Money's Too Tight to Mention

By Gilbert Garcia

It was a good thing the Council decided to honor Mayor-elect Julian Castro before getting down to city business this morning. If Castro had been forced to sit through the full two-hour budget discussion that consumed the Council's pre-lunch agenda, he might have thought twice about taking the helm of SA city government.

With lower-than-expected revenue forcing the Council to cut an additional $15.3 million out of this year's budget, the choices were akin to asking someone if they'd prefer to bleed slowly or bleed fast. Last month, City Staff had recommended deferring street-maintenance work as a budget solution, but District 5 Councilwoman Lourdes Galvan, sensitive about lagging street repairs on the West Side (and worried about a tough electoral challenge), convinced her colleagues to put off a vote until today, by which time the City Staff would present an alternative plan.

That alternative featured cuts to library, summer youth, and animal care programs, and the slashing of 231 jobs. Given the choice between putting off street repairs for what could be as little as three months, and making cuts in vital services, even Galvan conceded that the street deferment option was preferable. A picture of frustration only a few weeks ago, a mellower Galvan noted today that the City had almost doubled its street-repair budget over the last five years and said â?? to her constituents as much as her colleagues â?? "we've done a lot of work on streets." For her willingness to bend on the issue, Hardberger commended her and praised her as a peerless champion for street improvements.

The Council's approval of the street-maintenance deferment put out one fiscal fire, but there are blazes building over the hill. Budget Director Peter Zanoni projects an $11.2 million shortfall for fiscal-year 2010 (a projection that could be optimistic, given the way the City overestimated its revenues this year), but the number that could cause Castro to lose some sleep is the 2011 projection: a shortfall of $67.5 million. But he can take heart on at least one count: His landslide victory in last Saturday's election saved the City $700,000 in funding that would have been needed for a citywide runoff.

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