The $28 million budget fix San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders announced Thursday was ho-hum as far as budget fixes go. In 2011, the city isn’t expecting any additional layoffs or service cuts. It filled its gap by reducing its fleet services and renegotiating city contracts.
The contrast to previous budget announcements couldn’t have been starker. In December, City Council approved $179 million in budget cuts designed deal with 2011’s shortfall early, touching the sacred cow of city spending: fire and police services.
Sanders praised council’s action in December for making Thursday’s decision easier. “That’s the reason we can present a budget today that many of you might find uneventful,” he said.
But there is more to come. Sanders reiterated his pledge to develop a plan for eliminating the city’s long-term deficit in 15 months. He pegged that deficit at $75 million.
Thursday’s budget proposal coincided with the release of a survey earlier in the day that showed city residents are more concerned about fixing streets than any other issue — including police and fire services.
The study showed where residents want money from the city’s $2.85 billion budget to go according to two rankings: how low residents rate a service with their willingness to pay more for that service. Sixty percent of city residents said they would be willing to pay more for better street conditions.
Sanders’ plans for street repairs are grand.
“We’re actually putting more into street maintenance and street repair over the next two years than we’ve put in at any time probably in the city’s history,” he said. “We have been making that a priority for the last several years.”
How much money the city is planning to spend on the city’s streets, Sanders’ office wouldn’t say. And the office wouldn’t release how much it had spent in the past, despite the fact that those numbers are public and the office has them. A spokesman said Sanders will release the information at a Monday press conference.
In past years, Sanders has measured his progress based on the miles of new asphalt and road patches for which he’s budgeted. Past press releases said the mayor has increased street repair funding by 760 percent from when he took office through 2009.
The city also floated a $103 million bond for long-term maintenance, including street repair, last year.
All that money hasn’t been enough to improve street conditions drastically.
An October report by the city auditor estimated it would cost $305 million to improve the city’s streets to industry standards and an additional $103 million a year to maintain that condition. The $103 million is as much money the city spent on new asphalt and road patches in the last 10 years, the auditor said.
The San Diego urban area had the seventh worst roads in the country among large cities, according to 2009 study referenced by the auditor.
The auditor did praise the mayor for increasing funding for street repair but concluded that spending in the last 10 years was “highly insufficient.”
Councilman Todd Gloria, whose district’s roads are in some of the worst condition according to the auditor report, said the resident survey results show how significant the city’s neglect of roads and other city facilities have been.
“I think it’s interesting we talk a lot about the underfunding of the pension, but not a lot has been written about the underfunding of deferred maintenance,” Gloria said. “That has a much greater impact on the day-to-day lives of our citizens.”
Gloria has been pleased that the mayor and council has spent on road repair, but said the problem’s scope “probably requires a more aggressive approach.”
The city is planning to reassess its roads next year for the first time since 2007.
It had also planned to borrow more money for deferred maintenance in 2011, which would have included more money for streets. City Chief Operating Officer Jay Goldstone said the city didn’t have enough money to pay for it. Goldstone added the city plans to release a comprehensive accounting of the city’s deferred maintenance needs — long requested by Councilman Carl DeMaio — in June.
Sanders must attempt to fund those needs at a time when the city’s budget is getting smaller. Both the citywide budget and the $1.09 billion day-to-day budget decreased from 2010.
Thursday’s budget fix relied on an $11 million savings from reducing fleet services, $7.5 million from city contracts, $6.7 million from a restructured pension lawsuit settlement and $3 million from lower than expected retiree health care costs. Sanders said he expected no service reductions from the cuts.
Sanders added there was no money to restore money to the city’s Fire Department like at least two City Council members have discussed recently.
“I would expect my fire Chief Javier Mainar to make adjustments all the time, but we have a $75 million structural deficit next year,” Sanders said. “There is not any chance that I’m going to support putting more money into it now.”
And this year’s money woes aren’t over yet. The city is projected to finish this year $11.2 million in the hole, and Goldstone said Thursday’s proposal doesn’t address that problem. The city needs to close that gap by June 30.