While Berkeley must work to solve its pension liabilities, the city has an excellent staff with deep experience in addressing fiscal matters.
Berkeley has hired 73 new employees in the past three years. Before it adds any more, officials must understand and reveal what the long term costs will be.
New to Berkeley and even newer to her role as interim city manager, Dee Williams-Ridley gave residents one of their first chances to get to know her last week at a public forum hosted by the North East Berkeley Association at the Northbrae Community Church.
Isabelle Gaston, president of the North East Berkeley Association, recently did an email interview with Christine Daniel, Berkeley’s City Manager, about the financial health of Berkeley for NEBA’s newsletter. Gaston provided the interview for reprinting on Berkeleyside. It has been edited to conform to Berkeleyside style:
Discussion about potential rival ice cream stores on Telegraph Ave. consumed nearly two hours of the Berkeley City Council meeting on Tuesday night, with supporters of the two retailers crowding the chamber. For the first public hearing on the city’s budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, and comments on the citywide work plan for FY2014? Less than an hour in a council chamber emptied of the public, but with every city department head in attendance.
Raised fees for a number of city services were agreed on Tuesday night by the City Council with relatively little debate and no public comments. Dog licenses will at least double: from $7.50 to $15 for a one-year altered dog licence and from $18 to $40 for a three-year altered dog license. Fees for animal adoptions from the city shelter are also going up.
Berkeley’s City Council on Tuesday night received the first biennial report on the city’s long-term liabilities. The detailed breakdowns in the report from city budget manager Teresa Berkeley-Simmons make clear that the main areas with significant liabilities are police pensions, maintenance of city facilities, and watershed and storm drain maintenance and improvements.
Berkeley’s General Fund projections include a deficit of more than $5 million over the next two years, requiring city leaders to take a tough look at its more cash-strapped departments to reign in costs.
City staff were “overly optimistic” in budget projections for the fiscal year that ended in June, but Berkeley’s General Fund still ended up several hundred thousand dollars in the black for 2011-12, the city manager told council members Tuesday night.
A ballot initiative to force the city to do biennial reports on obligations for employee and retiree expenses and for Berkeley’s physical infrastructure and capital assets appears likely to appear on the ballot in the November election, according to supporters of the plan. At the same time, at tonight’s City Council meeting a similar measure is being proposed by four councilmembers, led by District 5’s Laurie Capitelli. The council measure, however, lacks the penalties for failing to produce the report that the initiative draft contains.
The City Council heard a sobering report from outside actuary John Bartel at its special meeting on Tuesday night this week.
The City Council tonight will hear a report on mid-year budget revisions for the current fiscal year, designed to respond to a revenue shortfall of $1.8 million. According to City Manager Phil Kamlarz, planned savings are already on track for $1 million. The remaining $800,000 of the deficit will be covered by deferring capital expenditures, primarily from the street rehabilitation budget. An increase in projected expenses from the adopted budget is being covered from $4.62 million from the reserves.
The Berkeley City Council special session on the $310 million — or higher — unfunded liability on promised employee benefits revealed the difficult choices faced by the city.