Budget Gets Unanimous Approval But Debate Over Spending Will Continue

Janice Rombeck | NeighborWebSJ

Bascom Community Center

For the first time in 10 years, the San Jose City Council approved a budget that was balanced without employee layoffs or huge cuts in city services. In fact, thebudget provides a small surplus that serves as a cushion to allows the city to open four libraries and a community center, pave deteriorating roads and finishing three neighborhood parks.

But the unanimous votes on Tuesday, June 12 and June 19 — a contrast from last year’s 6-5 vote — was made with an acknowledgement of the impact of severe cuts in past budgets and the prospects of hits to the general fund in the near future and a projected deficit.

“We really have to bridge this year and next year to avoid major cuts next year,” said Mayor Chuck Reed. “That’s why the council has been very cautious as we’ve gone through this process.”

Reed expressed concern over financial uncertainties that have emerged since he released his June Budget Message. Santa Clara County plans to withhold $20 million payment to the city, and retirement boards are expected to report declining investment returns. That could add another $20 million cost to the general fund, which pays for most employee salaries and city services.

“We have to worry about all those thing and monitor them along the way,” Reed said. “But we’re way better off than we were a year ago.”

The budget was approved after a Monday, June 11, evening hearing, which resumed on Tuesday afternoon. The final vote is scheduled for Tuesday, June 19. The vote was also taken in the wake of a successful Measure B vote on June 5. The measure allows the city to limit future employee pension benefits. The council also voted on Tuesday to reduce pension benefits for new employees.

Janice Rombeck | NeighborWebSJ

Bascom Community Center will open on June 18.

While the vote was unanimous, the council debate on Tuesday reflected the growing division among council members over restoring service cuts that have affected the quality of life of residents and making sure the council doesn’t approve measures it may not be able to pay for in the future.

Council members proposed six amendments to the budget, none of which passed, but could be reopened for discussion and action at the council meeting on Tuesday, August 7, Reed said. That meeting will focus on updated financial information and spending priorities. But he reminded the council that it would take $33 million to restore services to the level they were in January.

Among the proposals were adding police officers the burglary investigative unit and increasing library hours from four to 4.5 days a week. Councilmen Kansen Chu and Ash Kalra offered both proposals. The burglary unit would be funded by not paying off a long the city borrowed from another fund, according to the proposal.

Janice Rombeck | NeighborWebSJ

Bascom Library is set to open in February.

Burglaries in neighborhoods have increased by 30 percent citywide, Kalra said. “We don’t have the capacity to even investigate them,” he said. “We can’t react now. We need to react now.”

Councilman Pete Constant, a former police officer, argued that new police officers would take 20 months to train and be ready to be added to the police force, just about the time the funding would run out for them. And Assistant Police Chief Rikki Goede said boosting the burglary unit would take patrol officers off the streets.

Reed said he would not approve one-time funds being used to create ongoing costs. He said restoring officers to the burglary unit and increasing library hours could be discussed in August. By then the city will have results of a poll indicating the likelihood of a sales tax measure being approved in the November election.

San Jose resident Emily Gatfield disagreed in testimony during the hearing on Tuesday.

“Homeowners associations are reporting a great many burglaries and thefts, including vehicle thefts, and there’s no response. (Victims are told, ) go online and fill out a report,” she said. . “I think these should be much higher priorities than repaying a loan to ourselves that isn’t due yet.”

Following are highlights of budget spending on neighborhoods and residents:

Opening New Facilities: Seven Trees Community Center opened , but the second-floor library remained closed for lack of staff. It is scheduled to open in January. The Bascom Community Center will be open for business on June 18, but the adjoining library not until February. The rebuilt Calabazas Branch Library is to open in May, and the rebuilt Educational Park Branch Library in June.

New Parks: $100,000 will be spent on maintenance of three parks ready for construction. They are Antonio Balermino, Del Monte and West Evergreen parks. They were put on hold along with eight other park projects when the city did not have enough money to maintain or operate them. The other parks– Pellier, Montecito Vista, Noble, River View, Martin, North San Pedro, Tamien and Essex – will move ahead when funding is found to maintain them.

Transportation for senior residents:. Without transportation, elderly residents who can no longer drive cannot receive meals provided by the senior nutrition program. One-time funding of $111,000 will pay for a coordinator to connect seniors with rides and $25,000 will pay for Outreach and VTA transportation services as well as Paratransit, emergency taxi, carpools and bus passes. While these alternative plans are in the works, one-time funding of $150,000 to provide van transportation to Cypress, Southside, Gardner, Mayfair, Willow Glen, Seven Trees and Alma centers.

Rounding up Volunteers: $88,300 in one-time funding will pay for a full-time volunteer coordinator and two part-time recreation leaders to help engage San Jose’s multi-talented neighborhood volunteers.

Neighborhood Business Districts: The NBDs across San Jose are made up of small businesses that provide important resources for neighborhoods and often organize cultural events. The budget provides $5,000 each for nine of the districts.

Safe Summer Initiative: The 5-year-old Safe Summer Initiative provided activities for more than 2,000 children last summer and raised $209,280 of the $325,000 needed to offer the program this year. The Mayor’s Office is allocating $100,000 to help the program reach its goal.

Homeless Encampment Cleanup: $150,000 will pay for the removal and cleanup of camps along local waterways, find a better way to manage the cleanups and find housing for homeless campers. Property taken from the camps will be held for 90 days after the cleanup so the owners can retrieve them.

Traffic Safety and Crossing Guards: $100,000 will buy five radar feedback signs – the signs that flash on a screen how fast motorists are driving – and $75,000 to add crossing guards to priority intersections near schools.