Newsom’s budget funds officers, housing, jobs and ‘greener’ streets

Citing an economic turnaround following four “painful years,” Mayor Gavin Newsom released a budget Wednesday that will put more officers on the streets, cleanup neighborhoods and house more of the homeless.

Hiring 250 more officers will increase “the old beat patrol,” Newsom said during a 90-minute budget address. As The City’s homicide rate has climbed to record-setting levels in the last two years, residents have pushed for more police officers on the streets.

The additional officers, costing The City $5.9 million, will also bring Newsom closer to his goal of, during the next three years, adding 600 police officers to the department, which operates below The City’s charter-mandated staffing levels of 1971.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who will review the budget next month, emphasized the need of “codifying that they will be walking the streets.”

Newsom’s proposed $5.73 billion budget, which is a 7.3 percent increase over last year, includes unprecedented spending on The City’s infrastructure, such as street repaving, pothole repairs, children services and housing. It also includes $1.7 million to clean up 100 city blocks and $2.8 million for the “greening” of streets.

The budget also allows for hiring 593 employees, a change from previous years. Since 2004, The City has laid off 253 employees and eliminated 350 unfilled positions. Among the departments hiring the most new employees is the Municipal Transportation Agency, with 143 new fare collectors and drivers. Muni, which is struggling to balance its budget, loses millions each year on fare evaders.

Following his campaign promise to end homelessness, Newsom has earmarked $1.9 million to develop a respite center with 60 beds for homeless people to receive long-term care.

It also puts $43.4 million into senior housing and $23.5 million to assist first-time homebuyers.

Newsom attributed The City’s economic turnaround to an unexpected increase in property transfer tax money as well as an overall healthy economy.

“We’re back to some of the peak years in terms of the number of visitors,” Newsom said.

But The City faces increasing costs, the mayor warned.

While this year’s budget closed a $35 million deficit, next year’s will face a projected $119 million shortfall. Newsom said the increase comes from the rising cost of health care and salary increases.

Another burgeoning cost for The City is retiree health benefits. “This is a serious threat to economic prosperity,” Newsom said. “I think we really need to get our arms around it.”

In 2000, The City paid out $30 million in retiree health benefits and this year is expected to pay out a total of $100 million.

Newsom’s budget for the year beginning July 1 will undergo a six-week review by the Board of Supervisors.

jsabatini@examiner.comBay Area NewsGovernment & PoliticsLocalPolitics

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