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San Diego Council Members Want More Budget Revisions

Photo by Guillermo Sevilla

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer talks to KPBS News in the East Village about funding to address homelessness, April 20, 2017.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer made progress in revising his $3.6 billion budget plan for San Diego's fiscal year that starts July 1, but the proposal still needs improvement, some City Council members said on Thursday.

The modifications, announced Tuesday by the mayor, address two of the most controversial areas of the budget — police officer recruiting and retention, and arts funding.

The San Diego Police Department is losing about 13 officers a month and is around 200 below what's allowed in the budget, according to police Chief Shelley Zimmerman. Previous moves by the mayor and City Council in the last couple of years have failed to stem the tide.

RELATED: You Decide: City of San Diego's 2018 Budget

Faulconer's so-called "May Revise'' includes $150,000 to fund a recruiting and retention study, something that City Council members had requested.

In arts funding, the mayor restored more than half of $4.7 million originally cut from the Commission on Arts and Culture, which provides financial support to groups around San Diego, including luminaries like the Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse and Balboa Park museums.

Supporters of arts funding contend it has a high return on investment, with programs attracting tourists to the city. Funding for the commission comes from hotel room taxes.

The arts reduction was the largest in a proposed budget squeezed by a large increase in the city's required contribution to the employee pension system -- a result of retirees living longer and a weak investment performance.

The mayor was able to use money left over from the current fiscal year and higher projections of property tax revenue to make the adjustments. The mayor also applied an extra $10.3 million to reserves to prepare for an even tighter budget expected next year.

After the revisions were formally presented to the council, Budget Committee Chairwoman Barbara Bry said she would seek to apply more money toward the police and arts funding areas.

She and colleague Chris Ward asked for money for police to go beyond just a study of the recruiting and retention problem.

"Once we have the data, I do support the allocation of resources ... into immediate ways we can retain our police officers,'' Bry said.

She said she would also call for more money for the arts before the council votes on adopting the budget next month. Ward said the same.

"I feel we are still radically short-changing the arts program,'' Ward said. "I appreciate that the mayor is willing to put an additional $2.3 million into it, but that only solves about half of those cuts.''

He also questioned the large amount going into reserves.

Councilman Chris Cate called the reserve funding "something smart.''

"We're going to have issues next year,'' Cate said.

"We have new projects, new fire stations, new libraries all coming on line that have to be staffed and have a cost element to it,'' he said. "We already know it's going to be a deficit year next year again, we can save $10 million from having to pay that expense for next year -- I don't see why we shouldn't do something like that.''

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