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Wednesday, April 12, 2006 | Mayor Jerry Sanders is planning to boost the city of San Diego’s fire and police spending by nearly $38 million in the coming year, a portion of the increased revenues he expects the city to reap as a result of the strong local economy.
The budget proposal, part of the slow and managed rollout of Sanders’ fiscal year 2007 spending plan, comes on the heels of heightened concerns surrounding public safety budgets. In the last week, popular fire Chief Jeff Bowman retired in part because of a depleted fire budget and the police officers’ union launched an ad campaign warning that officers are fleeing the San Diego Police Department for better financial security.
Sanders, the former police chief, told a crowd of city officials and reporters gathered at downtown’s Fire Station 1 that his proposed increases to the funding for public safety was “not a fix-all” for the two departments, but a decent start.
“These are not all of the issues we are facing in public safety, not by a long-shot,” he said “But today will be the first step toward the solutions that are necessary.”
The mayor said his budget proposal will fully fund overtime costs for cops – long a goal among budget critics – and restore the money needed to pay nearly 100 sworn and non-sworn police officers that have been on the city’s rolls but actually accounted for in budgets past. Sanders’ proposal will also upgrade information technology and equipment for both the police and fire departments, while paying to refurbish neglected fire station facilities.
Despite a financial crisis that has forced the mayor to propose borrowing $674 million by 2008 to stabilize the city’s struggling pension fund, Sanders said he can dedicate more money for public safety because of a projected $90 million windfall in 2007. That boost is forecasted by way of increased tax revenues or newly discovered funds that hadn’t counted in past budgets by previous administrators.
“This is revenue that is new or revenue that was never included in budget in past to try to underestimate … but it is absolutely not coming at the expense of other areas of the budget,” Chief Financial Officer Jay Goldstone said.
The mayor’s estimates, for example, that property taxes will be $44 million higher than this fiscal year, when then-City Manager Lamont Ewell proposed the city’s budget. The mayor draws up a spending plan that is considered and voted on by the City Council under the strong-mayor form of government, which took effect this year.
Ewell’s 2006 budget experienced $40 million in revenue growth over 2005. Sanders expects to reap $50 million in increased revenues. Additionally, his aids say a dishonest city budget hid as much as $40 million in revenues that weren’t previously budgeted. It also hid as much as $32 million in costs, but it is unclear how that will be accounted for in the full budget that is to be released Friday.
Sanders’ budget proposal will begin to address the laundry lists fire and police chiefs have pointed to over the years, but will not resolve everything on their wish lists.
The $13 million increase to the Fire-Rescue Department is far below the $50 million departing requested by the departing Bowman, whose last day is the day before the final budget takes effect.
“We wanted to be on record with the public and officials about what our total needs are,” Fire-Rescue Department spokesman Maurice Luque said. “But this is a great first step to address some of our unfunded resource needs.”
The Fire-Rescue Department needs a new communications system, 400 additional firefighters and an additional 20 fire stations in order to bring the department’s emergency response time on par with the national average, Bowman told a City Council committee last month.
None of these needs is covered in Sanders’ budget.
The Police Department was presented an additional $24 million in Sanders’ proposal. Executive Assistant Chief of Police Operations Bill Maheu said the new funding would “fully fund” the department’s immediate needs.
“It makes you feel like we’re finally starting to pedal the bike back up the hill after falling down,” Maheu said.
He added that the Police Department has a number of long-term needs that are not included in Sanders’ plan, such as how to construct new classrooms and vehicle space apart from its facilities at Miramar College, which is under new strains as the college student population there grows.
Maheu said the department is also trying to replace an aging communications system and upgrade its shooting range.
There are 6.9 firefighters for every 10,000 San Diegans, a ratio that lags behind other large cities in the state, according to a report released by the Center on Policy Initiatives, a local think tank that advocates for the working poor.
The CPI report states that the city’s ratio of 16.9 police officers per 10,000 residents is about average for California’s big cities. The police union however is currently airing television commercials that claim that the recent exodus of officers to better-paying law enforcement agencies has put the city’s residents at risk.
Sanders denied that residents were in harm’s way Monday.
He is expected to announce the portions of his budget dealing with libraries, promotional programs, park and recreation and hotel tax revenue on Wednesday.
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