After years of city budgets that were "hold-the-line" or downright "starvation" in their approach, San Diegans are looking at a 6 percent hike in municipal spending in Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s $3 billion proposal for the budget year that begins July 1.
"We've been through a lot together over the last several years,” Faulconer said during a noon-hour news briefing Monday at City Hall. “And to be in this opportunity now where we continue to work together to restore neighborhoods -- is where we all wanted to be."
Local economic forecasts are getting brighter, projecting somewhat higher tax revenues to flow into the city treasury.
Said Sean Karafin, Interim President of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association: "There's no doubt that the economy is doing better. And this budget rests on the increased tax base that comes from that bettering economy. But the projections look reasonable. Again, this is a first glance."
More than half of the new money will be poured into fixing San Diego’s neighborhoods – potholes, cracking and crumbling streets, sidewalks and other public infrastructure that’s been neglected for too long.
"These problems that we're facing in infrastructure did not happen overnight, and we're not going to solve them overnight,” said Councilman Mark Kersey, who chairs the Council’s Infrastructure Committee. “But with continued investment like what is reflected in this budget, we will be able to rebuild San Diego for future generations."
The Police Department will be in a hiring mode, for both uniformed and civilian staff, to backfill the slots of retiring veterans.
The short-handed Fire-Rescue Department, subject to mandatory overtime, will finally be getting reinforcements.
Hours at libraries and recreation centers will be increased, as will other neighborhood services.
There's even a healthy reserve fund to hedge against further downsides.
"I remember when I was first elected to the Council -- and our reserves were at 3 percent, I think, as we were teetering on going over the edge of the cliff,” Faulconer recalled. “And now, with everybody working together, we're at 14 percent."
The mayor also is allocating nearly a million dollars to underwrite community plan updates -- key blueprints for land use and economic development that in many cases have gone decades without reviews and revisions.
Faulconer's budget plan also directs spending on homeless issues to organizations that get the best results and establishes the position of "Open Data Officer" to help preserve and improve access to city records and information.
But City Hall observers caution that there's no predicting how long this upswing will last.
"The economy is really a huge driver in how these things look,” said Liam Dillon, who covers politics, government and civic issues for Voice of San Diego. “The economy's turning better; that makes things good. Whether we turn the corner or not depends as much on what happens in the broader economy than what happens at City Hall."
There's also uncertainty about how much infrastructure money can be borrowed on Wall Street and how soon.
Pending legal challenges claim voters have to approve the bond measures.
City lawyers argue otherwise.
The Council’s first in a series of budget hearing is set for May 5.
Councilman David Alvarez, who lost to Faulconer in the Feb. 11 special mayoral runoff election, gave notice in a written statement that he'll be pushing for at least one new park to be built in an "underserved" neighborhood.
Alvarez also said he believes there's still "inefficiency and waste" in the budget proposal – and will be looking to “identify areas that we can streamline and use those tax dollars to support increase community and neighborhood priorities.”