This budget started out equitable and realistic. It has become political and unrealistic. The 15 percent reductions in all departments but public safety was agreed to be equitable and the Council was fully supportive. However, the community did not fully understand this and when their local services were announced to be cut, they challenged the Council to return their favorite service.
Instead of communicating our desperate situation, the Finance Committee looked for ways to save the services that had the loudest clamoring. The suspension of the Mulford Marina Branch and the South Branch libraries generated a great deal of fervor. Rightfully so, as many people enjoy all of our branch libraries. However, to keep them open, even at reduced hours, we are required to change our 15 percent strategy of reductions to 10 percent for libraries only and utilize almost a quarter of a million dollars of our insurance reserves. This has become a political decision and it is inequitable to all other departments.
It was only three years ago that the Manor Branch library suspended its service for over 18 months to be rebuilt. During that time all of District 4 had to utilize other locations for library services. Then, as now, the suspension of the branch library services was for a better future in San Leandro. We knew that, and survived without out a local library and felt fortunate to have long hours of operation at alternative locations in San Leandro. This year, we should have better communicated to our constituents that the suspension of the branch libraries means long hours of operations and maintenance of the alternative locations. In the future, under this proposed budget, we are destined for drastic reductions in library and other operations.
The suspension of Farrelly Pool services brought out a literal flood of protests. Farrelly is well used by the neighboring families and it is right that they work to keep their pool open. Still, in 2005, the Washington Manor Pool was closed for over a year and a half, which meant a season and a half of swimming was completely suspended. And even beyond that, when it reopened, Washington manor was without its diving depth pool. To this day, all parents on the West of town must take their children across town for advanced swimming lessons and teenagers can no longer walk and must be driven across town to enjoy swimming at their level. District 4 has not complained because they knew in 2005 that eventually they would be given all of the services that have been enjoyed by the rest of the city in both shallow and diving depth pools. To do this day, we still don’t have a diving depth pool, yet we knew it was for a better San Leandro in the future.
This is the same as we are asking our citizens today. The suspension of the Mulford/Marina Branch and South Branch services and the suspension of Farrelly Pool services are for the betterment of the city’s future. By suspending those services, we are maintaining services for long hours in other parts of town. And with this inconvenience, our plan is to have enough revenue to re-open those facilities in future years. We should be communicating that message, not giving in to the clamoring.
Our budget has also become unrealistic because of the growing number of optimistic projections that have received our quiet consent. We are budgeting based upon a number of assumptions that have us collectively crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. Some of the assumptions are:
- Six police officers will be fully funded by the Federal Recovery Act.
- Business license fees, property taxes and sales tax revenue will increase in a year of continued recession.
- The state will not carry out their plan to borrow $1.8 million to balance California’s budget.
These are not conservative projections, but have been defined as optimistic projections. When these assumptions fail, it will mean an additional shortfall of millions of dollars and further diving into our emergency reserves. For all of these reasons, I am not in favor of using our $250,000 insurance reserves to save any program this year.
However, in the spirit of consensus, at our last meeting Councilmember Diana Souza, in an effort to balance community needs, suggested, and I supported, a finance committee consideration of using the insurance savings that supported the branch libraries to help fund the Farrelly Pool services.
Instead, the finance committee took a different tact, proposing to double the pool entrance fees and potentially reducing hours at all our other pools. This means we plan to serve the same number of swimmers at twice the cost at up to half the hours. This does not make sense to me.
A balanced budget in this economy requires a firm stand and an effort to communicate our dire situation to our citizens. Although it feels difficult, this budget has been relatively easy due to the use of $3 million in reserves. Next year, with no remaining reserve, it will be much, much worse, and we must start communicating that message. I plan to work with the community to do all we can to weather the coming 2010-11 budget storm.
Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak has represented San Leandro’s 4th District since 2004.