City council to hold first public budget hearing Wednesday

Local

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – San Diego residents and Councilmembers alike will be able to offer input on Mayor Todd Gloria’s proposed $4.6 billion budget Wednesday as part of the annual budgetary process.

Proceedings will begin at 9 a.m. with an independent budget analyst review of the proposal, followed by an introduction from the chief operating officer until noon and then an overview from the city’s chief financial officer from 2 to 5 p.m.

This will be followed at 6 p.m. with the first public hearing on the budget. Budget hearings with city staff will continue on weekdays through Tuesday. The next opportunity for the public to speak will be at a session of the full City Council on Monday, May 17.

Gloria’s budget comes with around $306 million in federal relief to San Diego through President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which Gloria proposed to use to strengthen the local economy and stabilize city finances. Before Biden signed the relief package, San Diego was looking at a deficit of  $124 million — a figure that exceeds the entire Parks and Recreation Department annual budget.

“I have always been transparent with the residents in my district regarding the city’s finances, and as budget chair, I plan to do the same, city- wide,” said Councilman Chris Cate, chair of San Diego’s Budget & Government Efficiency Committee. “We need to be fiscally prudent and focus on core city services for our residents. I look forward to working with everyone to build a budget that will be reflective of all San Diegans.”

Gloria’s budget represents a 13.4% increase over last year’s spending plan — an increase of more than $537 million. Much of that increase — around $400 million — is attributed to the Pure Water Project.

However, despite the windfall of federal relief dollars and the increase in the overall budget proposal, Gloria’s budget has already come under fire from the public and members of the city council — particularly regarding the cutting of library hours and an increase in police funding.

“Budgets require choices, and when we choose one thing rather than another we reveal the values that drive us,” Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe said Monday. “We can never reduce budgets to simply being financial statements. Budgets are values statements.”

Gloria proposed reducing the city’s library hours to Tuesday through Saturday, a savings of $6.9 million, his staff estimates.

Councilwoman Vivian Moreno found those cuts unacceptable, particularly because of the digital divide in her district. Council District 8 represents San Ysidro, Barrio Logan, Logan Heights and Sherman Heights, has a majority Latino population and a high percentage of people who speak English as a second language.

Moreno and Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera said any library hours lost will negatively impact their constituents.

The library cost-cutting measures come next to a proposed $19 million increase to the San Diego Police Departments’ budget. The city has increased SDPD’s budget for the last 10 years, an increase of more than $200 million since 2011.

Last year, when then-Mayor Kevin Faulconer proposed his budget in the heart of COVID-19 lockdowns, one council meeting totaled nearly 2 hours — largely as a result of hundreds of public callers and more than 4,000 emails demanding the council not only reject the mayor’s proposed $27 million increase to the police but cut the existing budget dramatically.

Despite the outpouring of protest, the council passed the budget and the uptick in police spending 8-1. Much of the police budget increase comes as part of non-discretionary spending — pensions, etc. — over which Gloria has little say. He has committed to cut police overtime by $4 million.

“My “Back to Work SD” budget prioritizes an equitable recovery from the impacts of the pandemic while setting the foundation of a brighter future for all of us, Gloria said in April. “Despite a structural budget deficit inherited from the previous administration, we took a pragmatic approach to balancing this budget while protecting core services and investing in the people who have suffered the most throughout this past year.”

San Diego City Council President Jennifer Campbell encouraged the public to listen and comment on budget items that matter to them.

“I invite all residents to take part in this process which affects every aspect of our city, and I look forward to Councilmember Cate’s leadership in guiding us through this important process,” she said.

The $4.6 billion budget proposal recommends spending levels for city operations and capital projects for Fiscal Year 2022, which runs from July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022. The final budget will be adopted in June following several weeks of review by the public and the City Council.

The full budget proposal can be found here and all public budget hearings can be viewed live on the city website.

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