Mayor’s budget revisions bolster funding for arts, public safety

SAN DIEGO -- Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced Tuesday that extra money in the fiscal year that begins July 1 will go toward addressing a police officer retention problem and supporting arts organizations -- the most controversial issues in his $3.6 billion budget proposal.

At a news conference, Faulconer said his so-called "May Revise" includes $150,000 for a study on police officer recruitment and retention, $100,000 for a national search for a replacement for police Chief Shelley Zimmerman and an additional $2.4 million for the arts.

He also said an extra $10.3 million will be placed into reserves to prepare for an even tighter budget next year.

The extra funds were made available from money expected to be left over from the current fiscal year and higher projections of property tax revenue, according to the mayor's office.

"We're going to continue putting our neighborhoods first and keep the focus on the core services that our residents rely on the most," Faulconer said.

"Thanks to belt-tightening at City Hall, we have some leftover dollars from this year's budget that we can put toward reserves to help us face future budget challenges from rising pension costs," he said. "The fiscally responsible approach is to save now to prepare for lean budget years ahead we know are coming."

The revisions follow about a week of City Council hearings on various facets of the spending plan, along with a special meeting Monday night to receive input from members of the public who couldn't make it to City Hall during the day.

At a hearing earlier this month, Zimmerman said 13 officers are leaving the department each month, some for more lucrative jobs at other law enforcement agencies. Even though the City Council has approved measures over recent years to raise take-home pay and boost recruiting, the number of officers on the job is roughly the same as five years ago, about 200 less than called for in the budget.

In a statement, police union leader Brian Marvel said the mayor's revision "does not address concerns raised by the San Diego Police Officers Association regarding SDPD's staffing struggles, nor does it respond to an immediate and growing consequence of low staffing -- SDPD failing to consistently meet minimum patrol staffing levels."

Zimmerman said the only solution was to make San Diego police officers the highest-paid in the county. They're scheduled to receive pay hikes of 3.3 percent in each of the last two years of a five-year contract that's currently in effect.

The chief is scheduled to step down early in the next calendar year because of her participation in a deferred retirement program, and several council members called for funding for a national search for a successor.

Faulconer's revisions restores a little more than half of the original $4.7 million funding cut for the city's Commission on Arts and Culture, which provides financial support to numerous groups around the city. Supporters of arts funding contend that such spending has a high return on investment by attracting out-of-town visitors to places like the Old Globe, La Jolla Playhouse and Balboa Park museums.

The commission is funded by a portion of hotel room tax revenue.

The cut was the biggest in a budget squeezed by a large jump in the city's required contribution to its employee pension system -- the result of changes in calculations on how long retirees are expected to live, combined by a weak investment performance.

The pension system will take an even larger bite out of the budget for the subsequent fiscal year, which is why Faulconer added to the reserve account.

The City Council is scheduled to hold a hearing on the proposed revisions on Thursday, and vote on a final spending plan next month. The budget goes into effect on July 1.