The City Council convened a special hearing today on Mayor Jerry Sanders’ plan to close a $43 million mid-year spending shortfall by cutting jobs, closing some libraries and recreation centers and trimming public safety spending.
“I know these cuts are deep and in many cases painful,’' Mayor Jerry Sanders said at the start of the daylong hearing. “If there were easier options, believe me, we would have taken them. Instead we made tough and honest decisions we had to make.’'
The mayor’s plan to close the budget gap includes suspending operations at nine recreation centers, seven libraries and six customer service centers throughout San Diego.
Four of seven deputy chief operating officers would lose their jobs and the number of civilians in the San Diego Police Department’s administrative staff would be cut, as would community service officers.
The number of San Diego Fire-Rescue Department companies active on any given day would decrease from 60 to 58.
Sanders is asking for 10 percent budget cuts in the staff of the city clerk and City Council and the elimination of the Office of Ethics and Integrity. His own office would absorb a 15 percent budget cut.
In total, Sanders has proposed eliminating 217 positions citywide, 102 of which are already vacant.
The cuts are needed to address a drop in municipal revenues stemming from declining property, sales and hotel room taxes amid the slumping national economy, according to Sanders.
The mayor said the city has never been in worse financial shape, and the problem could grow next year.
Already, the city projects a $44 million deficit for fiscal year 2010, and that doesn’t take into account the possible actions of the state Legislature to solve California’s budget problems.
It also doesn’t factor in San Diego’s annual pension payments, which Jay Goldstone, the city’s chief operating officer, told the City Council will skyrocket due to investment losses.
According to a five-year financial outlook released today by the mayor’s office, the amount San Diego is required to pay into its pension system annually could grow from $161 million this fiscal year to $291 million by fiscal year 2014.
“Yes, these are challenging times,’' Sanders said, “and our challenge is to be honest with the public and to tell them there are no silver bullets and no rabbits to pull from our hats. Our challenge is to tell the public that everyone has to make sacrifices.’'
Dozens of angry residents showed up at the City Council hearing to speak out against the mayor’s proposed cuts.
Frank DeClercq, president of San Diego City Firefighters Local 145, said he is “strongly opposed’’ to any public safety cuts.
He told the City Council that the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department is operating on a “bare bones level’’ and is already 22 stations and 300 firefighters short of what it needs.
“We can’t cut any further without further impacting the public safety,’' DeClercq testified.
The SDFRD does not meet national response time standards, and “this proposed cut will only increase this growing problem,’' he said.
Others called on the City Council to keep their libraries open and to maintain park and recreation services.
Wilbur Smith, a member of the city’s Park and Recreation Board, said the city has been cutting into the budget for parks for 30 years.
“These cuts are slowly dismantling one of the finest park and recreation systems in the country,’' Smith said. “The bottom line is that park and rec and libraries provide a societal benefit that can’t be measured in dollars alone. Let’s try to keep these facilities open.’'
At the urging of Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin, the City Council was not expected to take any action on the mayor’s proposed budget cuts today. A series of hearings will be held over the coming weeks.
Tevlin said the City Council should take its time to explore all possible ways to close the spending gap, such as imposing a mandatory work furlough and cutting executive salaries.