Mayor Chuck Reed’s top priorities in a cautiously optimistic 2013-14 budget proposal, released Friday, include restoring public safety salaries and city services. How does he plan to do it? Good question.
The $852.7 million spending plan, up for discussion when the City Council meets Tuesday, lists a $5.5 million deficit, the 11th straight year the city’s come short of expenditures.
The city’s financial health has improved from only a couple years ago, when San Jose faced a $115 million shortfall “that threatened to push us into service-level insolvency,” Reed says. “But, as a result of the difficult decisions that we’ve made to bring our costs under control, we are now in a position to avoid service cuts and layoffs for the second straight year, and enhance services in a few key areas.”
Reed’s plan for public safety includes:
• Speeding up police and firefighter recruiting, hiring and training by hiring ahead of time, and growing the size and frequency of academies.
• Opening the new-yet-never-opened South San Jose police substation to quicken response times by cutting the time officers spend en route to and from the main station.
• Civilianizing more positions and using more community service and reserve officers to free up sworn officers for patrol and detective work.
• Setting aside money to keep firefighters with salaries now subsidized by a federal grant that’s about to expire.
• Bumping up salaries for veteran officers and employees in other important, tough-to-fill positions, like dispatch and Water Pollution Control Plant workers, to prevent turnover.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have enough money available today to restore all of the services that were cut in recent years or the entire 10-percent pay cut that our employees have taken,” Reed says. “We must be cautious with the limited funds we have available, and ensure they are spent in ways that will not add to future deficits.”
The city is in a better financial position this year, the mayor says, because of the council’s part in enacting “bold fiscal reforms,” like slashing 10 percent of city salaries, outsourcing some jobs and introducing pension reforms. The city manager’s five-year general fund forecast says those reform measures save $81 million a year.
It’s not all salaries and beefed-up services, though. Even after a decade of annual deficits that resulted in about 2,000 layoffs from the municipal workforce, the city expects more financial instability. It’s on course to have a $13.7 million deficit in 2014-15.
Reed’s budget says the biggest culprit for those shortfalls: soaring retirement costs, which leapt from $73 million in 2001 to $245 million last year. That’s why the police department’s hundreds of officers short, Reed says, even though its budget grew by about $100 million.
Voters passed Measure B last fall to rein in some of those costs. Retirement in the coming fiscal year is expected to amount to $275.8 million, about $84.4 million less than it would have without Measure B, according to the mayor’s office. Pension costs are still on track to eat up a quarter of the general fund budget by 2017, the city says.
Litigation over pension reform threaten $20 million in project funding next year and could delay a lot of Reed’s plan, his office says. And though the city saves a little on retirement costs right now, costs are only expected to increase over the coming decade, especially the price of healthcare.
Some of Reed’s other spending priorities outlined in his March budget message:
• A $3 million payment from the developers of a planned apartment complex at North First Street and River Oaks Place will pay for public transit improvements in downtown and in the southern part of the city.
• The city got a $3 million federal grant to renovate the Center for Employment Training, but securing the cash requires 40 percent in local matching finds. The defunct Redevelopment Agency promised nearly $1 million, but that’s obviously a no-go. The mayor suggests setting aside $250,000 toward the project.
• It’s unclear right now how much money would go toward economic development and tourism marketing since groups tasked with those responsibilities, namely Team San Jose and the San Jose Downtown Association, have yet to come up with their own budgets.
• Since so many cops have left the force, the mayor recommends paying some of them a one-time bonus as an incentive to stay.
• Another way to get officers to stay: Increase the amount of overtime they’re allowed to work during a given pay period. This also helps as a stopgap staffing measure, Reed says.
• A 2010 grant that funded some firefighter positions is set to expire, so Reed wants to allocate $8 million in the coming year to keep them on payroll.
• The community asked for more gang prevention efforts, which Reed proposes funding with $3.5 million in the coming year.
• Citizens also asked for more crossing guards to protect school children. Reed asks his colleagues to consider this a priority in the budget discussions.
• Reed asks the city manager’s office to come back with a dollar amount of how much it would cost to open the South San Jose police substation, whose opening was delayed because of city budget shortfalls.
• As the nation, state and county tackle gun control, Reed wants the city to do its part in protecting the public from gun violence. He calls for a cost estimate for including the city in a regional Gun Task Force. The group would help confiscate weapons from people banned from owning them. In California, 19,170 registered gun owners banned from owning guns still own a collective 40,000 of them, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Some 1,641 of these guns are assault weapons. In Santa Clara County, 534 of those people prohibited from gun ownership registered 1,200 firearms in total, including 51 assault weapons.
• Maybe it’s because of state prison reforms, which allow more non-violent inmates back on the streets, but San Jose has seen a marked uptick in home burglaries. Reed wants the city to come up with a budget estimate for a plan to address that.
• Reed wants to increase the number of sworn officers on the streets, he says. That could mean hiring more officers or just making more in-office positions open to civilian employees to free up sworn offices to work in patrol or investigations.
• Homeless encampments, like the storied 100-tent setup by the Guadalupe River, have become a bigger problem in recent years. Reed wants to allocate some money to help fight that, including a plan to get some of those 5,000 homeless San Jose residents into permanent housing.
• Right now, the medical marijuana tax rests at 7 percent. Reed suggests upping it to the maximum allowable 10 percent.
• The La Raza Roundtable is a group of community members and experts who deal with issues like the disproportionate number of Latino youth in the criminal justice system. Reed’s plan continues to fund the organization.
• The city currently gives $2.1 million for the regional Children’s Health Initiative. Since the county recently managed to pass a sales tax increase, Reed asks that the city withhold its financial contribution next year.
• One-time funding paid for swimming programs at Fair Swim Center and Silver Creek High School last year. Reed says the city should approve one-time funding for this coming year, too, to prevent halting the programs.
• Reed says the city should continue to fund the Senior Nutrition Program, which gives low-income seniors healthy meals and prevents them from feeling isolated.
• Reed recommends moving the city’s Division of Gaming from the police department to the city. The division regulates gambling in San Jose.
• Downtown College Prep, a charter middle school, opened in 1999 with a $600,000 start-up loan from the city. Since it’s performing so well—95 percent of its graduates go on to college—the mayor suggests forgiving $200,000 of the original loan for every year the campus remains open. Reed says he hopes the discount will encourage the school to open more campuses.
• If the city wins a lawsuit against the county for withholding $7.5 million in redevelopment tax increment, Reed says that money could fill in the deficit. A hearing for the case is scheduled for April.
• Sixty percent of officers who left the city last year were “top step” workers. Reed wants to offer bonuses to the ones still on payroll, to prevent more from leaving.
• Reed tells the city manager to set aside $2 million for pressing needs that residents identify in the coming year. The council would allocate that money depending on what citizens tell them is a priority.
• Refinancing City Hall debt could help realize one-time savings this coming year, the mayor says.
• Salaries and administrative costs rung up from the council get billed to a shared budget. Reed asks to change that so each councilmember’s office has its own budget.
• Councilmembers rarely have enough cash in the accounts to pay for administrative costs through the year’s end, mostly because of their predecessor’s vacation payouts and spending. Reed asks the city’s manager’s office to look into ways to create a separate appropriation for new council members.
• Changes to state regulation have made tree trimming costs increase by $1 million for the city.
• Since city leaders plan to pursue a tax-increase ballot measure in 2014, the mayor says we’ll need to set aside funding to conduct more polls this fall.
• Reed wants to improve electronic access to city data, making it easier for the public to find and download information, he says. He says the budget should include money for that project.
• Some of the budget to train employees was cut in recent years. The mayor wants to restore that.
• The mayors plans to improve electronic data and file-sharing in the Office of the City Clerk. He says paying for improvements will make it easier to look up and share agendas, meeting minutes and other public documents.
The mayor’s budget proposal is a blueprint to guide the budget process over the next several months. The council meets Tuesday to discuss the mayor’s proposals, then vote on those recommendations at a March 26 meeting.