Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

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

 April 12, 2019 at 9:43 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Infrastructure, pure water and homeless programs are some of the top priorities in Mayor Kevin Faulkner's proposed budget for fiscal 2020. The 4.1 $5 billion budget is an increase over last year's even though cuts to some programs are included, but a big unknown is not addressed in the mayor's proposal. And that is how much the reworking of prop B pension reform will end up costing the city. Joining me as Kpbs Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew, welcome. Thanks Maureen. This budget proposal is an increase over last year, even though the mayor had to close the deficit. Can you tell us about that? Yeah, so our economy is still in growth right now. Revenues are still growing. We've got higher sales tax, higher property tax revenues, but our expenses are growing faster than our revenues. So city workers, police, firefighters, engineers, planners, all of the city staff were promised raises in their contracts. Speaker 1: 00:54 And um, our pension obligations are also going up. Construction is also going up. Our labor costs are going up for infrastructure projects. So while we're spending more in some areas because the city has to, because it's already promised that it's spending less than other areas because you know, you've got to make up the difference. Can you run through some of the major highlights of the mayor's proposal? Sure. So the mayor says that his budget prioritizes infrastructure. Uh, most of the increased infrastructure spending is going to pure water. This water recycling program that we have, uh, it continues full funding for, uh, the mayor's various homeless programs, including the storage facility in Logan Heights and also the bridge shelter program. I think we can maybe expect a little bit of push back from the city council. They've shown some reluctance to keep funding those programs because they, from their eyes at least they haven't seen the evidence that they're actually working or getting people off the streets. Speaker 1: 01:45 Um, a snapshot of some of the cuts, uh, there's a million dollar reduction in tree trimming and tree removal. So except for emergencies, this effectively means that the city will only be trimming palm trees in this next fiscal year. Um, they're also cutting a little over eight full time equivalent civilian positions from the San Diego Police Department. The budget says that these positions are vacant so it shouldn't affect current service levels, but when a department doesn't fill a position that is in the budget, it uses that extra money that's given to the department for other expenses. So there will be some impact on all of those things. Is the additional infrastructure spending supposed to make a significant dent in the infrastructure repair backlog that we've heard so much about? Yeah, it's not exactly. So I think this is a really important point for people that understand because it's true that the overall infrastructure spending in our city is going up a lot. Speaker 1: 02:39 Um, but nearly 83% of that infrastructure spending is in water and sewage projects and the city is able to pay for those because it controls the water rates, which have gone up over the past couple of years. Our infrastructure backlog, the deficits that we have is actually growing. There was a report in February that estimates the city needs an additional 1.8 $6 billion over the next five years to fully fund all of its infrastructure needs. Everything from sidewalks to streetlights to repairs to city facilities, new fire stations, things like that. The biggest unfunded need in, uh, the city is stormwater actually. So the system of channels and underground pipes that carry rainwater out into the ocean. This has to do with a water quality because all that water ends up polluting our bays and beaches. It has to do with flood prevention. It has to do with preventing sinkholes when, uh, the storm pipes fail. Speaker 1: 03:31 You know, we get these big messes and after a city auditor's report from last year, the mayor actually committed to coming up with a plan to funding all of this stormwater backlog. But this budget actually cuts from the storm water budget, less channel maintenances in the works. I'm less compliance monitoring, making sure that companies aren't dumping waste into our rivers. So, uh, you know, these are the tough realities that we're facing in San Diego. You mentioned overtime for police officers is sort of included in this budget proposal. The San Diego Police Department has struggled with hiring and retaining officers. Is that addressed at all? Last year's budget expected the salary raises two police officers to increase the hiring so we'd be able to attract more police officers and that it would reduce the department's reliance on overtime to actually maintain their service levels. The midyear budget monitoring report just came out a few months ago and it found that that that actually didn't happen this current fiscal year. The overtime expenses in the police department or about eight point $6 million over budget and that just represents half of the fiscal year, so the vacancies in the police department have gone down some but not as much as the city had hoped. And this budget actually has more money for overtime partly to deal with some of the mayors homeless programs. This trash pickup initiative that the mayor has, I spoke with police chief David [inaudible]. He said the department is still short right now about 195 officers. Speaker 2: 04:58 We're going to see some increases in overtime and we're obviously trying to control that. But the biggest thing is I'm trying to maintain public safety and this is the largest safe city in the nation. And so to do that, sometimes we're going to have to use backfill over time to fill those critical positions. Speaker 1: 05:13 Now in your story, you point out one aspect that was overlooked in the budget and that was possible costs associated with the recent property pension ruling. Tell us more about that. Yeah. Breezed through the background. Here's the property eliminated guaranteed pensions for newly hired civilian employees at the city. Uh, the courts have essentially ruled it's, it was a legally placed on the ballot and the city has been ordered to make back payments to those workers who were denied pension benefits. Uh, they have to pay them the difference between what they would have earned if they had been a part of the pension system and what they actually did earn plus 7% interest. The city will also likely have to pay the attorney's fees for the unions because it lost this legal battle. And there's, at this point, no good estimate how much this will cost city taxpayers that will likely be determined through labor negotiations. Speaker 1: 06:02 It's also unclear when these costs are going to start kicking in, but the mayor has $0 million budgeted for this in his proposed budget. And so that could mean maybe he's just banking on this not being a problem until he's about halfway out of office. But if the expenses start kicking in in the fiscal year, the mayor will have to take money from somewhere else in the budget and put it toward a complying with a court ruling. The mayor is scheduled to present as budget to the city council on Monday. What can we expect after that? All nine city council members come together as the budget review committee and they look at each departmental budget, uh, suggest some changes that they are, presents a revised budget in mid May and the city council ultimately has to cast a final vote up or down on the budget. In June, I've been speaking with Kpbs Metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Andrew, thank you. My pleasure.

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.