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Mayor Jerry Sanders formally delivered his budget proposal today to the City Council, which will review and finalize the financial plan for the 2008 fiscal year leading up to its enactment July 1.

Here are a couple of highlights he and other officials made:

  • Last year, Sanders touted his budget — which was much thinner than years past and adorned with many more photos of our picturesque city — as a triumph because it was easy to read for “the average citizen.”

The problem was that several council members, the Office of the Independent Budget Analyst and other community members said it fell short on the details they needed to see. As a result, the mayor ended up releasing several more volumes throughout the budget hearings to satisfy their requests for more information.

This year’s budget looks an awful lot like the budgets released by the city managers before Sanders.

“It’s certainly more transparent and efficient if it’s all done at once,” Sanders said.

  • As we wrote today, Sanders has a lot riding on this budget. It is the first year that he will begin addressing some of the city’s long-term needs. He upped the ante by saying that he could funnel money long-term liabilities, such as retiree healthcare for employees and infrastructure maintenance, and layoff hundreds of employees without reducing service levels.

Sanders has begun to add a caveat to that guarantee in the last few days. He is sticking to his pledge to maintain service levels, but said that residents should expect a temporary hiccup here or there.

“As with all changed processes, there will be bumps in the road. When you reduce employment by 12 percent, there will be transition issues,” he said.

  • Sanders is also now addressing another critique of his service level statement. Several skeptics are wondering how the mayor can say city services won’t be affected when Sander himself has said he doesn’t think the city can’t actually measure levels of service.

Sanders acknowledged the apparent contradiction, but added that it’s reconcilable. He said that his statement about maintaining levels is based on the standard that library hours, pool hours, and miles of city streets will all be maintained at the levels that exist now.

But he said that he doesn’t believe that those rubrics are an adequate way to measure city services. For example, replacing a strip of El Cajon Boulevard isn’t the same as replacing an equally sized strip in the backcountry, he said. Or, maybe the library is open the same number of hours, but it takes longer to check a book out because there are fewer librarians to staff the facility.

An interesting debate will likely emerge about where to draw the line, just as it did in the fight over midyear budget authority.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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