Sanders Projects Big Budget Surpluses

DeMaio, Filner unimpressed; Fletcher, Dumanis defend mayor

Mayor Jerry Sanders says the city's fiscal crisis has stabilized to a point where San Diego could see budget surpluses adding up to $119 million over the next 5 years.

After seven bleak years that began with talk of municipal bankruptcy, the mayor says aggressive cost-cutting, streamlining, and voter-approved reforms are finally taking hold.

"We were the canary in the coal mine," he told reporters at a City Hall news conference Wednesday.

"And if you remember the dark days of 2005, we were being investigated by everyone on earth --  The SEC, U.S. Attorney ... we had no credit rating at all.  When we couldn't borrow money."

The budget he released for the fiscal year beginning July 1st follows a much-welcomed $16 million surplus from higher sales and hotel room tax revenues that came about in the current fiscal year.

That money was used, among other purposes, to restore operating hours to libraries and recreation centers, and overhaul the Fire-Rescue dispatch system.

Sanders said future surpluses will be invested in much the same way.

Among public safety priorities is hiring more fire fighters and police officers, to bring up some of the lowest staffing ratios among major U.S. cities.

The staffing ratio is one topic that will be discussed in NBC 7 San Diego's upcoming mayoral debate on April 23.

The mayor said the city is finally catching up with deferred maintenance of the city's infrastructure, with hundreds of millions of dollars in bond money  going toward streets, sidewalks, water and sewer facilities.

This final budget of his tenure, he noted, is a far cry from his first.

According to Sanders, eliminating years of structural budget deficits will enhance city's picture through fiscal 2017  -- as long as the economy doesn't relapse into chaos.

"I don't know if there'll be a double-dip recession," he said.  "I am only telling you that we're starting to rebuild.  We're starting to 'bond' out to repair the infrastructure -- things that should've been done years and years ago.  And so I think we're on a very steady track right now."

But Councilman Carl DeMaio, the frontrunner in the mayor's race, says the budget is filled with "gimmicks" that hide a fresh, $50 million deficit.

"And that's why I'm calling for the mayor and council to reject euphoria," DeMaio told reporters in the City Hall press room, "to reject the temptation to put a nice pretty bow on what San Diegans know is still a festering problem."

Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, who's targeted DeMaio with more disdain than his other rivals, took issue with DeMaio's critique of Sanders.

"You have to be out of touch with reality not to acknowledge the tremendous progress that has been made," he said in a separate news conference downtown.

"There are a lot of challenges we still face in rebuilding a city," Fletcher added.  "I see today's opportunity as not a call to continue a crisis environment, but to start a conversation about the city we want to build in the future.  And it's a fundamentally different approach."

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, whose candidacy has been endorsed by Sanders, had this response: "I think the mayor has done a great job going into a burning building.  We are where we are because of him.  We still have a long way to go, and we've got to keep those reforms going."

Congressman Bob Filner, expressing skepticism that Sander's budget will meet the neighborhood service needs that San Diegans are entitled to, gave it a "C-plus, needs improvement".

The City Council and its independent budget analyst will begin reviewing the Mayor's 7th and final fiscal plan next week.

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