Mary Kay Clunies-Ross and Phil Kamlarz at city budget briefing on May 3. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

In order to close a $12.2 million deficit next year – and a projected $13.3 million deficit in 2013  – the city of Berkeley will eliminate 79 positions, cut services, and may raise fees on garbage collection, marina rentals, senior center rentals, and permit inspection fees.

The city may even ask voters to approve a new parcel tax to pay for road and building improvements.

The suggestions are part of the two-year budget City Manager Phil Kamlarz will present to the City Council tonight. And, while the news is gloomy, it is a slightly better forecast than in March, when the city thought it was facing a $12.5 million deficit.

“This is the longest and deepest depression we have had in the last 25 to 30 years,” Kamlarz said at a press briefing on Tuesday.

The city has eliminated 130 positions in the last two years but must cut deeper to balance the $320 million budget for fiscal 2012 and the $311 million budget for fiscal 2013, said Kamlarz. Of the 79 positions that will be eliminated, 57 will be cut in 2012 and 22 will be cut in 2013. Because the city has not been filling vacant positions, 26 people will lose their jobs next year and 18 the year after.

Five police officer positions will be eliminated. The bulk of the layoffs will come from mental health and public health, said Kamlarz.

Other proposed reductions include:

  • Converting the West Berkeley Senior Center, which serves about 45 people a day, from a full-scale center to one that focuses on individually targeted cases. Instead of offering an array of programs, the center would be used as a place for case managers to work with seniors. The North and South Berkeley Senior Centers would continue to offer classes and hot lunch. Transportation would be provided from the West Berkeley center to the other senior centers.
  • Eliminate the weatherization program.
  • Reduce community block grants by 16.8%.
  • Change the focus of the mental health department to wellness recovery. Currently the department offers long-term mental health services. Some clients have been seeing therapists for more than 30 years. The department also has plans to improve its Medi-cal reimbursements.
  • Reduce hours at clinics. Do fewer health promotion programs. Cut portions of the communicable disease prevention program to focus on highest-risk diseases.
  • Move from two-person garbage trucks to one-person garbage trucks, which are becoming the industry norm.
  • Eliminate five vacant positions in the police department, reduce patrol coverage, and reduce overtime. Delay records processing and in-house trainings.

Kamlarz’s proposed budget also has some ideas on increasing revenues and bringing more funds into city coffers:

  • Solid Waste Division. The city will study garbage rates in 2012 and may ask voters to approve a rate increase in the spring of that year.
  • The tight budget means that less money is going into capital projects like street repaving or upgrades to local parks. Kamlarz will suggest to the City Council tonight that it consider a new $52 a year parcel tax for capital improvements. If the council thinks this is a good idea, it could go before voters in June 2012.
  • The city council will also consider raising rental fees on marina berths, renting a room at the city’s senior centers, permit inspection fees, and other fees.

City officials said there are some signs the economy is improving. Last year, the city reported a $1.9 million drop in sales tax revenues. Things have improved significantly, and the city will see a $1.3 million bump in revenues this year, according to Bob Hicks, the director of finance.

In addition, taxes from property transfers seem to be on the rebound. In fiscal 2007, these hit an all time high, bringing Berkeley $16.4 million. By 2009, the transfer taxes only brought in $8 million, according to Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, the city spokeswoman. For fiscal 2011, the taxes should bring in $9 million.

The biggest chunk of the budget comes from personnel costs, particularly health and pension benefits. The city is currently in contract negotiations with the police union and these issues are front and center in the talks, said Kamlarz.

The City Council will receive the budget tonight and talk about it extensively the next two months. It will hold two public hearings on the budget, one on May 17 and one on June 7. The council is scheduled to adopt a final budget on June 28.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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  1. Reducing city employee salaries is the long term goal which will require a sustained fight over years. Cutting positions permanently now, is an immediately effective strategy.

    The opportunities are plentiful. A partial list:

    – consolidation of departments
    – revising outdated work rules
    – eliminating duplication of services
    – establishing minimum production/performance standards

    IT IS NOT POSSIBLE for Berkeley city officials or administrative staff to identify these potential efficiencies. None are interested in managing a city staff withdrawing cold turkey from tax addiction.

    An experienced outside auditor, with a clear mandate and unlimited investigative access, is required to purge our bloated city employee roles.

    For years the City of San Francisco had Harvey Rose doing this. You want Mr. Kalmarz to stop shrugging and start shaking, just mention Harvey’s name.


  2. My impression is they try hard to do exactly that. There are some glimmers
    of hope: the Apple Store is certainly a high-value retailer, and the
    Shattuck Plaza is, at last, a good hotel downtown. More is needed,

  3. Phil Kamlarz has announced that there will be a review of all the
    commissions. He has also cautioned that he has done this exercise before and
    was unable to get support for much in the way of rationalization. The
    tougher budgetary times now may change that.

  4. Let’s not forget the one transgendered city employee who may be eligible for $20,000 for a sex change operation.

  5. Something tells me Becky O’Malley and the crew at the Berkeley Daily Planet wouldn’t let that happen without a hell of a fight.

  6. Unfortunately our fellow Berkeley citizens are often our worst enemies on these issues.
    Any proposed changes will immediately be attacked by folks like Bruce “Tom Lord” Love who will go into Armchair Lawyer Mode and endlessly bicker about why changing things is illegal. Then an anonymous “conservation” group will be formed and one of their lawyer friends will sue the city, which will stall any proposal until the funds run out.

  7. Tope 20 city of Berkeley earners in 2009 (higher figure on the right is total payout salary but does not reflect all benefits or employee costs to tax payers):

    1 DOUGLAS HAMBLETON Police POLICE CHIEF $166,321.49 $386,440.34 Details
    2 PHILIP KAMLARZ City Manager CITY MANAGER $240,620.17 $248,834.06 Details
    3 JOHN O’REILLY Fire FIRE CAPTAIN $99,044.67 $230,405.46 Details
    4 HOWARD NONOGUCHI Police POLICE SERGEANT $127,657.00 $228,120.41 Details
    5 ERIC GUSTAFSON Police POLICE CAPTAIN $183,736.98 $214,403.89 Details
    6 BOBBY MILLER Police POLICE CAPTAIN $7,025.88 $212,922.79 Details
    7 ALLEN YUEN Police POLICE LIEUTENANT $61,621.89 $211,970.95 Details
    8 DENNIS AHEARN Police POLICE CAPTAIN $175,662.18 $210,310.77 Details
    9 EDWARD SPILLER Police POLICE SERGEANT $127,657.00 $208,515.55 Details
    10 FREDERICO MEDRANO Health DIRECTOR OF HEALTH $197,996.47 $207,672.77 Details
    11 LISA CARONNA-PERLEY City Manager DEPUTY CITY MANAGER $202,501.96 $205,491.31 Details
    12 DAVID FRANKEL Police POLICE LIEUTENANT $147,652.81 $200,516.83 Details
    13 CHRISTINE DANIEL City Manager DEPUTY CITY MANAGER $202,501.96 $199,471.12 Details
    14 JOHN TARASCIO Fire FIRE LIEUTENANT $118,799.70 $197,669.60 Details
    15 LESLIE PUTNAM Fire FIRE CAPTAIN $132,309.40 $195,462.17 Details
    16 DENNIS FOLEY Fire FIRE LIEUTENANT $118,799.70 $195,240.69 Details
    17 DANIEL MARKS Planning DIRECTOR OF PLANNING $189,944.96 $195,207.44 Details
    18 MICHAEL MIGLIORE Fire ASSISTANT FIRE CHIEF $8,028.51 $195,091.41 Details
    19 DEBRA PRYOR Fire FIRE CHIEF $196,581.24 $193,903.44 Details
    20 RICHARD GUZMAN Fire FIRE CAPTAIN $132,309.39 $193,436.48

    Read more:

  8. We have had parcel taxes for schools, libraries, swimming pools and now roads!. What exactly does our property tax pay for? All these items should be covered in what are some of the highest rates of property tax in the country. It would be great if city hall could be taken over by some fiscal minded sensible types. Fix the roads, cut the overgrown trees, fill the swimming pools and clean up the schools. No extra taxes just stop the waste of money school busing that drives tax payers to send their children to private schools, cut the excessive holidays and benefits that city workers get, stop running business out of town, stop wasting city time on national and global issues. This city is literally crumbling to pieces while an overpaid and underworked city administration suck all the tax paying residents dry.

  9. Can someone ask Mr. Kamlarz if he thinks he is part of the problem?
    This guy gets 240,000 dollars a year to mismanage the city budget- and we also have an ineffective mayor that gets at least 150,000 to delegate his job to Kamlarz.
    And then, on retirement I am guessing we as citizens owe Kamlarz at least 180,000 a year in lifetime annual salary for his stellar work in suggesting that the City bilk businesses and residents with some kick-the-can-down-the-road fees and, of course, higher taxes to pay for his spectacular retirement. Sometime down the road, we are paying for his bass fishing boat, vacation home, botox or whatever. In in that future, we will be taxed to death and still driving on potholes because none of this tax money actually makes it past plugging benefits holes.
    Man, you cannot write stuff like this up and the average Berkeley citizen has Stockholm syndrome and begs to be taxed more to get bad services and poor representation.

  10. The economic development office should be trying to bring more car dealerships, hotels, and high value retailers to Berkeley. They generate the most tax revenue.

  11. Classic error. Increase fees to do business or remodel or build. That just drives business out of town or stalls development. Plus, these fees that they want to raise won’t do jack for the insanely, massive unfunded pension liability of the city. Its a drop in the bucket firing some people and raising some fees.
    The budget has to be fixed by cutting back benefits and pensions. Thats 90% of the problem. Taxing and creating more expenses for the remainder of the productive class is a dead end. See Detroit and Chicago. One city implemented those techniques- the other just rediscovered them. Both are leading to economic stagnation.

  12. This is the first place where budget cuts should start. $29,000 a month is too much for a city of 100,000 people.

  13. Hey, what happened to Tracy Vesely, I thought she was good budget director. I wonder why she moved to San Leandro.

    Berkeley mental health and public health dept are duplication of services provided by the county. I have never seen any evaluation of programs, and the mental health dept has failed to bill Medi-CAL for decades.

  14. I would not vote for a parcel tax for improving roads. That should come out of the general budget.

  15. I would not vote for a parcel tax for improving roads. That should come out of the general budget.

  16. I think a review of all commissions would be in order. They may have citizen volunteers as members but they cost staff time

  17. I am disappointed that cutting the peace and freedom commission isn’t on the list, but reductions at health clinics is.