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Thursday, Nov. 6, 2008 | San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders on Wednesday announced a sweeping package of proposed cuts to programs and services that would result in more than 100 layoffs and touch just about every department in the city.

The proposed cuts, needed to close a $43 million midyear budget gap caused by a rapidly deteriorating economy, include closing seven libraries and nine recreation centers, and halving the number of recruits in the city’s police and fire academies. All told, Sanders has proposed eliminating 216 positions — about half are vacant and half have people in them — from the current-year budget.

The size and number of cuts proposed, and the speed with which they would have to be implemented, is unprecedented in San Diego history. City bureaucrats have been working feverishly for weeks, and in recent days around the clock, to meet Sanders’ demand to offer up 10 percent of their budgets for elimination.

No neighborhood will be left unscathed. Libraries will be closed in every City Council district except for District 8 (which includes Barrio Logan, Golden Hill and San Ysidro). Skate parks citywide will go unsupervised, trees will be left untrimmed and fewer miles of sidewalks will be repaired.

Sanders made a point of saying that city residents will have to share in the burden that comes with such drastic reductions.

“It’s important for me to lead by example,” Sanders said during a news conference in his office. “[But] just as importantly I’m asking citizens to do their part.”

For his part, Sanders proposed cutting five positions, totaling $700,000, from the Office of the Mayor and Chief Operating Officer. The positions include an associate management analyst, a systems analyst and an associate engineer.

Sanders said the positions he wants cut are spread “fairly from top to bottom” of the City Hall food chain (including his office), and that the city’s core services, like police and fire protection, will not be affected. Specifically, the city will not lose any uniformed cops or firefighters.

Among the positions slated for elimination, 53 are classified as managers and supervisors, 38 are professional and technical, 58 are administrative support and 67 are field and maintenance.

When asked if he would consider proposing tax increases, Sanders said such a proposal would have to bubble up from the community. “[City residents] will let us know if they want to pay higher taxes in one way or another,” he said. That appears to be a shift from the standard Sanders tax line crafted before the global economic meltdown: That he wouldn’t pursue a tax increase to fix the city’s long-standing fiscal ills.

The package of cuts is scheduled to go before the City Council Budget and Finance Committee next Wednesday. Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin, who received a report on the proposed cuts Wednesday afternoon, said there is not enough time, and Sanders did not provide enough information, for council to make informed decisions on the cuts.

“There isn’t enough data for me to make any kind of initial assessment,” Tevlin said. “Significant research is required to justify how they chose these specific reductions.”

San Diego, like cities across the country, has been slammed by the worldwide financial crisis brought on by the housing bust. Property tax, sales tax and hotel tax revenue are down by a combined $28.5 million this fiscal year, and economists say the region is in the early stages of what could be a severe recession.

City officials also acknowledge that it is possible, even likely, that the state — which is facing a similar budget crisis — will soon exercise its voter-approved authority to take up to 8 percent of property tax revenues, which would mean an additional $34 million from the general fund.

The Police Department is due for an $8.3 million (or 2 percent) cut, and would have to eliminate 35 positions, all of which are currently vacant. And beginning in January, the police academy classes will be reduced from 50 to 25 recruits.

San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne said the department can handle the staff reductions and smaller academy classes. “We believe we can manage very well,” he said.

Bill Nemec, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, the union that represents city cops, didn’t agree. He said the cuts would affect the service the department provides, even though the same number of uniformed officers would be on the street.

“We’ve turned the clock back,” Nemec said. “Eventually, [the cuts] will not only impact officer safety, but will also impact citizen safety. We haven’t caught up with the drain that we’ve had for the last two or three years and this will stifle the opportunity we may have had to turn that around.”

The budget cuts come just a year and a half after the city began combating its well-publicized recruitment and retention crisis; Lansdowne said that crisis has been alleviated.

The Fire-Rescue Department is facing $4 million in cuts, which represent about 2 percent of its budget. Among other things, the department would reduce the number of fire recruits each year from 50 to 25, cut lifeguard hours and positions and cut two code compliance officers.

Most importantly, the department would cut two fire crews from its daily rotation. On a rotating basis, 12 of the city’s 13 fire stations will have to go from two companies to one (a company being a crew that operates either an engine or a truck). The downtown station will continue to maintain two companies at all times.

Frank DeClercq, president of Local 145, the union that represents city firefighters, said the budget cuts would impact firefighter safety.

“There’s nothing to cut. This doesn’t make any sense and I don’t think the citizens or the City Council should stand for it,” DeClercq said.

City police officers received a 9 percent raise last year, and a 6 percent raise this year. Firefighters were given a 5 percent raise this year.

The park and recreation and library departments bear the brunt of Sanders’ proposed staff and service cuts. Together, those departments are slated to lose the equivalent of 84 full-time positions.

Sanders proposed shuttering the following libraries: University Community (Council District 1); Ocean Beach (Council District 2); University Heights (Council District 3); Mountain View/Beckwourth (Council District 4); Carmel Mountain Ranch (Council District 5); Clairemont (Council District 6); and Allied Gardens/Benjamin (Council District 7).

Park and Recreation Director Stacey LoMedico said the cuts would impact 75 full and part-time employees in her department, and services that residents have come to take for granted. Examples include the elimination of the city’s competitive swim team program, the removal of 200 fire rings at Mission Bay and Shoreline parks and the closure of 14 restrooms during the winter months.

“These are not easy reductions to take,” LoMedico said. “But based on the continuing cuts we’ve had over the last 10 years, we have reached the point where we have to cut entire programs and services.”

Staff writer Will Carless contributed to this story.

Please contact David Washburn directly at david.washburn@voiceofsandiego.org with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

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