Does San Diego need another City Council member? That question will face voters in next June's primary election
If they answer "yes," taxpayers will be on the hook for nearly $1 million a year to bankroll the new council office, which would be the city's ninth, following redistricting in the wake of the 2010 census.
With the city facing a budget deficit upward of $180 million next fiscal year, there would be more costs.
"You're going to be adding an additional election," noted Councilwoman Donna Frye. "It's going to cost more money forever. Forever."
Council members are already conducting research and holding discussions, facing a March 1 deadline to refine the wording and work out a variety of administrative and political issues.
The measure would make permanent the so-called "strong mayor," chief-executive system of city government that city voters approved as a five-year experiment in 2005.
Upon creation of a ninth council district, it would require a supermajority of six council votes -- versus the current five -- to override a mayoral veto or to reverse the mayor's hiring and firing decisions on police and fire chiefs.
Since the "strong mayor" system began, the council has split four to four on a number of votes and has occasionally frustrated Mayor Jerry Sanders with a five-vote veto override.
A six-vote override requirement would raise the bar for the council to countermand future mayors.
City officials estimate it will cost more than $200,000 to place the measure on the June ballot.
"If we were in good [economic] times," said City Heights community activist Theresa Quiroz, "I think it may be a no-brainer, but at the moment, it's not."
Testifying Wednesday before the Council's Rules, Open Government & Intergovernmental Relations Committee, Quiroz said: "There is so much that we need to discuss before we spend the city's precious and dwindling time and money -- assuming that this ballot measure will pass."
Committee members took issue with using the term "strong mayor" alone in the ballot measure's title, suggesting that it be replaced with "strong mayor/strong council form of government."
By any name, the new system still has critics.
"We need to make a decision," Bird Rock resident Crickett Bradburn told the committee. "Are we satisfied with having that much power in the hands of one person -- regardless of who they are?"