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Gloria Reveals the Cost of Saying Yes

The five-year financial projections released by interim mayor Todd Gloria Thursday reveal the extent to which City Council commitments add to the budget deficit.

Over the past couple years, the City Council has repeatedly said yes when causes come calling.

They committed to pave more roads. They agreed to set aside more money for arts programs. They signed off on a plan to hire more police officers. They OK’d a program to pay higher wages for contract workers. And they promised to build new fire stations and voted to up their own trash fees.

On Thursday, interim mayor Todd Gloria provided the first holistic look at how much those promises will cost and an acknowledgement that if the city wants to keep them, cuts may be coming.

Gloria and budget officials released the city’s five-year financial outlook Thursday and projected the usual city bills would translate into a $19.1 million shortfall next year.

New city programs and promises could pile another $33 million onto that deficit if city officials decide to stick with them. (Most aren’t mandated but the City Council committed to them with a vote.)

And if city leaders say yes to other city needs – and comply with new state and federal mandates – they’ll see as much as $78 million deficit next year.

“We don’t have enough funds to accommodate all the wishes and desires,” Gloria said.

He said the city must evaluate its commitments and decide whether they align with the financial realities.

And he also had a message for mayoral candidates who have promised to hire more police officers and boost police pay, improve emergency-response times and numerous new city initiatives.

“I think this is a way to allow those mayoral candidates to see what the future looks like and then hopefully adjust their representations to match that,” Gloria said.

Here’s a look at some of the new city programs and initiatives already set to weigh on the city’s day-to-day budget.

• Five-Year Police Department Plan: The blueprint recently approved by the City Council calls for new hires and spending on equipment.

Next year’s bill: $14.3 million

• Cash for Infrastructure Repairs: Last year, the City Council approved a five-year plan to more quickly address the city’s multimillion – and perhaps even $1 billion-plus – infrastructure backlog.

Next year’s bill: $5.9 million for repairs; $4.4 million in debt service on infrastructure bonds

• New Fire Stations: The city’s 2011 response-time study called for additional fire stations and resources. City leaders recently announced plans to set aside money for land and design needs associated with new fire stations on Home Avenue in City Heights and in Skyline. The city previously set aside money for a permanent Mission Valley station.

Next year’s bill: $3.6 million

• Penny for the Arts: Last fall, the City Council committed to funnel a larger percentage of hotel taxes toward the program that funds arts and culture programs, festivals and special projects.

Next year’s bill: $5.5 million

• Landfill Fees: Last November, the City Council approved increased waste disposal fees that will increase the city’s cost for trash it collects from city buildings and many homes across the city.

Next year’s bill: $1 million

• Prevailing Wage Program:  In July, the City Council approved a mandate that requires the city to pay industry-standard wages to city construction contract workers. This will add to the cost of future city projects but also obligates the city to hire nine new staffers in the city’s purchasing and contracting department.

Next year’s bill: $608,904

• Brush Management Contractual Services: For years, the city only took steps to thin overgrown vegetation when residents requested it but the city changed direction after the 2007 wildfires. The cost of the related contract has increased significantly since the city expanded its program.

Next year’s bill: $924,000

• Improvement of Government Operations Plan: Last month, the City Council approved a major reorganization city leaders said would ensure greater oversight and efficiency. The plans involved hiring several new staffers, including three new deputy chief operating officers, and investing in a management academy and efficiency study.

Next year’s bill: $540,882

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the year a city emergency response time study was released.

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