A plan to bridge an $83 million budget shortfall received preliminary approval from the San Diego City Council this morning.

Council members signed on to the recommendations of Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin, who had suggested only minor revisions to Mayor Jerry Sanders’ spending proposal for the budget year starting July 1. Council members added on to a list of measures they wanted considered for future budgets, such as a study of whether a controversial deferred retirement plan costs the city money.

The budget relies mostly on cuts to compensation and tapping reserves to bridge the shortfall. It does not address the possibility that the state will invoke its right to forcibly borrow up to $36 million in property tax revenue from the city. The state also might be able to grab $24 million in gasoline tax revenue from the city.

Tevlin did suggest the council redirect money from antenna leases, make further reductions in the storm water budget, halve the $500,000 allocated for managed competition consultants and increase the city auditor’s staff.

Tevlin floated the idea of tapping up to $11 million set aside for improvements to Mission Bay Park and other parks before a ballot measure approved last year goes into effect July 1.

Councilman Carl DeMaio said while he hoped the city wouldn’t have to use the Mission Bay money, “these are extraordinary times.” Council President Ben Hueso agreed that the issue merited more discussion.

Councilwoman Donna Frye, who pushed the ballot measure along with Councilman Kevin Faulconer, said the fund balance raises questions of why the city hasn’t spent that money — a problem she said mirrored the city’s difficulties in spending money set aside for compliance with stormwater regulations and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“The question that comes into my mind again is, is this deliberate?” Frye said. “Do they not have enough staffing not to do these [capital] projects?

Council members also approved a list of requests for Sanders’ office to study for future budget years, including creating a revenue commission that will study the city’s revenues and could pave the way for a potential fee or tax increase.

Councilman Todd Gloria said this year’s dire budget underscores the need for the commission to start its work soon. Tevlin has said the city is facing a $100 million shortfall for the 2011 fiscal year. “We know this problem’s getting worse next year,” Gloria said.

DeMaio added that he was glad the commission would consider ways to make the city more business-friendly and requested Sanders’ office identify possible funding sources for the commission.

The City Council is slated to vote again on the budget Monday. But since all eight council members were sitting as the Budget and Finance Committee today, there’s likely to be little change between today’s vote and next week’s decision.


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