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City Blunts $12 Million Deficit

At Tuesday’s meeting, councilmembers applauded worker concessions and requested restoration of some program funds.

City workers have stepped in to help fill Berkeley’s $12 million budget hole. Speaking at the Tuesday city council meeting, City Manager Phil Kamlarz announced a new agreement with the city’s maintenance and clerical workers, members of the Service Employees International Union 1021, who agreed to a two-tier pension system and to a cut in previously agreed-upon cost of living wage increases.

This is “real pension reform,” Kamlarz said.

Also under discussion at the meeting were programs and studies that councilmembers wanted to add to the budget. Some items were new, while most were programs that had been cut or reduced by staff for budgetary reasons.

The agreement struck with SEIU 1021, which represents about 525 city workers, says pensions for new workers will be reduced from what is known as “2.7 at 55” to “2 at 55,” according to 1021 Executive Committee Member Gladys Gray. That means that SEIU employees can retire at age 55 with 2.7 percent of their highest pay, multiplied by the number of years they’ve worked in Berkeley.

Beginning in 2012, new SEIU employees will retire at age 55 with 2 percent of their highest pay, multiplied by the number of years worked. At 2.7 percent, an employee who retires at age 55 with 25 years of service receives 68 percent pay; under the 2 percent plan, the employee would get 50 percent.

SEIU also agreed to defer to December a 2 percent cost of living increase they were supposed to get in July, according to Gray. And they agreed that the 4 percent cost of living increase they were to get in 2012 be reduced to either 2 or 3 percent, depending on the Consumer Price Index.

The city had planned to cut staff by about 79 positions – some filled and some vacant — over the next two years to make up for budget deficits. It’s not clear at this time whether city worker concessions will save those jobs.

On June 16, the city will publish details of the agreement including the amount of savings it will give the city. To date, the city’s best-paid workers in police and fire have not agreed to concessions similar to those in the new SEIU agreement.

Fourth of July

The budget took center stage when the city’s was discussed, even though the issue at hand was to have been a routine resolution confirming the city’s co-sponsorship of the annual event. The day-long event is funded by the city’s Marina Fund, whose budget is independent of the city’s general fund.

But councilmembers raised concerns about the event’s $80,000 price tag, with funds going mostly to police, fire and public works employee overtime. With city parks and streets in disrepaira and city workers being asked to tighten their belts, an expensive Fourth of July celebration may be out of place, said some councilmembers.

“These are not normal times,” said Councilmember Susan Wengraf. “We’ve had hundreds of employees step up to the plate and not take their COLAS [cost of living adjustments].”

Councilmember Laurie Capitelli defended the expense, saying that thousands of people enjoy the fireworks.

Councilmembers agreed that it was too late to stop the event this year, but that they’d revisit the question early next year.

Other Funding

Several dozen members of the public attended the council meeting to talk about projects they wanted the city to fund.

A number of people called on the council to put aside $50,000 to fund two studies related to city pools: one would be a report on the best use of therapeutic warm pools and the other would involve pre-planning for a pool bond measure planned for November 2012.

In June 2010, a bond measure to upgrade the , and Willard pools and to rebuild the warm pool failed to garner the necessary two-thirds votes, although it did get 62.2 percent of the vote. Supporters now want to put a new measure on the ballot, but want better information to share with the public. They also want a better plan for generating revenue at a new therapeutic pool, such as swim lessons for children and use by private therapists.

Willard Pool closed one year ago due to lack of funds for its repair, and the therapeutic warm pool at is slated for closure in December, when the building in which it’s housed will be demolished.

“We owe the voters better information,” said one pool supporter. “The voters told us they wanted pools.”

Advocates for the , which offers health care and support for youth living on the streets, asked the city to restore $20,000 the city had cut from its budget.

Various councilmembers asked to see funds restored for a variety of programs: the , the Persian Festival, help for the school district with extended day care, acupuncture at the , programs at , which serves primarily Japanese-American senior citizens and many more.

The city manager is tasked with looking for funding for these requests before the June 28 budget vote.

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