By James R. Riffel
City News Service</em
Members of the City Council pledged Monday to find money to ease cuts in library and recreation center hours proposed for the next fiscal year by Mayor Jerry Sanders.
Their words gained momentum when Michael Zucchet, the president of the Municipal Employees Association — which represents the bulk of city workers — said Sanders' budget proposal did not include updated economic data that show more money might be available in the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Sanders called for the operating hours of the libraries and recreation centers to be cut in half. Library branches could be open only twice per week.
The City Council will begin reviewing the spending plan on March 4, with the library and Parks and Recreation Department budgets scheduled to be reviewed the next day.
"It's our budget now," said council President Tony Young. He said he would be "very disappointed" if the budget looked the same once the City Council completed scrutiny of the document.
Councilwoman Lorie Zapf said the public should not be alarmed at the proposed service cuts.
"This is just the beginning of the process, not the end," Zapf said.
Council members Carl DeMaio, Marti Emerald and Kevin Faulconer all chimed in with their hopes to protect library and parks funding.
Emerald told members of Sanders' staff to provide update revenue projections as soon as possible, as a "top priority."
Zucchet told the council members that the budget proposal bases its revenue projections on figures through January, but economic data from February and March are "unequivocally positive."
"We need to increase the revenue projections for the budget,'' said Zucchet, a former council member.
Sanders' office is scheduled to release revisions to the budget plan in May or early June, which could include additional revenue and some restoration of library and recreation center hours, if enough money is found.
Libraries would lose the equivalent of 77 full-time employees under Sanders' proposal and, with the reduction of hours, would take a funding cut of $7.4 million. Parks and recreation centers, which will have operating hours dropped from 40 to 20, will lose the same number of workers, for a budget hit of $6.5 million.
San Diego's total budget for next year is $2.75 billion, with a $1.1 billion general fund, the source of discretionary spending.