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Filner: SDG&E settlement should pay for public safety

Mayor-elect Bob Filner announced Thursday he plans to ask the City Council in its mid-year budget revision to take between $21 million and $22 million of the $27 million the city received from a settlement with San Diego Gas & Electric to fund a series of one-time public safety infrastructure projects.

The council will take up the action in committee come December, according to Filner, who hopes for the reallocation of funds to be completed in late January when the City Council votes on revisions to the city’s budget at the fiscal mid-year point.

Filner also announced Chief of Police William Lansdowne and Fire Chief Javier Mainar have agreed to remain in their roles in his mayoral administration.

The new projects set to receive funding under Filner’s plan, which he had previously pledged during his mayoral campaign, include an $8 million computer-aided dispatch system for the police department and the construction of a $9 million fire station on Home Avenue. Other projects include planning and design of a fire station in Paradise Hills, a fire truck for station 45 in Mission Valley and a cliff rescue vehicle for city lifeguards.

“I think that’s a fair request of the City Council, and I’m going to ask [Councilwoman] Marti Emerald to lead that fight when we ask for it,” he said.

San Diego received the $27 million settlement from SDG&E in June, and in September the City Council’s budget committee learned it had been allocated to the city’s Public Liability fund, from which it pays out legal claims made by the public.

The city attempts to stock the Public Liability fund with up to 50 percent of all outstanding public liability claims against it at any given time, recognizing that not all claims will be awarded in the first place, and that those that are won’t all be payable at the same time.

Currently, achieving the 50 percent target would require a fund balance of $59.8 million, according to a city staff report. Paying for the projects Filner proposes would take the fund well below that level.

As of the end of June, the fund’s balance was $17.1 million. Once the settlement money was added, the fund stood at $44.1 million. The 2013 fiscal budget called for an additional $6.1 million contribution, which would have brought its balance to $50.2 million.

After using the settlement money to instead fund these one-time projects, the fund will instead have a balance of $22.1 million, or 18 percent of the total outstanding claims against the city. If the city made the $6.1 million deposit called for in the 2013 fiscal budget, the fund would be able to pay out 24 percent of all outstanding claims against the city.

But Filner and Emerald said investing in fire stations, public safety communications systems and firetrucks would have the effect of limiting the city’s exposure to claims, while also maintaining the city’s ability to pay out claims as they’re awarded.

“A budget is the reflection of the priorities of a city, and we want to shift those priorities,” Filner said.

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