City's top operating officer advises caution on library, rec center moves

By James R. Riffel

City News Service

The City Council was urged by a top city financial official to take "a cautious approach" to saving library and recreation center hours.

Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone, at the beginning of a three-day review of Mayor Jerry Sanders' proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, said some of the suggestions that have been floated could have damaging consequences to the city's financial picture.

Sanders' plan to halve the hours at library and recreation facilities in the fiscal year that begins July 1 created a firestorm of opposition, and a number of ideas have been floated to find the $10.3 million needed to maintain operating schedules.

But Goldstone said some of the suggestions could impact the budget for the year after next, which already has a projected shortfall of $41 million.

"Nothing we are seeing today suggests there will be a silver bullet to make this deficit just disappear," Goldstone said.

Items he specifically objected to:

• Raising anticipated revenues by $3 million because of growth in sales and hotel room taxes. Goldstone said that would represent a 13.5 percent to 14 percent increase over actual revenues from 2009, and future spending could be depressed by financial conditions.

Councilman Carl DeMaio added, "We got into this mess by over-estimating revenues.''

• Lowering the workers compensation fund by $1.4 million. Goldstone said that while claims are historically low, there has been an uptick this year in the total dollar amount and he doesn't know if it's an anomaly or a trend.

Ed Harris, the chief of the lifeguards union, said a few of them have been hurt in training accidents this year.

• Altering the schedule for ending the fire engine "brownout" policy. Eight engines were removed from service this year to save $11.5 million, and the mayor and City Council want them back in use.

The Independent Budget Analyst said some could be held off for a future year, with the continued

savings applied to other uses.

Goldstone said spending that money on something else would just add to the shortfall for the following fiscal year.

He also said that if the City Council adopted the various recommendations but did not apply them to library and recreation centers, the shortfall for the following fiscal year would be lower than $41 million.

DeMaio said the city could also stand to cut 15 to 20 of its nearly 250 management analysts and also save personnel expenses by consolidating media relations functions, which are spread across departments. The lieutenant and detective who handle those duties for the San Diego Police Department are doing "a great job" but should be out fighting crime, he said.

"My concern with this budget is we're not bringing spending down in line with our revenues,'' DeMaio said.

San Diego's total budget for the next fiscal year is $2.75 billion, with a $1.1 billion general fund, which is where the money for discretionary spending is held.

The budgets for the Library and Parks and Recreation Departments are scheduled for examination on Thursday morning.

   
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