Monday, February 14, 2005

This year is going to be a time of great change for our city. My primary focus will be implementing my action plan to restore San Diego’s fiscal health and reputation. Our future hinges on getting our fiscal affairs in order.

With some hard work and consensus building to implement my plan, we should begin to see results in the next six months.

In addition, I am moving forward on several important initiatives, including transitioning to the strong mayor form of government and protecting the city’s military bases from closure during the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process, known as BRAC.Big changes are already underway with the city’s pension system. In accordance with Proposition H, an entirely new retirement board will take over administration of the system in April. I am currently working on finding qualified people to serve. And in July, the city will make its full actuarial payment to the pension system for the first time in nearly a decade.

At about that same time, I expect that my proposal for a two-year salary freeze for all city employees will take effect, saving the city $80 million and reducing the pension deficit by $170 million. We also will push to have employees pay a larger percentage of their contributions to the pension system.

After the city completes its delayed audits for 2003 and 2004 – something we are pushing very hard to get done as soon as possible – we will sell $200 million in pension obligation bonds. That will provide a big influx of cash into the system, further reducing the unfunded liability.

While we are working on those initiatives and several others to address the city’s financial challenges, we also will be spending time and energy on another very important fiscal issue: the BRAC process. The military intends to shut down 25 percent of its domestic facilities in 2005.

The potential closure of military bases in San Diego is one of the biggest threats to the economy of our region, which is home to the largest military complex in the world. Defense spending has an $18 billion annual impact here, according to the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

We have been working hard to protect local bases for more than a year. Last month, I spent a week in Washington, D.C., meeting with high-ranking military officials and members of Congress about the vital combination of bases we have in San Diego and how they work together to increase efficiency. A loss of any one of them would result in an erosion of military effectiveness for all of them.

On the other hand, I also pointed out to officials in Washington that we welcome the military here. If the decision-makers want to move bases from other places in the country, we have room to expand.

Another very important initiative that will demand our attention during the next year is the transition to the strong mayor form of government. It will be a public process from beginning to end. It started with a City Council workshop last month, and it will continue with public meetings throughout the year.

The change, which will make the mayor the chief executive of the city and the council the legislative body, will require a reorganization of the mayor’s office. I will have budget and veto powers. The council will have its own budget analyst, as well as the power to override some of my decisions.

To help us, we have organized a city staff working group and begun the search for an outside consultant. The city also is seeking input from the public.

Major challenges and opportunities will fill the next year. We are already working to address many of them. My hope is that our hard work and accomplishments will win back the respect and trust of the people of San Diego.

Dick Murphy began his second term as mayor of San Diego in December.

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