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Public Safety

City Budget Analyst Says New Taxes, Fees Needed To End Chronic Deficits

San Diego's seal is shown at the downtown City Administration Building, May 8, 2018.
Megan Wood
San Diego's seal is shown at the downtown City Administration Building, May 8, 2018.

The San Diego City Council on Wednesday began a weeklong review of Mayor Todd Gloria's proposed budget, which relies on federal COVID-19 relief dollars to avoid draconian cuts to city services.

The $4.6 billion spending plan uses just under half the $306 million the city received from President Biden's American Rescue Plan, which Congress approved in March. Gloria has said without those funds the city would be forced to enact widespread layoffs of city workers.

City Budget Analyst Says New Taxes, Fees Needed To End Chronic Deficits
Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

The city's two largest sources of revenue for its general fund — property and sales taxes — are projected to surpass their pre-pandemic levels in the coming year. But the local tourism economy, which is closely linked to hotel tax revenues, is expected to take years before it fully recovers.

Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin told the council that the one-time revenues from the federal government cannot fix the city's chronic budget deficits. For example, finance officials anticipate San Diego will need an additional $3 billion over the next five years to fully fund the city's infrastructure needs.

"New resources will need to be identified in the future to provide additional support in the years ahead, particularly in the areas of our capital programs, storm water and our staffing needs," Tevlin said.

Video: City Budget Analyst Says New Taxes, Fees Needed To End Chronic Deficits

Councilmember Sean Elo-Rivera, who recently proposed saving money by ending the city's free trash pick-up for single-family homes, told Tevlin he appreciated her office's honesty.

"The budget situation that we're in we will not get out of without acknowledging that we simply need more resources to provide the city and its residents what they want and deserve," Elo-Rivera said.

As the council was meeting, progressive activists with the Community Budget Alliance rallied outside the City Administration Building, calling for funds to be shifted from the police budget to other priorities, such as infrastructure to adapt to climate change.

"While the police budget perpetually increases, environmental investments that would help us survive the coming crisis are far down on the list of priorities," said activist Cris Sotomayor. "We don't have enough money for parks, but there is enough money to police the parks."

Gloria has proposed increasing the police budget by $19 million, though that increase is mostly due to rising pension costs and expenses the city is legally required to pay. Shrinking the police budget would almost certainly require cutting the number of budgeted positions in the department — something Gloria has said he's not willing to do right now.

Councilmembers are scheduled to continue their department-by-department review of the mayor's proposed budget through May 11. Gloria will then present a revised spending plan on May 18, with the council expected to vote on the budget on June 14.