City budget quandaries anticipated

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Millions of dollars could be needed halfway through this fiscal year, according to city department heads who identified potential weaknesses in their budgets.

There’s a balanced $6.5 billion city and county budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, but the impact of the state budget — lawmakers have yet to finalize a spending plan for California — and other fiscal scenarios could soon spark budget talks among San Francisco officials.

The Sheriff’s Department budget is probably the most vulnerable to state cuts. Sheriff Michael Hennessey said more money would be needed if there’s an increase in the jail population as a result of reductions in the state Department of Corrections budget. Also, Hennessey’s budget could be affected by a reduction in court funding for security services if there are court closures and state grant funding that may not come through.

Concerns such as those from the sheriff were in letters department heads were required to submit by Aug. 31, as they are every year, certifying the funding provided in the city and county budget is adequate for proposed service levels and operations in their departments.

There are other budget concerns aside from possible state impacts. Police Chief George Gascón said his department could operate within budget as long as “any legislative mandates related to re-deployment of Police Department resources include the appropriation of additional funds to address these mandates” — seemingly a reference to a measure placed on the November ballot by the Board of Supervisors that would mandate foot beats.

Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said she continues to have concerns about salary reductions, “particularly with its overtime allocation.”

The weaknesses identified in the budgets don’t come as a surprise, according to Mayor Gavin Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker.

“We are well aware of [the budget concerns],” Winnicker said. “We feel like we’ve been planning for the worst.”

Members of the Board of Supervisors are advocating for tax measures on the Nov. 2 ballot to deal with the fiscal uncertainly this year and to help bring down projected deficits in years to come. Newsom, however, has long maintained that The City is capable and should balance the budget without turning to taxes that he said are harmful to the local economy.

To deal with midyear shortfalls in the past, Newsom has implemented cuts.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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