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On Thursday, Jerry Sanders is scheduled to release the next-to-last budget as San Diego’s mayor. Sanders will have to close a deficit — something he’s gotten used to doing. This year’s gap is $56.7 million.

During the past year, both the mayor and City Council attempted more than they had previously to fix the problem. It still remains, but apparently there’s enough money now to restore a major service cut. Here are three things that have characterized the past year of budget talks:

1. Prop. D’s Failure

The mayor made an effort to resolve the city’s long-term structural financial problems through a sales tax hike and financial reform ballot measure. The measure, Proposition D, failed at the polls in November, leaving the city without a major new revenue source to close yawning deficits.

2. The Council Emerges

The City Council has been much more aggressive in putting forward its own ideas to close the budget gap. Councilman Carl DeMaio released a deficit elimination plan in the wake of Prop. D’s failure. Recently, Councilman David Alvarez has cobbled together his own ideas. And Council President Tony Young has pushed for greater council involvement.

Tuesday afternoon, the council voted unanimously to give Sanders a list of up to $39 million in budget fixes it wanted to see in the mayor’s proposal — the first time it’s had specific direction for Sanders prior to the budget’s release. The council’s proposal included a 5 percent reduction in city supplies and services contracts, selling $6.1 million in city assets, billing for false fire alarm fees, imposing a mandatory employee furlough and eliminating cell phones for non-emergency workers.

The council also asked the mayor to examine further cost-cutting proposals, such as eliminating take-home vehicles for city workers and moving quicker on competitive bidding for services.

Still, council members knew its efforts wouldn’t be enough to close this year’s gap. They would need to make additional cuts.

“Having been very active in the Proposition D campaign, I know that the cuts will be difficult,” said Councilman Todd Gloria.

3. Major Cuts Restored

The cuts may be difficult, but apparently not so difficult that there isn’t enough money to restore a major city service. Back in December 2009, the city temporarily shuttered or “browned out” up to eight fire engines to help close a $179 million budget deficit. The brownouts have faced significant criticism, particularly after they contributed to firefighters’ slow response to a choking 2-year-old, who later died.

Next year, Sanders is planning to end the brownouts, the Union-Tribune is reporting. Other proposals included in the mayor’s budget will be using $15 million from various city funds and raising fees for false fire alarms and emergency medical services, the newspaper said.

Please contact Liam Dillon directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/dillonliam.

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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