Oakland, CA – The City of Oakland announced $29 million in immediate spending cuts and other cost-savings measures to begin to close a projected year-end $62 million deficit in the General Purpose Fund (GPF). The Administration announced a $9 million general personnel and spending cuts last week, and now adds an additional $20 million in public safety expenditure and service reductions this week. Despite the severe impact to the city’s fire and police services, these actions alone are insufficient to resolve the projected $62 million deficit. A shortfall of $33 million remains. The report will be presented to the Oakland City Council at a special meeting on Wednesday, December 23 at 11 am.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on Oakland residents, the livelihood of their families, and the finances of the City. With no direct federal relief included in the most recent stimulus package, the City must begin to take responsible actions to address the massive shortfall. In a letter to City employees last week, Mayor Libby Schaaf and City Administrator Ed Reiskin were candid about the severity of the situation: “To be direct, absent immediate and significant expenditure reductions, the General Purpose Fund will be insolvent before the end of the fiscal year. The City will not be able to fund essential services or respond to emergencies like an earthquake or natural disaster. Even the City’s emergency reserve will be completely exhausted. Although Oakland is not alone in this crisis, this situation represents one of the most serious financial challenges the City of Oakland has ever faced. The impacts on City services are unavoidable and will be significant. We are determined to face these challenges now to lessen the long-term and most devastating impacts. If we wait until next fiscal year to address the shortfall, the cuts would be catastrophically deep, and we will be forced to make cuts that could be avoided by acting now.”
The fiscal crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic requires immediate and devastating but necessary service cuts. Given the urgency of the financial situation and the fact that the sooner the City acts the less the deficit will grow, most of these cost-cutting measures will take effect immediately; a few may take some time to fully implement.
Every dollar of expenditures that will be reduced translates into services that will not be provided to the public. As the City’s public safety agencies comprise a majority of GPF expenditures, the Police and Fire departments must bear the largest cuts and service impacts in order to address the GPF deficit. Other actions, such as freezing vacant GPF-funded positions in all departments will also reduce the level of service they provide.
These service cuts are being made only through June 30, 2021. Staff are hopeful that Federal or State Aid and a rapid economic recovery will allow the City to restore these critical services as soon as possible. We recognize that vital public safety employees are already stretched and have been working under the most challenging conditions as First Responders during the pandemic. The Oakland Police Department has long had the lowest officer-per-crime staffing level of any police department in the country. The City would not be making these service reductions if staff were not certain it is absolutely necessary to prevent the critical General Purpose Fund within the City’s budget from becoming insolvent.
The cost-reduction measures and the estimated cost savings of each are summarized in the table below:
OPD Service Reductions ($15 million)
For more than a decade the Oakland Police Department has exceeded its Adopted Budget. Both the City Council and the City Auditor have acknowledged that the Administration and City Council have consistently under-budgeted police overtime, particularly in light of increased costs and historical need. In the most recently closed fiscal year, FY 2020-21, OPD exceeded its budget by more than $32 million. The Q1 (first quarter) expenditure forecast for the current year similarly projects OPD exceeding its budget. Reduced services are immediately necessary to address the City’s precarious fiscal condition.
OPD does not recommend any service cuts due to the City’s ongoing and escalating violent crime problem, but recognizes and embraces the need to achieve immediate savings due to increasing budgetary shortfalls. These reductions preserve core services of patrol and investigation, ensuring that the basic work of the department can continue.
The items listed below comprise both discretionary overtime and specialty units corresponding to assignments of personnel that could be shifted back to patrol. Expected impacts of the service reductions listed below are detailed in the Administration’s Informational Report to City Council.
* Indicates partial reimbursement for overtime
Fire Department Service Reductions ($5 million)
To achieve a reduction in OFD expenditures of $5 million by the end of the fiscal year, the Administration will temporarily brownout the operations of three (3) Fire Engine Companies, out of the 25 Fire Engine Companies and 7 Fire Truck Companies that usually operate, during the low fire season from mid-January through June. This level of temporary reduced availability is comparable to what Oakland has done in the past. Consideration of reducing fire engine availability is not something considered lightly; it is a reflection of our severe fiscal situation that it is included in this plan. This service reduction is contemplated in the Local 55 MOU under these dire financial conditions.
The closure of three fire engine companies, either on a permanent or rotating basis, is likely to have an impact on emergency response. While the districts containing the closed firehouses will be the most impacted with slower response times, districts surrounding the closed firehouse will also be affected as there will be decreased coverage overall and Oakland Fire Department (OFD) dispatch will have fewer options to rely upon.
OFD responds to approximately 55,000 emergencies per year or on average 4.7 responses per company per day. The closure of three engine companies is likely to cause approximately 14 calls per day to be diverted to other engine companies. Since the fire stations are fixed geographically, staff is estimating that approximately 11 calls per day for emergency medical responses will not meet the National Fire Protection Association standard.
Cost-Cutting Measures Total $29 Million; $33 Million Deficit Remains
All of the actions above total approximately $29 million in estimated savings for the GPF. While necessary, these actions alone are insufficient to resolve the $62 million estimated deficit projected by the end of the fiscal year. A deficit of $33 million remains that will need to be addressed by further reductions in services or seeking employee concessions. These actions will certainly have an impact on our ability to deliver critical services to Oakland residents, but are necessary to ensure the solvency of the City’s GPF.
BACKGROUND ON CITY BUDGET
No City Council action is required to implement the $29M in cost-saving measures outlined above. The Charter provides the Council with the sole authority to appropriate funds, and the Charter provides the responsibility to the City Administrator to “control and administer the financial affairs of the City.” In execution of that responsibility, the Administration is reducing expenditures of appropriated funds to align with declining actual revenues.
COVID-Related Economic Impacts Drive Historic Deficit
On December 7, 2020, staff presented an informational report to the Finance Committee on last fiscal year’s fourth quarter and this fiscal year’s first quarter revenue and expenditure results. The combined analysis revealed that if no corrective action were taken, all GPF emergency reserves would be exhausted, and we would have an estimated $62 million deficit in the GPF by the end of the current fiscal year.
The cause of the deficit is a combination of the continued negative economic impact of COVID-19 on City revenues, currently forecasted at the first quarter to be $13.63 million lower than the Adopted Midcycle Budget, and forecasted overspending of $18.24 million in the GPF, resulting in a total projected shortfall this fiscal year of $31.87 million. When added to the $30.42 million year-end shortfall last fiscal year, the cumulative total deficit is $62.29 million.
The GPF compromises 38% of the total City of Oakland budget. The restricted funds may only be used for their specified purposes, as provided by law, and may not be used to backfill GPF
shortfalls. The GPF budget must remain balanced by law. Other restricted funds in the City of Oakland’s budget are also experiencing shortfalls, but the GPF shortfall is the most dramatic and in urgent need of correction.
Guiding Principles for the Budget Process
As we address this unprecedented situation, we are guided by these fundamental values in our decision-making:
Previous Actions Taken to Address COVID-related Economic Impacts
Last June, to begin addressing the economic impacts of COVID-19, the City Council approved a FY 2020-21 Midcycle Budget that included the following reductions and use of reserves:
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