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.

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