OAKLAND -- Mayor Jean Quan's proposed budget is facing opposition from civilian workers angry that much of Oakland's anticipated revenue growth is being earmarked for the Police Department.
The mayor's proposal, which would boost police staffing to about 700 officers for the first time since 2010, comes as the city is asking civilian workers to make fresh concessions at the bargaining table.
Labor contracts for nearly all of Oakland's more than 3,000 nonsworn employees expire on June 30, which is also the deadline for council members to adopt a new budget.
On Tuesday, for the third time in the past month, union members rallied outside City Hall and then took their concerns inside to the City Council.
"The reason the city is in better financial health is because we sacrificed," Dwight McElroy, a city worker and chapter president of Local 21 of the Service Employees International Union, told the council. "But we cannot accept any more cuts. Families are suffering. The community is suffering."
SEIU and other civilian unions have given up at least 10 percent a year in pay since 2009 as the city struggled to balance its budget during the financial collapse.
Many of those concessions are scheduled to end in June, but the city now is asking union members to pay more toward their pensions and health benefits as both costs are expected to jump over the next two years.
The contracts for Oakland police and firefighters, who rank among the city's highest-paid workers, don't expire this year, making it harder for the city to try to extract new concessions from them. Police next year are scheduled to receive a raise that had been deferred during the financial crisis.
With crime increasing significantly over the last two years, Quan has proposed spending about $13 million on four police academy classes that would graduate an estimated 160 new officers.
Quan said Tuesday she tried to be fair to all city unions, but noted that public safety has been the top concern of residents.
The need for further concessions, she said, is being driven primarily by pension costs that are projected to increase 26 percent over the next two years and about 50 percent over the next five years as the state pension system finally accounts for losses during the financial collapse.
"That is an unsustainable growth unless we share the increased costs," Quan told the meeting. If Oakland doesn't confront the pension issue, she added, "we're just going to keep shrinking every year, and I don't think we can do that."
The city has lost about 20 percent of its workforce over the past decade as it veered from the fallout of the technology bubble to the housing crisis.
Quan's budget projects the city's general purpose fund, which pays for most services including police and parks, will grow from about $409 million this year, to $430 million in the coming year, and $457 million the following year. Much of that revenue growth, however, will be offset by increased costs.
General fund spending on police would jump $24 million during that period, from $168 million to $192 million.
The budget would generally limit service cuts. Senior centers and recreation centers would reduce hours, and nonprofits such as the Oakland Zoo would receive fewer city funds. However, the furloughs that closed City Hall and libraries about once a month would end.
The budget doesn't set aside money to start addressing the city's more than $1 billion in liabilities for not having fully funded employee pensions and retiree medical benefits in past years.
Quan's proposal will likely serve as the framework for a final budget that must be approved by the City Council. Councilwomen Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Desley Brooks both expressed concern Tuesday that the budget focused too much on police.
Councilwoman Libby Schaaf praised the proposal and said she hoped the council would find funds for additional civilian employees in the Police Department.
Councilman Dan Kalb, who has been pushing for more police investigators, acknowledged that the city didn't have enough money to please everybody. "We have some tough choices to make."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435.