Sanders proposes early cuts to close budget gap



City News Service

About 200 city employees will be laid off and municipal services will be trimmed in conjunction with mid-year budget cuts that Mayor Jerry Sanders proposed Tuesday to close San Diego’s $179 million spending shortfall.

Sanders has called on the City Council to adopt a new budget by Jan. 1, six months before the next fiscal year begins, in an effort to begin to chip away at San Diego’s massive deficit.

“By adopting this budget, which will take effect Jan. 1, we will keep

the city on a steady course, preserve the pace of our financial reforms and prevent deep service cuts that would do unnecessary and perhaps irreparable harm to our quality of life,” Sanders said at an afternoon news conference to outline his plan.

The projected budget shortfall in fiscal year 2011 has largely been blamed on falling sales and property tax revenues and rising pension payments due to investment loses on Wall Street, brought on by the recession.

Sanders’ proposal calls for the elimination of 500 positions, of which about 200 jobs are now filled.

Sworn police officers and firefighters won’t but laid off, but non- uniformed positions in both departments will be cut and several programs impacted, according to the mayor’s office.

The San Diego Police Department’s budget will be trimmed by $26 million. Police equestrian patrols will be eliminated, the number of canine units will be reduced from 36 to 24, and code-compliance officers will be reassigned to street duty.

There will be “rolling brownouts” at eight engine companies, and lifeguard service will be suspended at Torrey Pines Beach as a result of $18.6 million in proposed budget cuts for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

Fire pits will be removed from city beaches; Mission Bay restrooms will be closed during the winter; there will be reduced beach grooming; and some services will be eliminated at five sports fields, according to Sanders.

While Sanders did not propose shuttering any libraries, hours at the 35 branches would be further eroded. Sanders has recommended that Sunday hours be eliminated from most branches. He has also called for the pairing of eight sets of libraries, with each branch only open three days a week.

Under Sanders’ budget proposal, the days and times of garbage pickup would also change. He wants garbage collectors to work four 10-hour shifts per week, instead of five eight-hour shifts.

The mayor would also slow the designation of historic districts, reduce the size of the city’s general services fleet and extend vehicle replacement schedules by two years.

In all, Sanders has proposed $82.6 million in structural cuts, largely through the elimination of city positions.

His proposal also calls for $95.6 million in one-time savings and budget adjustments, including not adding to the reserves’ restructuring a payment into the pension stemming from a legal settlement over retirement system underfunding; and putting off the installation of fire sprinklers at City Hall.

Last month, Sanders called on every city department to identify 27 percent in budget reductions. Had those cuts been proposed, Sanders said 20 fire stations would have to be closed, hundreds of sworn police officers and firefighters laid off and 11 libraries, 10 recreation centers and four swimming pools shuttered.

Instead of turning to such drastic cuts, the proposal Sanders released Tuesday relies more heavily on one-time savings.

“Once that grim process was complete, we understood what our city would look like if we tried to balance the budget entirely by slashing programs and public services,” Sanders said.

“It would have required closing fire stations and deep, deep cuts in the uniformed ranks of our police officers and fire departments,” he said. “It would mean year-round closure of many of our libraries and recreation centers. It would have led to an unacceptable degradation in our quality of life.”

The City Council is expected to vote on Sanders’ 18-month budget proposal Dec. 14 after having a few weeks to review it. The council could choose to adopt all or part of the proposal.

City Council President Ben Hueso said he is committed to joining the mayor “in making tough decisions to close this unprecedented budget gap while maintaining the quality of life for all San Diegans.”

Despite the cuts proposed for most city departments, Hueso said he won’t be trimming his office’s budget further, and it’s unlikely the other City Council members will either.

“It would be my hope that we try to keep our offices intact,” Hueso said. “We have been reduced to a very core staff, and we have a lot of work to do.”

Hueso said he has cut his budget in each of the nearly four years since he has been in office.

“I think we are down to core staff right now,” Hueso said.

Sanders said he will reduce his budget by 7.3 percent and has asked the city attorney to trim his office’s budget by 1.5 percent.

Joining Sanders and Hueso to announce the plan to overcome the budget deficit were council members Tony Young and Marti Emerald, fire Chief Javier Mainar, police Chief William Lansdowne, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone.