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This month and in early February, city managers and finance directors in cities across San Diego County are appearing before their respective city councils to report significant budget deficits. Of the county’s 18 municipalities, 14 are reporting budgetary shortfalls, 9 of those in the millions.

The 9 cities reporting the most substantial budget shortfalls are Poway, $1.2 million; Vista, $2 million; National City, $3 million; San Marcos, $3.3 million; La Mesa, $4 million; Chula Vista, $4 million; El Cajon, $6 million; Escondido, $7.4 million; and San Diego, $43 million.

The general funds for these cities depend on revenues from sales taxes and property taxes, as well as on other revenues such as hotel taxes, service charges, permits, fines, and fees charged by each city. As revenues continue to go down, deficits across the county go up.

Nearly 40 percent of Escondido’s revenue has come from sales taxes in recent years. Due to slumping sales at the city’s 17 car dealerships and three home improvement centers, revenues going into the general fund are shrinking. Adopting a budget last June with a $1.7 million imbalance didn’t help. Since then, the deficit has soared to $7.4 million.

“For this fiscal year, we projected our sales tax revenue to come in flat,” says Escondido’s finance director, Gil Rojas. “We thought there would be no growth in revenues. And then the last quarterly sales tax report showed negative 7 percent growth from a year ago, which was 5 percent down from the year before. So, you’re really talking a minus 12 or 13 percent decrease over the last two years.”

Like many other cities in the county, Escondido didn’t expect the decline in sales tax revenues to continue. When revenues decreased, the city relied on money from the reserves to make up for the loss of income.

“One of the reasons for using the reserves is it takes out the ebbs and flows,” explains Rojas. “You don’t want to cut the budget one year because of a downturn and then the next year you have to add to the budget because the economy swings up; using the reserves straightens the curves out. But what we realized four months after adopting the budget is that this is not a regional event; this is a worldwide recession.”

To help fix the gap and limit further dipping into the city’s dwindling reserves, last Wednesday the city council approved cuts that shorten library hours and affect benefits and staffing in the police and fire departments. Over 200 city employees agreed to a pay reduction. Even with the cuts, the city still projects a $3.3 million shortfall this fiscal year.

Things aren’t much better in the city to the west of Escondido. In San Marcos, declining revenues in a number of categories are the reason for a projected $3.3 million deficit for this current fiscal year. The city’s finance director, Liliane Serio, says 27 percent of the city’s revenues come from sales tax. Halfway through this fiscal year, there’s been a 9 percent decrease in sales tax — amounting to a $2.1 million loss — a shortage of $316,000 in motor vehicle license fees, and a shortage of $290,000 in property taxes (expected to reach $650,000 by the end of the fiscal year). If revenues continue on this path, over the next three years, the city could face an ongoing deficit of $4 million.

So far, city administrators in San Marcos have frozen spending for software and vehicles and have eliminated several nonessential full-time positions, but they have yet to make reductions to public safety positions.

To the west, in Vista, the city’s financial standing is better, although due to a reduction in property and sales tax revenues, the city’s deficit continues to grow. Vista’s general fund now relies on sales taxes for 29 percent of its revenues and on property taxes for 26 percent. According to finance director Tom Gardner, the city has a $2 to $3 million shortfall, $700,000 coming from sales tax shortages. Vista has not had to cut any services, says Gardner, but it has limited hiring for vacant positions.

However, for some municipalities, there is more to the deficits than just a loss of revenue. Six of the nine cities with substantial budget shortfalls report having structural deficits — meaning expenditures are exceeding revenues on an ongoing basis. Those cities are San Diego, Poway, El Cajon, La Mesa, National City, and Chula Vista.

The City of San Diego had by far the largest midyear deficit, at $43 million. In December, the city council begrudgingly approved nearly $23 million in budget cuts; it postponed hiring and increased fees. The measures, however, are a short-term solution.

During the past five fiscal years, the City of San Diego has reduced its budget by $160 million, and yet the city faces a $54 million deficit for next fiscal year.

This coming April, when next year’s budget discussions begin, Mayor Jerry Sanders says he will propose a 15 percent cut to all departments as well as revisit his proposal to close eight libraries and nine recreation centers.

Considering that 32 percent of Poway’s general fund comes from sales taxes and 24 percent from property tax revenues, it didn’t take long for that city’s balanced budget to go lopsided. Since the beginning of the fiscal year, the city has reduced its workforce by 7 percent. According to Rod Gould, Poway’s city manager, back in September cuts totaling $1.2 million were made in every department. But the deficit is growing. Gould is scheduled to propose an additional $1.3 million worth of cuts to the city council this week to address the city’s ongoing structural deficit, which for next fiscal year is estimated at just under $1 million, followed by a $1.3 million shortfall for the following year.

In El Cajon, assistant city manager and financial director Mike Shelton says that during the past four years El Cajon’s been in the throes of a “financial crisis.” The budget was adopted last June with a $3 million imbalance. And now, with revenues from sales and gas taxes trickling in 6 to 8 percent lower than projected, the city is faced with a $6 million shortfall.

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JohnnyVegas Jan. 21, 2009 @ 12:10 p.m.

Hey, looks like those gold plated multi milllion dollar Cadillac pensions paid to out GED educated cops and FF's really can't be paid with monopoly money.

Who would have guessed.


investor1 Sept. 15, 2009 @ 2:35 a.m.

Not to dampen the Cities pleas for funds. But if the Cities went to thier City development departments and said hey why haven't any of these multimillion and billion dollar construction projects been permitted yet?. Lets take Chula Vista Can we say billion dollar bay front project 100 acres plus still in limbo land ? Its been years .Get it started Chula Vista and your deficit is gone. Lakeside what about the 800 acre development project in the mountians all the infrastructure is in including roads we would like to start building the 200 ranch home custom estates. Hmm being held up for grading plan for each pad ? HELLO you already graded in the roads,sewers, fire hydrants its all paved already I think its time to cut out the delays and get the money and jobs flowing. Every City I reviewed I can easily save them twice the money there short this year with just a few easy steps in commonsense.

The City of San diego ask yourself why is the school district spending 362,000 on mitigating a dry creek bed on miramar road when the cedar fire burned through it four years ago and its naturally restoring itself ? This is a waste of school funds . I think the nature rule is let nature take its course.

Agian , Lets take business licensing in the Cities. The city of San diego just did a solar map of all registered solar installations in commercial and residential areas. You know why not even half the companies installing them have the business licenses in the perspective City. So here you have the contract costs and the person who installed them go after your tax money.

You need to look deep into the construction market and stop the companies from allowing to pay sub-contractors under the "piece work plan ". Big builders are sticking to the Cities by piece working projects they don't contribute to anything in a W-2. The sub barely makes minimum wage if that usally no workmens comp,edd,sdi,fed,state,city taxes are paid . If the Cities did the same type of mapping they do for solar on construction permits they could collect millions of dollars from subs and contractors and owner builders who dont pay any of these taxes or insurances.

Everyone knows construction is a multi-billion dollar industry tap it Cities . The only way your going to get the money is go after it.

In conclusion ,to stimulate your pocket books you need to create jobs. To do that you sometimes need to get rid of the red tape and start the projects.Cities put your foot down and push them thru.

Look around people every tree, plant has been planted by a developer and watered by one if you stop development everything will dry up and die. If you don't believe me go to the museums and look in the history books. There are pictures of the way it was.


investor1 Sept. 15, 2009 @ 2:59 a.m.

To the Cities privatize your libraries and your services they can be more efficently run by private companies than the Cities.

  1. We do not pay previaling wages
  2. We do not have a ridiculous retirement plan.
  3. We cut jobs when the market is slow " The Cities drag employee cuts out forever if your down forty percent you cut forty percent. don't let the labor unions control the Cities it will only get worse.
  4. Our insurance costs are ALOT lower than the Cities.
  5. We use volunteers there free.

As far as contracting out services. I would like to see the prebid lists and all services that have been really sub-out. Post it City of San Diego. I have seen nothing this was voted on three years ago. Lets show some lists have to see it to believe it


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