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Improving Internet Part of San Diego’s $2B Budget

San Diego adopted a new $2 billion budget Monday that increases spending on homelessness efforts, lifeguards, litter removal and improving Internet access in low-income areas.

San Diego
(TNS) — San Diego adopted a new $2 billion budget Monday that increases spending on homelessness efforts, lifeguards, litter removal, street paving and improving internet access in low-income areas.

Other city priorities that get more funding in the budget, which covers the fiscal year that begins July 1, include animal control, arts, security at library branches and helping low-income neighborhoods withstand climate change.

The City Council, which approved the budget 9-0 after a three-hour public hearing Monday, added $20 million in last-minute spending that included $3 million for a database of evicted tenants and $750,000 to repair the Mission Beach seawall.

Other last-minute additions include $1.5 million to upgrade dangerous intersections, $1.5 million to add sidewalks to Saturn Boulevard in Nestor and $1.2 million for a new Barrio Logan truck route with traffic-calming measures.

"This budget takes a measured approach to available post-pandemic funding and emphasizes essential city services," said Councilmember Joe LaCava. "That includes road repairs, a sustainable water supply, public safety and — most importantly — a long overdue investment in our city employees."

LaCava is referring to hefty raises — more than 20 percent over two years — recently given to thousands of city employees to bring San Diego closer to the median pay for local government agencies.

"We can now retain our talented workforce, bring back those who left the city and continue to recruit new talent," he said.

The budget approved Monday is roughly 6 percent larger than the budget for the ongoing fiscal year.

Councilmember Kent Lee, who was elected last November and participated in the city's budget process for the first time, said it was difficult weighing so many priorities against each other.

"This year's budget cycle has been challenging," he said. "We are working with limited resources and significant needs throughout our communities."

Lee thanked his colleagues for adding $500,000 to the budget Monday for a Convoy District gateway sign, bringing the total amount in the budget for the sign and accompanying sidewalk upgrades to $1.5 million.

"This has been an important project that is part of the transformation of the entire Convoy corridor," he said.

New spending in the proposed budget would have been much smaller had it not been for a significant recovery of city revenues. Revenue from property taxes, sales taxes and hotel taxes are all expected to keep rising in the new fiscal year.

But the city's independent budget analyst warned Monday that both sales tax and hotel tax revenue appear to be rising at a significantly slower pace in 2023 than they did in 2022 and late 2021.

The new spending comes despite San Diego recently being forced to make the largest annual pension payment in city history — $448 million. The budget also includes more than $50 million in remaining federal pandemic aid.

This is also the first city budget to focus on eliminating disparities between rich and poor neighborhoods in a formal way.

City officials say every expenditure was analyzed with a focus on social equity and how the spending could affect particular neighborhoods or demographic groups.

One area where spending surges is homelessness programs, which will rise from $63 million in the ongoing budget to about $85 million in the new budget. The money covers additional shelter beds, more street outreach, rapid rehousing, safe parking and the serial inebriate program.

Among the other last-minute additions to the budget were promoting San Diego as a World Design Capital, studying how to make city buildings climate-friendly, creating a drop-in center for at-risk youth and launching an opioid education program.

In May, the mayor added $200,000 to help recruit police officers to fight a rash of vacancies. That money was requested by Police Chief David Nisleit and the city's police officer labor union.

The budget would increase the city's general fund reserve to $207 million.

© 2023 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.