By James R. Riffel
City News Service
The San Diego City Council's Budget and Finance Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to begin the process of changing the City Charter to allow the council to make budgetary adjustments in the middle of a fiscal year.
The City Council right now only has the authority to approve the budget, but cannot make changes afterward, according to a recent opinion from the City Attorney's Office.
Committee members directed staff to work with the mayor's office, city attorney and independent budget analyst to revise their statement of budgetary principles, with an eye toward drafting amendments to the City Charter that would be voted on by the public.
The statement is a set of guidelines on budget authority and communication negotiated by the mayor and City Council after San Diego changed its form of governance in the middle of last decade.
Members of the City Council have bristled at the colloquial "strong mayor" terminology to describe the new system, instead calling it the "strong mayor, strong council" form of government.
Under the direction of council President Tony Young, they have also become more vocal about what they wish to see in Mayor Jerry Sanders' upcoming budget proposal, which is due to be released in about two weeks.
Council members have said recently that they belong to a "co-equal" branch of the government.
"We don't want this to wind up creating acrimony or slowing the process down,'' Councilwoman Marti Emerald said. "As a strong mayor, strong council form of government, this is just leveling the playing field and giving us that extra leverage we need during the course of the year in making sure our budgetary needs are met, on behalf of the community.''
Emerald has been frustrated in not being able to use money in certain municipal accounts to end the practice of removing engines from various fire stations on a rotating basis to save on personnel costs.
The council should be allowed "a little more leeway to rework the budget mid-year, when necessary — not to abuse it — but when necessary," Emerald said.
Voters in Los Angeles approved similar changes earlier this month. San Diegans might see them on the ballot next year.
Committee Chairman Todd Gloria said he would like to have voters resolve the budgetary authority question as part of a comprehensive package of amendments to the City Charter, on a number of issues that have arisen in the years since the switch to the new form of government.
The mayor's office did not have an immediate comment.