On Monday eve, we were able to hear about Oakland’s budget from one City Hall insider. Oakland’s budget director, Cheryl Taylor, patiently reviewed the major points of the general purposed fund by department – and what’s left for the waning 2009-2010 fiscal year.
To us, it felt like a mining pit. We’re already digging below ground level, with different parts of the budget carved from the earth and given away. And at some point, we stop seeing any ground beneath our collective feet. Nice metaphor, we think.
Although seemingly untenable, there must be another $10.5 million saved before this year’s over. At least Director Taylor was clear about the challenges. If we understood correctly, then only 12 percent of the general funds are even available. Plus only a portion of that $52 million is game since we’re well into the fiscal year.
Taylor put things in perspective when recalling Oakland’s boom and bust cycle. A while ago, we used to have “three people to do one job,” she explained. “Now there’s one person to do three jobs.” It’s not easy to figure out how to save and simultaneously maintain government services.
The Monday meeting enabled civilians like us to suggest or react to possibilities. No one was crying “save my piece of the pie” here. Instead, people were soberly considering how public safety or other services might be severed during the recession.
Beyond this fiscal year, there were very interesting rays of hope. One idea was that work currently done by sworn officers might be civilianized. Another suggestion was to dive into all the suppliers and contracts again, given these economic times. And privatizing several city services or resources was raised as well.
However, the task at hand was solvency today. Make Oakland Better Now!, a citizen initiative, organized this week’s meeting to identify and assess what could be done right now. After all, the City Council will be forced to find the remaining millions soon – and we might as well offer our two cents.