City Going Into $180 Million Black Hole

Public safety cuts "on the table," retirement costs decried

Cops and firefighters could lose their jobs because of San Diego's record $179.1 million budget deficit, Mayor Jerry Sanders said.

City residents can expect municipal service cuts to go much deeper than earlier predicted, and city workers could see another round of layoffs far more extensive than they've been warned about, the mayor said Thursday, all because the highest budget deficit in San Diego's history is looming, nearly twice the originally projected $100 million.

"Unlike the federal government, we can't print money," Sanders told reporters at a City Hall news conference. "And unlike state government, we can't steal others' money."

Sanders' remarks came after his financial experts issued a revised five-year budget forecast starting with the fiscal year that begins next July 1. The total deficit projection through the 2014-15 fiscal year: $1.33 billion.

The mayor said every city department, including the traditionally "sacred cows" -- the police and fire/rescue departments -- will be subject to program cuts and layoffs.

"A deficit this size is so significant that we can no longer shield the public from its impacts," Sanders said. "We're not taking anything off the table."

Sanders refused to identify exactly where the cuts would be made, nor would he specify a number of layoffs, saying those proposals are just now in the process of being developed for forwarding to the City Council. His chief operating officer, Jay Goldstone, recently estimated that several hundred city workers could lose their jobs.

Sanders, who said he won't propose tax increases, although other "revenue solutions" are under study, did say he won't dip into the city's $70 million unallocated reserve fund, from which $22 million was taken in the last budget cycle for the current fiscal year.

The budget projection for next fiscal year reflects a $67 million drop in municipal tax revenues, $57 million in higher-than-budgeted pension deficit costs and a $32 million final payment on a legal settlement involving past underfunding of the retirement system.

In response, maverick Councilman Carl DeMaio said his colleagues and the mayor have failed to address the issues of "unsustainable" pension benefits and retiree health costs.

"Either we reform the level of benefits, or we will see extraordinary reductions in the size of the city's workforce," DeMaio told reporters.

"I think the labor unions need to be engaged," DeMaio added. "We need to renegotiate and bring everyone back to the table."

The union leaders for the city's police officers and firefighters expressed frustration that their departments -- already among the leanest, per-capita, in the country -- could wind up further understaffed.

"We're going to do the best that we possibly can and as professionally as we can," said Brian Marvel, president of the San Diego Police Officers Association. "But people are going to have to realize that if somebody breaks into their house, it's going to take a lot longer for a police officer to get there."

Said Frank De Clercq, president of Fire Fighters Local 145: "There's nowhere to cut.  We have to be able to get to a person's home in a timely fashion when they're having a heart attack. There's really nothing to cut ... and I think the citizens are ultimately going to have to decide the priorities."

Currently, city government is under a hard hiring freeze, with 800 positions remaining vacant and no employee pay raises on the horizon.

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