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Pure Water’ Dominates Infrastructure Spending In Faulconer’s 2020 Budget

Mayor Kevin Faulconer announces his proposed budget for fiscal year 2020, Apr...

Photo by Andrew Bowen

Above: Mayor Kevin Faulconer announces his proposed budget for fiscal year 2020, April 11, 2019.

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Mayor Kevin Faulconer says his proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 is the largest infrastructure investment in city history. Most of that spending is on the city's water recycling program, Pure Water.

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Aired: April 12, 2019 | Transcript

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer unveiled his proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 on Thursday, saying it includes the highest infrastructure investment in the city's history.

The proposed $4.15 billion budget is a 19.5% increase over the city's fiscal year 2019 budget. Despite the spending hike of nearly $700 million, Faulconer was still forced to make an estimated $15.3 million in cuts to various line items such as civilian staff in the police department and tree trimming services.

According to the mayor's office, the city saw only moderate revenue growth over the last year, which it partially blamed on a 1.3% year-over-year decline in hotel taxes. However, the city is projecting revenue growth of at least 3% from property, sales and hotel taxes in the upcoming fiscal year.

Faulconer told reporters at a press conference the spending plan continues to prioritize core neighborhood services.

"We're keeping library and park hours at the highest level in a decade, and we're funding operations for new libraries in Mission Hills and San Ysidro," Faulconer said.

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Faulconer has not budgeted any money for complying with a court order to compensate workers excluded from the city pension program. The costs of that court order are not yet clear, and will likely be negotiated through talks with city labor unions.

The budget includes an infrastructure investment of $715.8 million, an increase of nearly 300% over the $179.4 million infrastructure allocation in the city's fiscal year 2014 budget during Faulconer's first year in office.

More than half of that infrastructure spending is earmarked for the city's Pure Water program, which aims to recycle sewage into drinking water. The city is able to pay for the project, plus other water and sewage infrastructure projects, through higher water rates.

Despite the record infrastructure spending, the city's backlog of unfunded needs continues to grow. A report earlier this year found the city needs an additional $720 million over the next five years to pay for stormwater projects, representing the biggest unfunded infrastructure need in the city. Faulconer is proposing cuts to channel maintenance, as well as proactive stormwater compliance studies.

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Faulconer has also proposed $36.2 million in funding for homelessness services and programs, $6.3 million for the city's Clean SD trash removal program and $800,000 to study the city's contracting with businesses owned by women, people of color and other underrepresented groups.

The police department continues to grapple with problems recruiting and retaining sworn officers, and Faulconer's spending plan expects an increase in officer overtime pay. Police Chief David Nisleit said the department currently needs an additional 195 officers.

"We're going to see some increases in overtime, and we're obviously trying to control that," Nisleit said. "But the biggest thing is I'm trying to maintain public safety. And this is the largest safe city in the nation. And to do that, sometimes we're going to have to use backfill overtime to fill those critical positions."

In addition to Thursday's unveiling, Faulconer will present the budget to the City Council during its Monday meeting. The council plans to hash out the finer details of the budget and take public feedback on its contents over the course of two weeks in early May when it meets as the Budget Review Committee. The council is required to adopt a budget by June 15.

A San Diego researcher said a recently developed pesticide sold as a "BeeSafe" product may still put the winged pollinators at risk.

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