Devastating Cuts Proposed in San Leandro

The Citizen 

SAN LEANDROBudget cuts proposed by the San Leandro Finance Department could mean reductions in law enforcement, city personnel and a decline in response time to the basic maintenance of the city. Possibly controversial cuts to recreation, which met stern community criticism last year, are also included in the plan.

Interim Finance Director Perry Carter said more cuts to the $7.3 million budget shortfall will need to be studied since Tuesday’s proposal still leaves the budget in the red by over $1.4 million, which could be bad news since many of the propsosed cuts to every city department ranging from 5 to 31 percent are likely to raise hackles among community members.

The cuts include reducing the city staff by 64 full-time equivalent positions, includeing 5 police officers. San Leandro Capt. Tom Overton said cuts to law enforcement would put the number of officers patrolling the city at a low of 84. The loss of city jobs and benefits will save over $3 million. City Manager Stephen Hollister said 12 have already accepted early retirement packages, but Councilman Jim Prola said the city needs to offer so-called “golden handshakes” to more employees.

“I think it’s really critical that we offer [early retirement] rather than cutting full-time public employees,” said Prola, who sits on the finance committee. “If we are going to lose positions, I don’t want to fire permanent employees.”

Councilwoman Diana Souza and Mayor Tony Santos also sit on the three-member finance committee.

The drastic cuts to personnel will affect everyday city business and maintenance across many departments, according to the presentation made by Carter. If approved sometime in June, residents can expect longer response times for city services including patching potholes, weed abatement, traffic light repair and general upkeep of the city. In addition to longer wait times for service at city hall, the proposal does not include funding for the Senior Community Center in the next fiscal budget
Cuts to library and recreation services–often times a very visible example of dwindling quality of life issues in the city–could take heavy hits with fewer hours at the Main and Manor branches, the elimination of security at Main during morning hours along with temporary closure of Farrelly Pool and the Boys and Girls Club swimming pool and reduced hours at the Family Aquatics Center. Parents and children protested the planned suspension of services at Farrelly Pool last year and eventually gained limited access to the facility.

Also included in the proposal is elimination of all community events, including the annual tree lighting at city hall, the adult sports program and park rangers, which the finance department says, “may increase need for police repsonse.”

Percentage of proposed cuts from adopted 2009-10 budget to proposed 2010-11 budget. 
Human Resources                        31%   
Recreation & Human Services            30%
Engineering & Transportation           26%
Public Works                           23%
Library                                20%
Community Development                  14%
Finance                                13%
City Manager Office                     9%
Police                                  7%
Fire                                    5%                        

Part of the remaining $1.4 million shortfall contains a $770,000 transfer from reserves to fund the use of a ladder truck for just one-half year. Hollister indicated the city may peg its hope for securing use of the fire truck for six additional months on the possibility of a tax initiative being placed on the November ballot. The cuts to reconcile the remaining $636,000 shortfall will be discussed at budget hearings in May and June along with two planned community discussions the mayor announced Tuesday afternoon. One possibly at the Library and another at the Marina Community Center.

Although, the economy is showing no signs of significant recovery at the local level, Carter said financial consultants for the city believe the economy will show a “bounceback” at the end of this year. The city’s proposed budget for 2010-11 accounts for $17.8 million in sales tax, while analysts proposed a figure over $18 million in receipts at the end of this year. Carter cautioned, though, “one quarter does not a trend make.”

The city economic picture in the near-term will become more clear during the middle of this month when final sales tax numbers are released, Carter said. He also believes the city “could get some good news on property tax,” but sees property transfer taxes–an indicator of real estate activity–showing “no growth, no further decline.”

Although, Santos called the proposal “workable,” he also indicated it will be paramount for city officials to convince various groups that cuts to programs and services are needed in the short-term. Sporadic and limited discussion of various revenue enhancement strategies, included increasing parking fees, recreational fees, which one department head, said were already some of the highest in the area, and increasing penalties for traffic violations. At one point, Santos mentioned studying a proposal to charge residents for 911 services. A similar idea was floating in recent weeks in Tracy and was roundly criticized. San Leandro residents already pay and 911 tax through their telephone bill.

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