came up short. He hopes police officers won't have to be laid off as a result, but can't guarantee it.

"Our effort would be to make every effort to try to close that gap without terminating any police officers because of bad things happen," said Mayor Dellums.

Even though Oakland just a few weeks ago balanced an $83 million deficit, officials are now forced to review the budget again and come up with another $8.5 million in cuts.

"We went over all the old cuts and said ok we didn't want them last time, what can we live with this time," said Brunner.

On the potential chopping block are some of the very cuts the city council rejected last month. This time they may have no choice but to ground the police helicopter, reduce library hours and cut park rangers.

The city just laid off 64 employees and it will likely lay off even more, including gardeners and tree trimmers.

"These are real live bodies that have bills to pay, just like all of us do," said Oakland City Council Member Larry Reid.

The city had faced millions more in cuts, until the union representing Oakland's police officers announced a renegotiated contract. Officers will forgo cost of living salary increases for four years and reduce the number holidays they get -- saving the city more than $10 million a year.

They hope it's enough.

"We need everybody we can get. The fact that we would lose some cops that would be a catastrophe here. It will be a catastrophe if we lose what we have right now. We need more," said Oakland Police Officers Association President Dom Arotzarena.

The council isn't expected to vote on all $8.5 million in cuts during tonight's meeting, and that could mean council members could be called in on their summer recess next month to make some important decisions.

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