San Diego City Council weighs in on Mayor Kevin Faulconer's $3.6 billion city budget proposal

Posted at 7:17 AM, Apr 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-18 09:27:01-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Three members of the City Council Monday criticized Mayor Kevin Faulconer's proposal to reduce funding to San Diego arts programs by 31 percent, a cutback included in his $3.6 billion budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf called the planned $4.7 million cut "Draconian" and Councilman David Alvarez said money would have to be found.

The city supports area arts organizations with a portion of hotel room tax revenues. Boosters contend that arts programs, by attracting out-of-town visitors, have a huge return on investment.

"It's very important to me, personally," Zapf said after the budget proposal was formally presented to the council. Because of the economic boost provided by the arts, she's long advocated for even more funding.

Alvarez said the planned cut, part of $22 million in proposed spending reductions to close a gap between projected revenues and expenses, was "unacceptable."

"I certainly won't be supporting a budget that makes such a deep cut to arts institutions," Alvarez said. "We'll have to work hard and figure out where to find the funding, but it's going to have to happen."

Councilman Chris Ward also expressed support for arts funding.

City Council disagreement with the mayor's office over a particular cut or two is an annual exercise, and enough shifting of dollars usually takes place over succeeding months to iron out any issues. According to the mayor's office, the $10.4 million that will be spent on the arts is higher than three years ago.

Spending cuts were made necessary to close a shortfall created in part by a by a much higher contribution to the San Diego City Employees Retirement System than was initially forecast. The change was the result of decisions made by the SDCERS board in light of retirees living longer and a mediocre investment performance.

The current fiscal year's contribution from the general fund to the retirement system was $191 million, but the bill will rise to $236 million, overwhelming anticipated revenue gains, according to the mayor's office.

"This means we have to make some tough decisions, this means we have to work together to prioritize what's important," Faulconer told the council members.

Faulconer's budget proposal, made public last week, focuses on core community services in the $1.4 billion general fund like street repairs, recreation centers, libraries and public safety. The proposal also includes the largest infrastructure expenditure of this decade at $445 million, he said.

The spending plan funds 349 miles of street repairs, and maintains library and recreation center hours, according to the mayor.

Besides cutting spending, the city plans to take $16 million out of a recently established reserve account and apply around $8 million in funds that are expected to be left over when the current fiscal year ends on June 30.

The council members are scheduled to begin budget hearings on May 3 and adopt the plan in June.