Mayor, City Council Set To Begin Budget Talks
What budget cuts are the mayor and city council considering for the new fiscal year? We speak to Katie Orr about the services that could be cut, and how the budget discussion will be different from past years.
Katie Orr, metro reporter for KPBS News
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CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Typically, San Diego's mayor introduces a budget proposal in the middle of April, and then the City Council weighs in with either support or criticism. This year, the City Council has decided to introduce budget proposals of its own before the mayor's budget is released at the end of this week. The City Council's budget resolution will be voted on today and could include as much as $59 million in cuttings. KPBS metro reporter, Katie Orr, is here to talk about this big budget week in San Diego. Hi Katie.
ORR: Hi, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: So first of all, what is the projected budget deficit for San Diego.
ORR: It's about $57 million right now. That's about $20 million less than they had anticipated in the beginning of the year. But the city's annual required contribution to its pension system actually went down by about $20 million associate that lowered the deficit to about 57.
CAVANAUGH: So why is it that the San Diego City Council is taking a proactive approach this year to the budget discussion?
ORR: This is an effort that's really beg your pardon led by counsel president Tony Young. He's really involved in the package committee and for the past several months he's been trying to get public input on the budget, he's held town halls, the San Diego speaks series, asking people to come out and tell them and the rest of the counsel what they would like to see happen where the budget. So as the head of the council, he's trying to have some more say into what gets put into the budget instead of just reacting to what the mayor presents. Trying to put the council on a bit more equal footing with the mayor, even though the mayor is the one that ultimately presents the budget, they're just trying to put their stamp on it as well.
CAVANAUGH: Now, San Diego City Council president Tony Young was a guest on These Days a little while back, and he talked to us about this process, and as you mentioned, San Diego speaks, getting input from people about what they would like to see cut or changed about the budget. Where else did the council get fist list of suggested budget cuts.
ORR: Well, the independent budget analyst's office put this list together, and it was initially a list of nearly 300 options that people had suggested at these meeting, that politicians had posed, you know, as ways to safe money. They included everything from completely eliminating life guard services and putting up swim at your own risk signs to reforming retiree healthcare. It's been whittled down over the past self months and now today, the council will vote on a list of its 15 final options that they will either endorse or not. And those include things like expanding marketing partnerships so you might see an add-on the lifeguard tower, to things like outsourcing city trash pickup.
CAVANAUGH: And is this expected to pass the City Council today?
ORR: Well, when the council voted on it initially a couple weeks ago, it asked the city staff to look at a more specific of these more specific option of course and many of the council members said I don't support anything on this list, but I support the city staff looking into it. So I don't know if it'll be uniform today. We might have certain members saying, oh, I object to number three, I object to number ten, I want to approve this list without number nine. So there might be some wrangling that way to see if they can get a list together that they all can agree on.
CAVANAUGH: I see. So that vote is scheduled for today no. So when is the mayor planning to release his budget.
ORR: Well the budget is planning to release his budget later this week. I believe he's holding a news conference. And it'll be interesting to see what it contains of obviously the sales tax increase last November was voted down. And at that time, when the mayor and different supporters were pushing this sales tax, they held town hall meeting, and they brought out the heads of the fire department business of the police station, of the parks and rec, of the libraries, saying this is what will happen if this sales tax doesn't go through, and we might see these potential budget cuts and they weren't pretty. Once the sales tax failed, we didn't hear a lot more about that. It was more like, well, we're gonna work on our budget now, and we'll let you know about the cuts in April. So it will be interesting to see what the budget actually contains. A recent story in the Union Tribune said that the mayor called for slowly reversing the fire department brown outs. That is where the city tried to save $11 million in over time, was saving $11 million in over time by browning out or idling certain fire engines around town. But still, the city is facing a $57 million deficit, so it'll be interesting to see how that comes about.
CAVANAUGH: So little bits and pieces are leaking out from now until Thursday when the mayor is supposed to release his budget. Now, how do you think the council's cuts will be incorporated into the mayor's budget proposal? Is there gonna be any linkage that you see?
ORR: You know, the cuts that the council are proposing aren't radically new, these are ideas that have been around for a while. I spoke to someone in the mayor's office and he was saying wee heard about all of these cuts before, so they could be incorporated, certainly if the council feels like they want to see something incorporated into the budget, after the mayor presents it to them, they could try and get that in there. So I think it's certainly possible. Some of these, the marketing partnerships, some of the options include charging fees for false alarms, false fire alarms, when the fire department responds. So it's responsible that some of these ideas could be incorporated into the mayor's budget.
CAVANAUGH: You think it's in the mayor's best interest, actually, to look at some of these budget cuts that the City Council comes up with in order to guarantee that the City Council will look favorably on his billion proposal?
ORR: I think so. And the City Council could also say these are cuts that we have come up with after speaking to the public. So they could make that case that these are things that have the public support. I think the mayor could, you know, nothing -- like I said, nothing on that list is very radical. You know, managed competition, they've already started looking into that, reforming retiree healthcare, I don't know if that made the final list, but that's something that is on everybody's mind in the city. So it is possible that we could see some of these ideas incorporated and it could be to the mayor's benefit to work with the council on those cuts.
Q. . Now, Katie, you made the point that before Prop D was voted down, when people were campaigning for it, the city officials, this was a kind of idea that it would be draconian cuts that would follow in indeed Prop D wasn't approved by voters, and it wasn't approved by voters. Should we be expecting this kind of impact on city services or is this the feeling that somehow the mayor and the City Council have worked to avert it? Things weren't as bad, perhaps as they seemed?
ORR: Well, the thing is, the majority of the city's one billion or so dollar operating bottom goes to things like fire, police, fires and rec. The number one expense for the operating budget is police. $400 million, nearly $400 million goes to pay for that. Next is the fire department. Nearly $200 million dollars goes into that. Next is parks and rec, $83 million. So if you want to see major savings for the city, those are probably the areas where you have to make a lot of the cuts. That's where you're gonna get your most safeties out of. You can cut some city departments down the line, but they don't have as much money to begin with, so your savings might not be as big. Or the parks and recs because those are the areas where people do feel it, but those are also areas where people receive the most money from the general fund.
CAVANAUGH: I see. So how does this work actually, Katie? The mayor presents his billion proposal, we're already going to be hearing some budget cuts proposed by the City Council. What comes next? What is this process after that.
ORR: Had, after a lot of negotiations, are the mayor will formally present his bottoming to the council, I believe that's next week, the council will then take that budget, they'll have public meetings on it, public hearings on it, they might modify it, change it a little bit, and ultimately, they will adopt a budget.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, then, all right, we'll keep our eyes glued to this process. Thank you so much Katie.
ORR: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And if you would like to comment, please go on-line, KPBS.org/These Days. Coming up, the ranks of nonbelievers are growing. We'll talk about atheists in America. That's as These Days continues here on KPBS.