Thursday, May 04, 2006 | The City Council began examining the mayor’s budget proposal department-by-department Wednesday, focusing on the spending plans for two of the most visible workings of city government – parks and libraries.
For the most part, the council spent the daylong hearing criticizing the mayor’s budget for not identifying how 11 new park and recreation facilities will be staffed, praising it for “holding the line” on library funding, and mostly lamenting that more money wasn’t available to fund programs and services that have been cut over the years or haven’t grown along with the San Diego’s population.
“It’s almost like we should have a telethon soon,” Councilwoman Donna Frye said.
Council members expressed some frustration that the budget process Mayor Jerry Sanders promised to clean up was unclear. The mayor promised the first honest and transparent budget in years, but some remained unconvinced that he’d achieved his goal.
“In this era of ‘transparency’ and all these little buzzwords out there, it’s a little maddening,” Councilman Jim Madaffer said.
Sanders was elected mayor last fall on a mandate to right the city’s fiscal ship at a time when City Hall wades through a financial mess highlighted by a pension deficit that has chewed up the city’s operating budget and left the city barred from borrowing money for much-needed infrastructure projects.
Wednesday’s meeting was the first in a series of question-and-answer sessions with budget officers and department heads, and more meetings will be held Thursday and Friday in the City Council chambers. Under the strong-mayor form of government, which began in January, the council is required to revise and approve the mayor’s fiscal year 2007 budget proposal by June 30.
Acting Budget Director Dean Roberts took criticism from some council members when he told the council that he would be on hand to take questions but would not make a presentation about each department’s budget. He returned in the afternoon hearings with slides that included budget numbers after some officials complained that the public wasn’t being let in on the discussion.
“Not every citizen will go through the budget documents,” Frye said.
Council members also discussed the budgets for urban planning, city facilities and engineering projects, but residents overwhelmingly showed up to support funding for the departments overseeing park and recreation as well as libraries.
Several library boosters showed up to urge the council to adopt the mayor’s library spending plan, which essentially keeps the book-buying budget and library hours the same as last year.
“Although we don’t like any cuts, we noticed it was a little softer than the past,” said Stell Holmquist, an Ocean Beach resident.
The library has taken on the burden of cuts throughout the past few years, as the city has struggled to make ends meet. Since 2003, library hours citywide have been cut by 21 percent, Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin said.
Residents were also sore that the mayor’s proposal did not include money to fund recreation staff at 11 new park facilities that come online this coming fiscal year. Tevlin estimated that it would cost the city an additional $1.1 million to fund the positions needed to maintain and operate the new parks and recreation centers, which include facilities in Liberty Station, Otay Valley and University City.
Blue-collar union president Joan Raymond, whose organization represents park maintenance workers, said the city is already behind in its funding for parks. She referenced a study the Center on Policy Initiatives released last year that shows San Diego spends $2,610 per acre of parkland annually when the average big city in California spends $6,442 per acre.
San Carlos resident Dixie Wilson said that the parks that are supposed to serve as a positive alternative to gangs and drugs facilitate those problems when they go unsupervised.
“Lots of gangs, lots of drugs, are right out there on the ball fields when no one is there,” Wilson said.
Council members also bemoaned that they weren’t going to be able to secure money for other services Wednesday. They asked about funding availability for tree trimming, street sweeping, children’s librarian positions, storm drain and pipe replacement and book purchases.
Sanders, who was addressing a conference of governmental analysts in Santa Monica on Wednesday, has vowed to make the municipal government more efficient so that money freed up through reorganization and job cuts could be spent on “core services” such as libraries, parks and police.
On Thursday, the council will hear the budgets for police, fire, homeland security, water, sewer and programs that are funded by the city’s hotel tax. Friday’s meeting will deal with the city’s administration.
Both meetings start at 9 a.m. and will be held on the 12th floor of 202 C St.
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