The San Diego Adopted budget: Some Observations

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June 16, 2016 (San Diego) In the past we have referred to budgets as not just fiscal documents, but also political documents. This year’s budget is no different. It does reflect Mayor Kevin Faucolner focus on street repair. This, we must add, is a new emphasis, since the city has not done that in a while. Becuase of that, we have a lag on both maintenance and the moneys to do it.

To no real surprise to anybody, the two biggest line items in the budget are police and fire. San Diego Police has had a few bad years, losing both recruits and experienced officers at an alarming rate. One of the issues: Pay. When compared to other departments, even in our county, SDPD does not pay it’s officer well. The Budget has formalized the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)with the Police Officer Association (SDPOA). This is going to help stem that flight, or so is the hope. The city is going to spend an extra $11.1 million to keep officers in the force. This is what the MOU looks like:

  • $3.2 million for the addition of premium overtime pay for holidays;
  •  A cost-neutral addition of discretionary leave of forty (40) hours for all SDPOA members each fiscal year of the agreement;
  • $344,000 for increased uniform/equipment allowance for police recruits on entry and graduation from the Police Academy;
  •  $2.5 million for increased uniform/equipment allowance for members with eight or more years of service;
  • $1.6 million for increased flexible benefit allotments for family plan health coverage;
  • $3.4 million for increased flexible benefit allotments for officers with eight or more years of service;
  •  $25,000 for tuition reimbursements for Tactical Flight Officers working on their pilot’s license;
  • Increased Primary Pilot Specialty Pay effective Fiscal Year 2019;
    The addition of Tactical Flight Officer Specialty Pay effective Fiscal Year 2019; and
  • General salary increase of 3.3 percent in Fiscal Year 2019 and general salary increase of 3.3 percent in Fiscal Year 2020 for employees covered by the MOU.

And if you are wondering, how much is the Police Department getting in the General Fund, they are largest line item in the budget, at $456 million in the general fund.

There is another little interesting tidbit in the budget. SDPD operates four helicopters out of Montgomery field. Part of the reason is that these birds help in law enforcement, pursuit, observation and other duties. In the budget we found where the fuel comes from. After all, one of the real expensive areas in air operations is fuel. The Department is using funds from the Asset Forfeiture Program to pay for it.

This is not a new practice, and it took hold due to the war on drugs during the 1980s. There are efforts underway to limit this practice, and the State legislature is taking a second byte at the apple. last year the legislation failed, to limit these funds. State Sen. Holly Mitchell (D) from Los Angeles would require the police to have an actual criminal conviction before they can keep the funds.

If that bill is successful, SDPD will have to find new ways to fund the fuel for those four helicopters. The budget just mentions where the funds are coming from, but not the actual amount for it. We know it is not precisely cheap to operate a helicopter program, and the fuel costs are a large part of that cost.

Not surprising the second large line item in the budget is the fire service. They are budgeted for $339 million for the current year. This budget could be blown out of the water if we had another major fire storm, but that is what in theory, city reserves are for, as well as state and federal grants. Deep in the document is another interesting nugget. We don’t own fire trucks, we lease them. 16 fire engines have reached the end of their lease and will be returned, but this is not expected to affect service levels.

So what about roads? Well, from the budget:

Mayor Faulconer has committed to directing at least 50 percent of all new growth in major General Fund revenues towards infrastructure improvements in all neighborhoods. The Fiscal Year 2016 Adopted Budget includes new growth in major General Fund revenues of $71.9 million. The Fiscal Year 2016 Adopted Budget exceeds the 50 percent target of $35.9 million with the addition of a net $43.9 million in new infrastructure expenditures.

This is just the tip of funds needed to repair roads. The passage of Proposition H might make things easier, but the deficit in infrastructure repair is sill close to $2 billion dollars. The budget is just over $3 billion dollars.

The budget though also has another item in there that should concern citizens. That is our persistent and growing homeless problem. The city speaks a good game, but in reality, we are not doing more or less than we usually do, and that is talk a good game. Again, from the budget:

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Homelessness Services

The Fiscal Year 2016 Adopted Budget includes $2.04 million in General Fund funding for Homelessness solutions. This is the same level of funding as included in the Fiscal Year 2015 Adopted Budget and will be allocated as indicated below:

Year-Round Interim Housing

The Fiscal Year 2016 Adopted Budget includes $1.47 million for the Housing Commission to administer a Year-Round Interim Housing Program. The new permanent shelter would replace the emergency winter shelters that the City has funded since Fiscal Year 2014. This advances the City’s transition from providing temporary shelter for a few months towards providing supportive services that help San Diegans get off the streets permanently.

Connections Housing

The Fiscal Year 2016 Adopted Budget includes $300,000 for People Assisting the Homeless’ (PATH) continuation of essential services and for development partners to continue to pursue private fund raising and public grants to fill the remaining gap in operating funds. This is the same level of funding as provided in the Fiscal Year 2015 Adopted Budget.

Serial Inebriate Program

The Fiscal Year 2016 Adopted Budget includes $120,000 to maintain the Serial Inebriate Program (SIP) at 32 support units and beds. The SIP has positively impacted chronic homeless alcoholics who cycle in and out of detoxification centers, county jail, and local emergency rooms. By providing intensive case management and access to housing, clients are able to improve their well-being and achieve long-term recovery. This is the same level of funding that was provided in the Fiscal Year 2015 Adopted Budget.

Transitional Storage Center

The Fiscal Year 2015 Adopted Budget includes $150,000 to support the operation of the Girls Think Tank storage facility, which provides a place for 350 homeless families and individuals to safely store their personal belongings. This is the same level of funding provided in the Fiscal Year 2015 Adopted Budget.

Yes, the city is doing something about it, and is moving away from emergency shelter, but we are a long way from dealing with this head on. We also have a population that remains stable at about 8,742, the fourth largest homeless population in the nation. So a budget tells us that the problem is truly not seen as a priority by city leaders, but more of a nuisance.

Putting rocks under bridges where homeless usually take shelter is not a way to respond to this. There are new and innovative techniques used elsewhere, including house people first, and treat later. They are also far more cost effective than our scatter techniques.

Now the budget also has a few red flags. While going over the economic outlook of the city, and where funds are coming from, there was one line that caught our attention. The mean income for city residents is expected to be $55,000 a year, while the mean price for housing is expected to be $475,000. Now here lies the heart of the Housing Crisis the city council keeps declaring every year for the last 12 years. If housing stock is that out of reach, none should be surprised that people cannot afford housing.

It points to a problem the city has had for a while. This is the lack of affordable housing. The other red flag, is that while taxes and other sources of income are expected to rise at 4.5 percent annualized rate, the city is planning for a more conservative 4 percent. They are taking into account a slowing economy, and the end of the business cycle.

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