Budget Shortfall Threatens Zapf's Firehouse Proposal
San Diego City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf cast a deciding vote last year to kill a ballot measure that would have built 19 new fire stations across the city with a property tax increase. She initially voted for the plan, but later withdrew support because of reservations about raising taxes and because the measure did not directly fund improvements to some of the city's crumbling public facilities.
Before casting her "no" vote, Zapf said she was working on an alternative plan that would build five of the 10 most critical fire stations, and that would fund improvements to existing public safety infrastructure. She said her plan would not include a tax increase.
Zapf has not yet presented her proposal to her council colleagues for review. Now, more than seven months since her announcement of the plan, two factors are forcing her to rework it.
First, there is an updated report on the city's fire safety needs. The consulting firm Citygate presented that report to council members last week, finding that while some previously planned fire stations should be relocated, the city is still in critical need of 10 new fire stations.
The second factor complicating Zapf's proposal is money: San Diego is anticipating a budget shortfall of up to $57 million in the next fiscal year, which starts in July. The deficits are expected to continue through fiscal year 2021.
Zapf said her proposal would be paid for with lease-revenue bonds and funding from Proposition H, a plan approved by voters last year that requires half of all new revenue growth in the city to be spent on infrastructure. A draft version of her plan, written in July 2016, estimated it would cost at least $110 million. The draft acknowledged that some factors were not included in that cost estimate.
The fact that her proposal contains no tax increase means that every dollar Zapf would propose spending on previously unfunded fire stations would have to come from somewhere else in the city's budget. This could be difficult in a good budget year. But given the millions of dollars in cuts the mayor and council members will already be forced to make, and given the enormous backlog of capital improvements the city wants to make, diverting even more money to new fire stations could prove even more difficult.
A spokeswoman for Zapf declined to say when the councilwoman would present her plan to her colleagues for review. She said Zapf would rely on an analysis of the new Citygate report done by the city's Office of the Independent Budget Analyst.