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December 16, 2009 > Tough times ahead for Newark

Tough times ahead for Newark

By Meenu Gupta

Newark has wrestled with budget issues for five years. The failure of Measure L, which would have generated $2.6M annually, has exacerbated the city's fiscal position. Tough times lie ahead for Newark.

The city has worked to reduce costs and increase revenues to balance its budget. Contract services have been reduced, capital projects have lost funding and salary cuts implemented. Despite these efforts and use of reserves, the budget has not been balanced. An estimated $3.5M deficit is projected for FY 2009-10 even after implementation of all the reductions.

A work session was held in the City Council Chambers on Thursday, December 10 to discuss budget reduction strategies. No decisions were made.

"We are faced with a formidable task," said Mayor David Smith.

"Substantial budget cuts will have to be made. All departments will be affected," said City Manager John Becker.

In the Police Department, a reduction in the number of officers on special assignments is proposed to maintain the minimum level of patrol staffing necessary to ensure public safety. These special assignments are Safety Enforcement Team (SET), Southern Alameda County Narcotics Enforcement Team (SACNET), Gang Violence Suppression Unit (GVS) and School Resource Officers.

"One officer will be pulled from special assignments and added to patrol," said Chief James Leal.

Council requested discussions with the School District regarding these special teams. Reduction in Detective assignments and School Resource Officers will save the cash-strapped city $140,000. Another alternative is to reduce staffing or increase fees for special events such as Newark Days and July 4. Assessing the priorities, elimination of funding for the Crossing Guard Program is another option that will save the city $120,000 a year.

In the Fire Department, elimination of the Fire Department Squad Unit is being considered, which will yield overtime savings of approximately $70,000 per month. At present the Squad Unit already has a minimum staffing of two persons.

"The impact would be delays in service due to fewer trained firefighters," said Newark Fire Chief Demetrius Shaffer.

Council is also considering a partnership with the Alameda County Fire Department, an agreement that could improve services and ultimately save the city about $600,000 for the first year.

The public is invited to the next work sessions to discuss how the city might balance its budget and how essential services could be impacted on Thursday, December 17 at 7 p.m. and Thursday, January 7 at 5:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers.

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