SAN DIEGO (CNS) - The challenge of hiring 424 new employees in the fiscal year that begins July 1 was highlighted Monday as the San Diego City Council started five days of public hearings to scrutinize Mayor Kevin Faulconer's proposed budget.
The mayor has proposed spending $3.2 billion, 7 percent more than the current fiscal year, in light of projections of across-the-board revenue increases, such as sales, property and hotel room taxes and franchise fees paid by utilities.
The plan includes increasing operating hours at recreation centers, repairing 300 miles of roads and upgrading broadband Internet access at public libraries.
In the first hearing , Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin said the current year's budget envisioned hiring 279 employees, but nearly 100 of the new positions still haven't been filled.
She said the Personnel Department has implemented some efficiencies, but the increased workload has caused some slowdowns. The hiring goal for the upcoming fiscal year would be the largest in nine years, according to Tevlin.
"It is a challenge to hire this many individuals in a single year," Tevlin said.
Michael Zucchet, who heads the city's largest employee union, said San Diego has more vacancies now than last year, and quality of applicants is sinking.
"We have a region that's approaching now 5 percent unemployment, the job market is getting much tighter, (with) a lot more competition from the private sector," said Zucchet, of the Municipal Employees Association.
"And in the public sector, those who are committed to a career in public service ... can go to any other jurisdiction in the county of San Diego...and get better pay, better health benefits, defined benefit pensions," Zucchet said.
He conceded he might be looked upon as "a labor goon up at the podium asking for more money for his people," but said the problem is affecting city operations.
Chief Operating Officer Scott Chadwick responded that plans are being put in place to "hit the ground running" by July 1 in hiring. He said the city as a whole does not have a recruiting or retention problem.
Following Tevlin's report and the discussion on the hiring issue, the council delved into the proposed budgets for the Police and Fire-Rescue departments.
The mayor has proposed spending $16 million more than this year on the SDPD, bringing the total expenditure to $435.4 million. Of the increase, around $11 million is due to a new contract with officers that provides more flexible benefits and higher allowances for uniforms and equipment.
The SDPD budget also includes money for a long-awaited new computer-aided dispatch system and 22 additional civilian employees in support roles.
For the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, the plan estimates spending at $229.1 million, or $10.5 million over this year. The extra money would fund three fire academies, instead of one, and provide for overtime and non-
personnel expenditures at a new fire station in Mission Valley.
The hearings will continue throughout the week:
-- Tuesday's session will focus on San Diego's Capital Improvement Program, Public Works, and Transportation and Storm Water;
-- Wednesday's hearing will feature libraries, recreation centers and the San Diego City Employees Retirement System;
-- Thursday's session will involve the San Diego Housing Commission, Civic San Diego and the San Diego Convention Center Corp.
-- Friday's hearing will focus on the real estate assets, purchasing and contracting, information technology and human resources departments.
Friday afternoon will be reserved for further discussion on infrastructure, if needed.
The City Council is scheduled to vote to adopt a budget next month.