What had once seemed like a slam-dunk move to shave millions off the city pension bill ended in an epic failure last week, largely because chaos and confusion derailed the vote.
The city’s interim chief financial officer, the mayor’s designee on the board, was worried about getting ensnared in a conflict of interest and took a vacation instead of voting. Another mayoral appointee was stuck in Los Angeles. One traveling newcomer had yet to be sworn in. And then there’s the city worker who later told his colleagues he’d been confused and regretted his vote. And it all happened on the last business day of the fiscal year.
Now city officials are scrambling to update their budget for the fiscal year that started Monday. The vote means about $25 million fewer available dollars in the city’s budget. With that comes real consequences: It means officials must nix plans to keep libraries open three to four additional hours a week, to hire eight more police officers than initially planned and to make improvements at Mission Trails Regional Park. The city must dive into its rainy-day fund to pay for about $10 million in compensation increases included in those labor contracts and may need to come up with new solutions to cope with budget woes expected next year. (Mayor Bob Filner had said he’d use the extra cash to close next year’s budget gap too.)
“This is counter to everything we had thought in the last five months,” Filner said Friday, shortly after learning of the board’s vote.