Faulconer Proposes $3.8 Billion Budget, Averting Major Cuts
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer unveiled a $3.8 billion budget proposal Thursday that includes the most infrastructure spending in city history, maintains library and recreation center hours and funds planned pay raises for police officers.
The spending blueprint also closes a $49 million deficit without significant cuts to major programs, according to the mayor. The deficit was closed by dipping into reserve funds, carrying over unspent money from the current fiscal year and cutting overtime pay in the police, fire-rescue and transportation and storm water departments.
"Our city is better equipped than ever before to clear any financial hurdles that may be placed in front of us," Faulconer said at a press conference next to a library under construction in Mission Hills. "And we've been forced to do some belt tightening. But the bottom line is the core services San Diegans rely on won't be affected."
The budget proposes $3 million in cuts to police overtime, which Police Chief David Nisleit hopes will be unnecessary as the department embarks on a hiring campaign to reverse its chronic shortage of sworn officers. Officers are due for a pay raise on July 1, which the mayor anticipates will cost $28.3 million throughout the fiscal year.
"For the first time this department will actually have a marketing plan," Nisleit said. "So that will really allow us to reach out and attract the very best and the very brightest San Diegans and bring them to the San Diego Police Department."
The budget also spends $153 million for initiatives related to the Climate Action Plan (CAP) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The vast majority of that money, $121 million, is going to advance the city's Pure Water program to convert wastewater into drinking water.
Nicole Capretz, executive director of the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign, said via Twitter that the Pure Water program is "not part of the CAP goals & isn't rightly categorized as CAP spending" in the budget. She said the program is in fact likely to result in higher greenhouse gas emissions because of the energy needed to purify the water.
Faulconer is proposing cuts of 2 percent to the city's Commission for Arts and Culture, from $14.6 million to $14.5 million. That is far less than the cuts arts supporters had been fearing.
"This is a 'fair share cut' in line with other city departments ... and one that we plan to support going forward through budget hearings," the San Diego Regional Arts & Culture Coalition said on its website. "Our advocacy efforts to stop deep budget cuts for arts & culture at the City have been heard!"
The proposed capital improvement budget of $553 million, including $76 million for street repairs, would represent a large boost over last year's total of $445 million, and triple the amount of infrastructure spending during fiscal year 2014.
The mayor said $18 million in the budget would support the city's Vision Zero campaign, which aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries on city streets by 2025. Some of that money is going to upgrades to 15 intersections where pedestrians are most likely to get hit by drivers.
The budget does not specify where most of the Vision Zero money will be spent, however, and safe street advocates have accused the city of inflating its Vision Zero budget by including projects that have little to do with traffic safety.
Nearly $8 million would go toward homeless services, including three large tent shelters, a year-round Father Joe's interim housing program and a new Housing Navigation Center.
City officials expect only modest revenue increases of 3, 5.3 and 5.5 percent from sales, hotel and property taxes, respectively, during fiscal year 2019. Faulconer proposes balancing the budget with $14.1 million in cuts across various departments, $12.3 million in projected surplus from the current fiscal year budget and $5.6 million in excess funds from select reserve accounts.
City Councilwoman Barbara Bry, chair of the council's Budget and Government Efficiency Committee, said the coming fiscal year "looks strong."
"The mayor is proposing zero impacts to core services," she said. "My council colleagues and I are eager to review this budget with a fine tooth comb."
Faulconer will present the proposed budget to the council at 2 p.m. Monday, and the council will hold a series of all-day public hearings in May before voting on the final budget in June.