COO: If tax measure fails, city faces $23 million in cuts

By Joe Britton

City News Service

If a half-cent sales tax increase on the November ballot doesn’t pass, public safety budgets in San Diego would be cut by about $23 million, the city’s chief operating officer told a City Council committee on Wednesday.

Jay Goldstone told the Budget and Finance Committee the cuts to public safety would almost certainly result in sworn officers being laid off and the continuation or expansion of rolling brownouts of fire engine companies.

The city faces a projected budget deficit next fiscal year of $72 million.

Goldstone sent a memo to the City Council on Tuesday asking the police, fire, park and recreation and library departments to identify about $75 million in cuts to cover the shortfall in the eventuality that Proposition D doesn’t pass.

“First of all, police and fire is over 50 percent of our budget,” Goldstone testified. “So, if we are going to identify $75 million, if that’s what we ultimately need to do should Proposition D not pass, police and fire are going to have to be part of the solution.”

Councilman Kevin Faulconer said that was a “false choice,” arguing that if the city moves to implement financial reforms, it wouldn’t have to make public safety cuts.

“I think its important that we remind people that if we actually take action on many of these issues now, we will not be facing that situation,” Faulconer told the committee.

Councilman Carl DeMaio agreed, saying, “If we actually start reforming, and you actually put some line items on the sheet for reform, you no longer have to ask police and fire to make any cuts next year.”

DeMaio and Faulconer are leading the effort against Proposition D on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Proposition D would authorize a half-cent sales tax increase in San Diego if 10 financial and pension reform benchmarks are met first.

Supporters, led by Mayor Jerry Sanders, argue the $103 million in annual revenue that would be generated by the sales tax increase is critically important in closing the projected budget shortfall and preventing the further deterioration of services.

Over the last four years, the city has cut hundreds of millions of dollars from its budget and eliminated 1,400 positions.

Slashing another $72 million from the budget next fiscal year would have widespread impacts on services, including potentially extending fire department brownouts, laying off sworn police officers and closing recreation centers, Goldstone said.

Goldstone’s memo calls on the Police Department to identify $15.9 million in potential cuts for fiscal year 2011, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department $7.2 million, the Park and Recreation Department $11.4 million and Library Department $5.1 million by Oct. 4.