Forum – Police Services Parcel Tax Options (click photo for larger image)
Sunday afternoon the non-profit group Make Oakland Better Now! hosted a community forum on the Oakland police budget called “Can Oakland Afford to be Safe?”, at St Paul’s Episcopal Church on Montecito Ave near Grand Ave. Attending were City Administrator Deanna Santana, Chief of Police Howard Jordan, Budget Assistant to the City Administrator Andrew Murray, Oakland Police Services Agency Project Manager Gil Garcia, and Oakland Police Department Captain Paul Figueroa.
I attended the meeting to learn more about the budget and what we’re spending our money on. It was two hours long and I won’t try to cover the entire meeting, but I will post some photos of slides that might help. The long-story-short version is no, we can’t afford to keep Oakland safe with our current budget. We might be able to with a parcel tax of at minimum around $300, and even that doesn’t cover the various unfunded liabilities.
The forum members presented a ton of budget and police staffing information that took nearly 3/4 of the allotted time. The few questions that were answered at the end focused on narrow issues of recruiting and training. Nobody on the forum ever came out and said what the minimum parcel tax would have to be to cover the increased officers and all the unfunded liabilities, and none of the selected questions touched on it.
I’d guess there were roughly 120 people. A couple of council members came, including Nick Gallo (who was sitting right behind me) and Libby Schaaf, and I was told later by another attendee that Lynette McElhaney was also in attendance. Dan Kalb was not there as far as I could tell. But I did get to meet the wonderful Karen Ivy from the Rockridge NCPC, who gave me lots of colorful context throughout the meeting.
The take-away points:
1) Having a full staff of cops matters. For each percentage increase in cops you get a corresponding half-percentage decrease in crime.
2) They’ve re-started the academies after a four-year absence, with two academies a year of about 60 students. They need an extraordinary number of applications in order to get a viable academy class. For the academy about to start, out of the original 1805 applications received they will have a class of 51 people. They lose over half the applicants in the written test alone (which is created by the state and the city has no control over it).
3) If we want a fully-staffed police dept, the city administrator says we’ll need a parcel tax. If we want 900 officers, it means $338/yr tax; a dept of 1000 officers will need $463/yr tax. That does not even include the massive amount of unfunded and long-term liabilities.
4) The long-term liabilities situation for the city is horrific and without additional taxes will almost certainly lead to city bankruptcy by around 2015-2016. The unfunded liabilities (most of these are as of June 2011) include:
- $743K for the Oakland Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS)
- $29.5M for accrued leaves
- $111M for 54 city funds with negative fund balances (no I have no idea what this means but that’s what the slide says)
- $216M for the Police and Fire Retirement System (PFRS)
- $520M for Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB)
- $743M for what the city owes to the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS)
If I understand some other stuff that Ms Santana (the city administrator) said, the payments to CalPERS will start going up in 2015 and will continue to go up for five year for a total of 50% increase. This is to fund CalPERS unfunded liabilities. So what they’re doing is (probably) a good thing, but it’s going to hit Oakland very hard. I’m not an accountant and I don’t have a great handle on all this stuff, but the increase in payments to CalPERS combined with all the other unfunded liabilities seems to me to mean inescapable bankruptcy or a dramatic increase in taxes. I believe Len Raphael has estimated it would take a $1000/yr parcel tax to pay for it all. I will post all the slides that I had that turned out readable and see if anyone can make more sense out of them than I have. Make Oakland Better Now! has promised to put the entire slide deck up and some video clips on their website; I’ll post a link here if/when they do so.
The Fiscal Year 2013-2015 budget process includes a series of budget town hall
meetings and city council budget hearings:
Town Hall Meetings:
- May 09 (Thurs), 6:30-8:30pm, Oakland Zoo, Zimmer Auditorium
- May 13 (Mon), 6-8pm, Patten College (location is tentative)
- May 18 (Sat), noon-2pm, Beebe Memorial Church, Telegraph & 39th St
- May 19 (Sun), 3:30-5:30pm, Edna Brewer Middle School, 3748 13th Ave
- May 20 (Mon), 6:30-8pm, Frick Middle School, 2845 64th Ave
City Council Hearings:
- May 23 (Thurs), City Council Chambers
- June 13 (Thurs), City Council Chambers
- June 27 (Thurs), City Council Chambers (final hearing/adoption)
Forum – Unfunded and Long Term Liabilities
Forum – Background: Budget Conditions
Forum – Budget Conditions: Service Challenges
Forum – Past Solutions to Balance the Budget
Forum – Budget Conditions: Fiscal Uncertainties Outside Local Control
Forum – Police Academy Recruiting
Forum – Continued Challenges
Forum – Police Sworn Staffing Details