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When San Diego’s City Council approved a plan to close a $179 million budget gap in December, the city’s budget problems were supposed to be fixed for 18 months.

They’re not.

This week, city officials learned they needed to close another $30 million to $60 million gap in San Diego’s day-to-day operating budget. And this time, they have only five weeks to find most of the money.

That $60 million is on top of the $179 million deficit the city erased in December and the $77 million hole the city already faces for its 2012 budget. Counting the shortfall handled last year, the city will have had to bridge a $400 million gap in four years.

Mayor Jerry Sanders’ Office and the City Council billed December’s decision to pass an 18-month budget as a proactive move, giving the city time to develop long-term reforms that would end the city’s practice of collecting less money than it’s budgeted to spend.

Two reports destroyed that plan. First was news that the city’s annual pension payment affected its day-to-day budget by $15 million more than city officials had expected. This week, the city’s midyear budget review showed revenue projections were off by $60 million. That meant an $11.2 million deficit for this year and forced city financial officials to revise downward revenue projections for next year.

Chief Financial Officer Mary Lewis estimated the current deficit the city faced at $30 million during a council budget committee hearing Wednesday. That could change depending on how the city resolves this year’s $11.2 million deficit. Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin said she thinks the number is closer to $60 million.

Sanders has until April 15 to present a balanced 2011 budget, one that addresses at least $30 million of the current gap.

Everyone is short on details for what to do.

Recently, Sanders pointed to a couple of million dollars in savings from outsourcing some information technology services. He also suggested taking a closer look at reducing the costs of city contracts, but was nebulous on those details. City financial officials discussed about $3 million in potential savings from other sources during Wednesday’s budget committee meeting.

Tevlin was at a loss for solutions.

“As I sit here today,” she said in an interview, “I don’t know.”

Councilman Kevin Faulconer, who chaired Wednesday’s budget meeting, said he wanted to make sure to implement streamlining recommendations from the City Auditor’s reviews of city departments. And he said he hoped a coming audit would show if the city should be collecting money it now isn’t. But he too offered little beyond what he and others have said for some time.

“The bottom line is the city is like any other business,” Faulconer said. “It has to live within its means and live within the revenue it has.”

Clarification: We’ve updated this post to include input from city officials on their estimates of what the budget deficit will be. The Mayor’s Office, Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone said, is working with a deficit figure of up to $30 million — less than originally stated — because solutions to certain shortfalls could affect the overall picture.

We provided questions to the Mayor’s Office and its press officers before this post ran. They did not respond.


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