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City Seeks Public’s Advice on Daunting Fiscal Needs

Times Staff Writer

Taking their first, tentative steps toward addressing the city’s grim financial future, members of a San Diego City Council committee decided Wednesday to seek community advice before proposing tax or fee increases and determining how to spend the new revenue.

The council’s Rules Committee voted 5 to 0, with Councilman Wes Pratt absent, to establish a panel of community representatives that will make recommendations on a range of options for raising the revenue to finance hundreds of millions of dollars in city needs.

Mayor Maureen O’Connor and City Manager John Lockwood will announce the panel at a meeting of the committee next month, but O’Connor said she is interested in including groups such as the local chapter of the League of Women Voters and the San Diego Taxpayers Assn.

Separate Panel

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The committee also agreed to establish a separate panel that will search for funding for the $900 million needed to build roads, parks, libraries and fire stations in the city’s largely developed “urbanized” core.

Of the total $1.05 billion needed in the inner-city communities, $150 million will be available from new development, and most of the $340 million needed for streets will come from a sales tax increase approved by voters in 1987. The city must pay for the rest.

Lockwood also promised significant cuts in the fiscal 1989-90 budget to be released in May. That will not translate into a fiscal plan smaller than the current $378-million operating budget, Director of Financial Management Patricia Frazier said, but neither will it keep pace with the city’s growth.

“Almost across the board, you’re going to see a reduction in the level of service,” Lockwood told the council committee.

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The coming year’s budget merited little discussion Wednesday, as council members worried about funding for the more than $560 million in police and capital improvements they want to add in the next several years.

“It’s sort of frightening to look at some of these numbers, but we are facing up to those issues,” Councilman Bruce Henderson said.

At the top of nearly every list is the city’s long-held desire to dramatically increase police protection from the existing 1.62 officers per 1,000 residents to 2 officers per 1,000. A three-year program offered by Lockwood would cost $106.4 million, plus $49.8 million annually thereafter to maintain the same police presence.

Lockwood proposes to pay for the added officers by requiring the city’s single-family homes to start paying for refuse collection in fiscal 1990-91--a $7.50 monthly charge that would raise $18.5 million. He would add property tax increases, utility surcharges or the creation of a new assessment district in the following three years.

Voter approval would be required for a property-tax increase, estimated at $82 per $100,000 assessed valuation, if the new refuse collection fees are ruled out.

Some council members already are dubious about repealing the People’s Ordinance of 1919 that gives 60% of the city’s households free refuse collection.

“Those people are already paying through their taxes,” Councilman Ron Roberts said. “What you’re doing is increasing people’s taxes, but you’re not increasing their services.”

Statement From Filner

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None of the committee members was willing to endorse Councilman Bob Filner’s recommendation that they immediately resolve to place a proposal before voters on the November ballot to “identify a fair and feasible funding mechanism” for adding the new police officers. Filner, who is not a member of the Rules Committee, was in Washington for a conference, but issued a written statement that was read to the committee.

Councilwoman Gloria McColl, one of four council members running for re-election this fall on a ballot that could include proposals for hefty tax increases, said she is unwilling to place property-tax hikes before voters until the appointed committee establishes some priorities, an opinion echoed by O’Connor.

Roberts said Police Chief Bob Burgreen may not consider the added officers his highest priority. The chief may want to spend more money on a detention center for misdemeanor arrestees, who are routinely released because of jail crowding, Roberts said.

Also facing the city in the next few years is the need for $100 million in construction of police and fire facilities; $102.2 million needed for a new central library; $75 million needed for new city operations centers for trash and street-sweeping trucks; $80 million to $100 million for a new landfill and $100 million to purchase open space.

Lockwood proposes to finance the police and fire facilities and the library with general obligation bonds and the open-space acquisition with a new revenue district. Each $100 million raised would cost homeowners $23 for every $100,000 in assessed valuation of their homes.

O’Connor said Wednesday that she has begun discussing with San Diego Unified Port District commissioners the idea of donating $45 million in district revenue to its five member cities--San Diego, Coronado, Chula Vista, National City and Imperial Beach--to pay for such things as public safety.

The council members also seemed clearly interested in raising the city’s hotel room tax, which stands at 9%. Each 1% increase would bring the city $3 million to $4 million, but Lockwood recommended waiting until one year after the opening of the convention center this fall to assess the effect on hotel room occupancy.


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