New Price Tag On San Diego Fire Station Needs Tops $91 Million
San Diego would need to spend more than $91 million to fully implement the findings of a recent report on the city's fire safety needs, according to an analysis by the Independent Budget Analyst's Office.
The figure represents the cost of building seven new, unfunded fire stations throughout the city. Operating those stations, plus another five that the city is already planning to build, would cost about $18.7 million per year.
An alternative plan presented in the analysis suggested adding only one new fire station to the city's capital budget and filling in the remaining service gaps with "peak hour engines" — roaming fire engines with no brick-and-mortar home base for most of the day.
The alternative plan would cost the city $13 million upfront with $15.2 million in annual operating costs. The IBA and the fire department said this should be seen as a temporary fix, not a long-term solution to the city's fire safety needs.
The IBA analysis, released last week, comes as the mayor and City Council are preparing to cut some $37 million from the city's 2018 operating budget to offset rising pension costs.
Last month, the public safety consulting firm Citygate Associates presented a council committee with an update to its 2010 report on the city's fire safety needs. The new report found that San Diego's fire department is still failing to meet its goal of responding to calls within seven and a half minutes 90 percent of the time. A growing population and worsening traffic congestion are exacerbating the problem.
Chris Olsen, author of the IBA's analysis, said the city simply does not have enough money to build the new fire stations it needs.
"And stations aren't the only need we have," he said. "We don't have enough capital to do a lot of the other priorities the city has."
San Diego has about $1.27 billion in unfunded infrastructure needs — primarily upgrades to existing city facilities like libraries, parks, rec centers, streets and police and fire stations. This figure, referred to as the infrastructure deficit, is down slightly from last year because the city is expected to take in more revenue than previously thought.
Councilwoman Lorie Zapf said last summer that she was working on a plan to fund five of the most urgently needed fire stations, in addition to paying for upgrades to existing police and fire stations. The plan, which she said would be funded without a tax increase, was never presented to her council colleagues.
"At this time, we are still evaluating all options related to addressing these gaps in service as identified by the updated Citygate report," Zapf's office said in an e-mailed statement.
Asked whether the city may need to raise taxes to meet its long-term fire safety needs, the office's response was emphatic: "NO!"