The city budget deficit affects all San Leandrans. Needed street repairs are not occurring, branch library hours have been restricted, school crossing guards have been terminated, and many other cuts have been made.
San Leandro's budget consists of nearly $78 million in expenditures, paid for by about $72 million in revenue. The city has covered its deficits by transferring millions from emergency reserve and self-insurance funds. The funds have been drained to dangerously low levels. If a major disaster should occur, San Leandro could go bankrupt in a matter of weeks. Plus, these are one-time only funds that are being used for ongoing expenses.
The budget planned for next fiscal year 2009-10 is seriously flawed. It continues to draw on reserves and relies on unrealistic projections that tax receipts will increase. In the midst of the worse recession post World War II, the city is planning on a 4% gain in sales taxes and 3% growth in property taxes. In the meantime, city streets continue to deteriorate yet the City Council approved spending millions to dispose of the spoils from continued dredging of the boat harbor.
Hard questions on the budget are being ignored such as
* Why is the city spending $13 million more on police services today than in 2000 yet has almost no more police officers patrolling our streets than eight years ago?
* How will the city staff the new senior center when it is sharply restricting hours at the art and history museum and reducing operating hours at branch libraries?
* Is the city risking the safety of children and their parents by eliminating street crossing guards at schools next year?
There is a lack of willingness at city hall to address these questions. The senior center under construction may have to be closed as soon as it is opened. There is even talk of imposing mandatory work furloughs for police officers.
Nor is there any leadership by example. Last year, the mayor sought to change city policy to allow compensation for international travel the city council. All the city council agreed to in the latest budget was to eliminate the free meals they received prior to meetings.
How is the city council planning on avoiding the city’s day of financial reckoning? They are considering placing new taxes on the ballot in 2010. Higher taxes for less service should not be the future of San Leandro.
To eliminate the deficit, sacrifices must be made at all levels, starting at the top. You cannot ask others to sacrifice when you refuse to do so yourself. The city council should take an immediate 10% pay cut out of respect for, and solidarity with, the sacrifices their constituents make every day.
The city council should also revise the budget approval process. When the city council adopts a budget, it reviews data only for the next fiscal year. That’s like an ocean liner sailing at full speed across the Atlantic without radar. The city should take into account multi-year fiscal projections. This way financial time bombs in the future can be identified and defused before they explode.
Further solutions will emerge through honest and open dialogue with San Leandrans. Town halls and community forums are valuable ways to engage the community, and should be scheduled. We can learn about the city’s fiscal challenges, get answers to questions on the budget, and offer solutions.
Government can play an essential role in meeting community needs. The school board worked with parents and teachers to pass a bond to construct a 9th grade campus to solve the overcrowding at the high school.
We should also receive value for our tax dollars. Repeatedly, city hall promised vital services would be enhanced if new taxes were adopted. The new budget cuts the number of police officers from 94 to 88; despite taxes approved last November to prevent this action. The city hopes to obtain stimulus money to refill these positions. That is only a short-term fix, and makes city hall further dependent on outside help for its internal failures. Plus, we need more police officers.
What are your thoughts on how the City of San Leandro should address its budget crisis?