city budget

The need for a multi-year budget plan to prepare for higher pension and other employee costs was discussed at the special meeting of the City Council on Tuesday night.

The council reviewed the spending plan for the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 fiscal years but took no action. Adoption of the final, two-year budget, which includes expenditures of $163 million next year, will take place next month.

Visitors to Park and Webster streets could soon be dropping a few more coins in the meters in order to help balance Alameda’s budget in the coming years.

Pricier parking – and parking tickets – are among the proposals city officials are offering to close a combined $7.1 million budget deficit spanning the next two years, a list that includes reduced library hours, fewer building renovations and layoffs.

The City Council will discuss the proposals during a public budget workshop on Thursday. They’re looking at $72.9 million in general fund revenues for 2013-2014 and a total budget of $153 million.

Alameda’s City Council okayed a fresh budget which council members hailed for its lack of impact to community services, though they also acknowledged that much more work needs to be done to steady the city’s shaky finances over the long term.

“Is the work over? It’s absolutely not over. Is there more progress to be made? Absolutely. But there’s been progress made,” said Vice Mayor Rob Bonta, one of four council members who voted in favor of approving the budget.

A 2010 report on the sustainability of the City of San Jose’s pension system offers a detailed look at how the costs of that city’s pensions outpaced its ability to pay for them, to the tune of $2 billion in unfunded pension liabilities that year.

The list of factors that contributed to San Jose’s pension woes included benefit costs that outpaced contributions as early as 2001 and nearly $1 billion in investment losses, San Jose City Auditor Sharon Erickson’s report showed, along with incorrect assumptions about the city’s investment returns as well as what kind of salary increases its employees would earn, when they would retire and how long they would live.

The failure of the Measure C sales tax initiative brought a trickling of residents into Alameda’s City Hall on June 12 who said they think city leaders should pursue a different strategy for attacking the city’s persistent budget deficits: Cut city workers’ pensions and salaries.

But the city’s leaders are limited in what they can do to address rising pension costs, particularly for current employees and retirees, interviews and documents detailing the rights of pension holders and recent efforts by other cities to cut pension costs show.

Alameda’s City Council held a wide-ranging discussion Tuesday night about how – or if – the city could pay for facilities, vehicles and equipment council members had hoped to fund with money from the Measure C sales tax initiative.

“I have to say that all the issues that were still facing us before we envisioned the campaign for Measure C are still here after the campaign for Measure C, so it’s sort of like a reset,” Mayor Marie Gilmore said at the start of the nearly three-hour hearing.

Some council members said they believe voters would have been willing to support a tax focused on public safety.

In what has become an almost perverse annual ritual, city leaders discussed how they plan to address a projected $5.1 million deficit in next year’s general fund budget and bigger deficits in the years to come.

City staffers on Tuesday outlined a series of cuts that included layoffs and plans to close the city’s jail. City Council members, meanwhile, sparred over the Measure C sales tax proposal, which voters will consider through Election Day on Tuesday.

“We’re going to do less with less,” Councilwoman Lena Tam said.

When city leaders announced plans to contract Alameda’s animal shelter services out to another city to save money, animal lovers here quickly mobilized to stop them. But instead of fighting opponents of the outsourcing plan, the city decided to hand them the Alameda Animal Shelter’s keys.

Sixty-five days later the shelter’s new director, Mim Carlson, said she’s busy managing a staff of nine and training what she hopes will ultimately be more than a hundred volunteers – and finding ways to raise the nonprofit that now runs the shelter’s half of its $600,000 annual budget.

An opponent of a proposed half-cent sales tax increase launched his campaign against the tax Tuesday.

Alameda activist and blogger David Howard said the proposed Measure C sales tax increase that’s due to appear on the June 5 ballot was pushed through without adequate public input.

Alameda’s high school swimming pools are on life support, masters swimmer Barry Parker said, and the city and school district are unlikely to continuing paying to keep them open. But $5 million gleaned from a half-cent sales tax increase could build a new, Olympic-size pool that could be used by high school swimmers, young children and adult swimmers alike, he said.