City Hall

McGinn's Budget Office Presents $11.7 Million in Midyear Cuts

By Erica C. Barnett June 14, 2010

Originally posted at 11:40 AM, this post has been updated throughout the day with comments from budget director Beth Goldberg, budget committee chair Jean Godden, transportation committee chair Tom Rasmussen, and Mayor Mike McGinn.

City budget director Beth Goldberg  presented the city council's budget committee this morning with a proposal, endorsed by Mayor Mike McGinn, to cut $11.7 million from this year's city budget this morning, including 13 layoffs.

The cuts announced this morning only address the midyear budget shortfall in 2010; next year, the city projects a shortfall of $56 million. "The low-hanging fruit is gone," Goldberg said. "Onetime options are exhausted. ...  We are by no means out of the woods." At a press conference after this morning's briefing, McGinn said he would consider a combination of fee hikes and tax increases to stave off what would otherwise be cuts of up to 15 percent in city departments next year.

Although the housing department and the department of information technology took the biggest hits (with reductions of 16.6 percent and 11.3 percent, respectively), the department of transportation will ultimately see the biggest budget cut.

Goldberg said after the meeting that the housing department will save money by keeping the deputy director position vacant and not appointing a permanent director. "The mayor's obviously in the process of figuring out what he wants to do with those positions," Goldberg said. Widespread speculation is that McGinn plans to eliminate the housing office and fold its responsibilities into another department, such as the Office of Economic Development.

SDOT's total shortfall is larger than that at other departments, at $6.6 million (about 15 percent of the department's budget) because gas-tax revenues have fallen short, and because of "unbudgeted expenses" related to the 2009 snowstorm and sweeps on homeless encampments.  "Fourteen years ago, we were getting more like $16 to 17 million in gas tax," said SDOT director Peter Hahn. "Now we're more at the $13 million level."

After the meeting, council transportation committee chair Tom Rasmussen said he thought SDOT's budget problems were partially because of accounting errors, and not just the result of lower revenues and higher costs.

Parks and libraries also took significant hits. Ten wading pools in city parks will be closed completely, and ten others will only be open three days a week, and the city will reduce maintenance at parks by five percent. "Garbage cans may not get emptied quite as often; grass may not get mowed quite as often," Goldberg said. However, the total budget for wading pools is only around $400,000, meaning that future cuts to parks are likely to sting much more than the ones McGinn announced today.

Library hours will stay the same for the rest of the year, but funding for library collections---new books and other materials---will be cut by $500,000.

The fire department is the only department that was exempted from cuts. "In light of the tragic events in Fremont over the weekend, the mayor is not proposing any reductions to the fire department to give us time to evaluate the safety implications of changes to the fire department's budget," Goldberg said.

Human services and the police department took the smallest cuts---0.5 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively. The cuts leave 21 neighborhood-policing officer positions vacant.

"We are pausing the expansion of the number of officers but it does not mean we are moving away from the policy to emphasize neighborhood policing. That remains a budget priority," Goldberg said. McGinn has come under fire from neighborhood-policing advocates for saying he would postpone hiring those officers, who are necessary to fully implement the city's neighborhood policing plan.

"Not hiring new officers is the prudent thing to do," McGinn said after this morning's meeting. "We have more officers on patrol than at any time in recent history."

In a statement after the meeting, budget committee chair Jean Godden said she was "concerned that the Mayor has slowed the hiring of police officers this year. We remain committed to working with him to implement the Neighborhood Policing Plan as soon as possible."

However, Goldberg said the mayor planned to continue "maintenance hiring" in the police department, so that the total number of officers won't go down.

And McGinn said he would likely propose a combination of fee increases and tax hikes next

A full list of proposed cuts is available here.
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