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Mayor Jerry Sanders announced in a press conference this morning a new initiative that will gauge the impact of the city’s services on the public.

The initiative will be part of the city’s 2009 fiscal year budget and will monitor the progress of ongoing reform efforts in the city’s 30 departments, Sanders said. The system will annually track the public impact of each of the city’s departments so that the city can base decisions on the year-to-year comparisons.

Measuring the impacts of the city’s budget on the level of services its residents receives first grabbed the spotlight last year when the mayor promised to provide funding to a wide array of long-term backlogs without having to reduce service levels or raising taxes or fees.

The 2008 budget that Sanders proposed in April 2007 sought to direct money toward the city’s long-term debts, such as the $1 billion pension deficit, without such things as street and park maintenance and library hours.

But he had no way to track whether the services would be reduced.

Now, he’s delivering the so-called “performance measure initiative.”

The performance measurement will keep city departments accountable internally and externally, said Anna Danegger, director of the city’s business office.

For example, by following the Fire-Rescue Department, the program will not only monitor the number of emergency calls processed within one minute, but it will also keep track of its impact on the community for criteria such as fire containment, the percent of structure fires contained to area or room of origin; cost-loss ratios, which compares how much the city spent to send firefighters and the how much property was lost in the fire; and fire injuries per 100,000 population.

The initiative will follow all the city’s departments, which include park and recreation, library, police, fire-rescue, debt management and water. Other cities employ similar programs to track the public performance, but they usually spend years testing the measurement on a few departments before applying it to all city departments.

Since San Diego has never had an established system to track the performance for public services, Danegger said that it could take up to 10 years to test and perfect a system on a small scale. Because of the city’s financial crisis, she said that the initiative couldn’t wait, so it will be comprehensive — following all 30 departments — from the beginning.

The system is different from the mayor’s streamlining initiative, known as business process reengineering. BPR, he said, streamlines the city’s efforts, while this initiative is meant to measure what the city is doing right now so the city can improve its services in the future.

One major criticism of the performance measure initiative is that the city doesn’t have a baseline for service levels against which it can compare the data collected during the 2009 fiscal year. Danegger said, though, that the criteria to measure performance were only developed over the last year, so baseline data can only be provided for a few of the criteria.

The aim of the performance measure initiative, Sanders said, is to set the baseline this year so that the city can track the city’s reform efforts in the future.

— BETHANY LEACH

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