Council votes to restore fire engines, library and rec hours

By James R. Riffel

City News Service

All eight fire engines taken out of service earlier this year to save money will be back in rotation as of July 1, and libraries and rec centers will continue operating under normal hours, under a budget passed Monday by the San Diego City Council on a 7-1 vote.

Mayor Jerry Sanders still needs to approve the $2.75 billion spending plan for 2011-12, but he previously indicated he had no intention of using his veto power.

A top priority of the council was restoring the fire engines that were pulled out of service on a rotating basis to save $11.5 million, increasing the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department's response times as a result.

Chief Javier Mainar said service levels will be back to normal with all of the fire engines available.

Sanders had proposed to restore half the engines and affected firefighters on July 1, when the fiscal year begins, and the rest on Jan. 1, 2012, but the budget approved by the council returns them all at once.

Frank De Clercq, who heads the firefighters union, said having the SDFRD at full strength is critical to the public.

"They call 911, we need to be there,'' De Clercq said.

Library hours were cut in half in the mayor's initial proposal, and when more money became available, he suggested that one branch in each council district could be restored to full service.

Today's vote means all branches will remain open 36 hours per week.

A combination of additional revenues and higher-than-expected reserves are being used to pay for the restorations. The council was also able to save swimming and water polo programs; keep municipal pools open; add two lifeguard positions — allowing for a resumption of hands-on training; and an extra city

auditor's job.


The city will also enjoy a reserve account that is over 8 percent of revenues, reaching a target set by financial officials, according to Councilman Todd Gloria.

Council President Tony Young said the budget was a real break from past political wrangling.

"This is a thoughtful, unselfish, nonparochial and nonpartisan budget,'' Young said.

First District Councilwoman Sherri Lightner issued a statement saying she heard her constituents who said their "top priorities are preventing cuts to our libraries and rec centers while restoring browned out fire engines and lifeguard training and staffing."

The lone dissenter was Councilman Carl DeMaio, who said the spending plan did not do enough to address the structural deficit — the causes of annual shortfalls. The budget uses more than $30 million of one-time changes to expenses and revenues, instead of adjustments that can be used every year.

The equivalent of 120 full-time jobs will be cut under the plan, but some are vacant, according to the city's Independent Budget Analyst.

   
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