In my last post, I shared with you some of the progress the city has made so far this year. Much of 2006 has been spent setting up our new form of government, and establishing the proper roles and responsibilities for our two branches of government. This has laid the groundwork for us to make an enormous amount of progress in 2007.

Here are a few things I am committed to bringing forward to council next year:

Find ways to save the city money:

During last year’s meet and confer process, the city was able to recover $350 million worth of savings from its employees through labor negotiations. City employees agreed to a one or two-year salary freeze, or to take a reduction in pay and contribute a significantly higher portion of their retirement contributions. The council also reached an agreement to eliminate retiree health and three political unpopular benefits: the so-called “13th check,” purchase of service credits and the DROP program. These agreements reduce the city’s future liability.

For the past few years, city employees have been vilified and have unfairly been the target of political candidates. These are the same people that come to work everyday to serve the residents of the city of San Diego, and most of them had nothing to due with decades of poor financial decisions made by the city. The mayor, council and city attorney must work with these groups to help the city move forward, not try to balance the budget on the back of city employees.

Currently, the city offers twenty-one employee and retiree health care plans, most of which are administered by employee unions. By negotiating with labor groups to aggregate employees in a smaller number of healthcare plans and have them administered by the city, we can reduce administrative costs and the per-employee costs paid by the city.

Another way to compensate employees without breaking the bank is for the city to offer low-cost, high-deductible health plans to give city employees a chance to take home more of their paycheck. I invite labor groups to join us in a conversation about how to reduce health care costs for both the city and individual employees.

Keep police on the street:

Issues surrounding public safety remain one of the council’s top priorities. We must negotiate competitive salary and benefits for public safety members. As I have said many times, officers aren’t leaving San Diego because the weather is better in Chula Vista. It costs the city up to $100,000 to train an SDPD recruit. If we want to hold on to that investment, we must remain competitive with other local departments. Let’s not be penny-wise and pound-foolish by allowing ourselves to become the training ground for other police departments. Members of the public safety class may have to be treated differently than regular city employees, and we must expedite our retention plan to slow down the number of police officers leaving the city.

Straight-forward budgeting:

In order for us to pay our police and fire fighters the salaries they deserve and to fund the other services provided by the city such as parks and libraries, the mayor and the City Council need to be realistic about the true cost of services. If we are going to budget for a service, it must have an adequate and sustainable revenue source. For too long the City Council had the tendency to resist program cuts or fee increases when members of the public came to testify against those actions. I believe the City Council has the duty to be responsible to the taxpayers by approaching funding and budgeting decisions in a way that is realistic but fair.

One way the city can monitor the true cost of services is through the mayor’s 5-year budget plan, the first presentation of which should come before the City Council by the end of the year. This will allow us to anticipate fluctuations in revenue and expenses, and make informed decision before problems arise.

Continue progress on clean water issues:

While the city has made tremendous progress in decreasing sewer spills – 80 percent since 2000 – the city must make further improvements to sewer and water pipes and replace aging storm drain in order to comply with federal and state regulations in the near future. The mayor’s 5-year financial forecast must include proper cost structures to pay for all water, storm water and sewer upgrades. These improvements will benefit the city financially as well as environmentally, since the city will be able to avoid fines imposed for violations of state and federal clean-water laws.

Maximize land assets:

In a series of reports, the San Diego Union-Tribune highlighted a number of problems in the city’s Real Estate Assets Division which must be addressed. Lapsed and under-priced leases must be renegotiated and the city must maintain a detailed and up-to-date list of owned and leased properties. The city must also determine whether we are getting the most value out of the properties we own, or whether additional sales or leases would be a responsible way to provide additional revenue.

I encourage the mayor to bring this conversation to the City Council next year for a thorough and public debate. I will help in any way to facilitate this civic conversation.

Keep the Chargers in San Diego County:

This year, the city agreed to work with the county to keep the San Diego Chargers in San Diego County. Regardless of which city hosts the actual stadium, the economic and civic benefits of a professional football team benefit our entire region. This year, we should settle on a plan that’s responsible to taxpayers and, perhaps in 2008, put the plan to a public vote.

Recently the San Francisco 49ers announced plans to build a new stadium in Santa Clara, a neighboring city. We could see a similar move here, if the Chargers make an agreement with National City. I support such an agreement and will help to facilitate it.

I realize that this is an ambitious agenda, but I know we can make real progress in putting the city back on a firm footing. I invite you to join us at the City Council as we address these important issues.

SCOTT PETERS

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