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Cost Of San Diego Infrastructure Backlog Unknown

The oft-used value of $898 million attached to the backlog of San Diego's infrastructure projects is obsolete and probably seriously understated, according to a new report presented to the City Council today by the city's Independent Budget Analyst.

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A pothole in a road.

The figure is based on old information and there hasn't been enough recent data to put a cost on maintenance to the city's 1,600 or so facilities, which include roads, sidewalks, buildings, parks and the like, the report says.

At a news conference, Councilman Mark Kersey said "we have no idea'' how big the backlog really is because the city is only now embarking on condition assessments, which will take about one year to complete.

"We really need to admit the problem is larger than what we've talked about in the past,'' said Kersey, who chairs the council's Infrastructure Committee.

The old figure "does not take into account a lot of our infrastructure issues such as sidewalks, fire stations we need to build, deferred maintenance on our stadium and a litany of other things,'' Kersey said.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald said those firehouses would add at least another $100 million to the infrastructure bill. She pointed to a consultant's report that says the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department is in immediate need of at least 10 additional stations.

Once city officials determine what needs to be repaired, they have to figure out a way to come up with the money. The city pays for major capital projects with a mix of bonds and cash.

Current debt service on bonds as a ratio to revenue is 6 percent, and credit rating agencies prefer borrowers to remain under 10 percent, said Erin Noel of the IBA's office. That gives the city some room to float new bonds, but not a lot, she said.

A $100 million bond planned for next year would only "slow the bleeding'' of deteriorating city facilities, Kersey said.

He said half of any budget surplus should go to infrastructure, and the city should seek federal funding that could pay for five or six of the new fire stations.

"Ultimately, we need to get to the point where we're putting more general fund dollars toward infrastructure,'' Kersey said.

At today's City Council meeting, Interim Mayor Todd Gloria said that even if the city reaches peak efficiency in financing the projects, officials will still need "help'' from the public. He did not specifically use the words "tax increase.''

While the IBA report was only for information, the council members separately passed municipal code amendments to speed up the process of getting permits for capital improvement projects and lower the costs.

The changes are expected to shorten the permitting process by two to 2 1/2 months, and save $5,000 to $30,000, according to a city report.

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