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A Daunting Task

June 25, 1989

This year the San Diego City Council followed through on its oft-stated, but usually ignored, goal of increasing the level of police service.

It was a particularly difficult year to act, because city programs were going to have to be cut even without the additional officers. Compounding the problem was the fact that the council didn't decide to add the extra officers until the 11th hour.

But 120 new officers and a new communication system are welcome additions. They should improve police service, which has been slipping for the past decade, and may help deter the increasing gang- and drug-related crime.

However, the cuts in other programs required to add these officers, and additional cuts that would have been needed to add 162 officers, as the council had hoped, give some indication of how difficult it will be to achieve the city's goal of two officers per 1,000 residents without additional revenue.

This year's additional police spending meant finding $13 million elsewhere. The city attorney's Consumer Fraud Unit was slashed, as were weed- and brush-removal programs. Redevelopment plans were delayed, surplus trolley funds were diverted and after-school programs will depend on profits from the Soviet Arts Festival.

Next year's tab will be about $10 million plus the costs of building two substations.

Without additional revenue, the parks and recreation and social service programs that were spared this year will likely be lost in 1991.

Mayor Maureen O'Connor promised Thursday that the council will start looking for new revenue sources soon, rather than waiting until next year.

We hope that promise is kept, because, as the council accurately noted, city residents will have to be educated about the budget choices. And the choices are much larger than just police. The city must also raise hundreds of millions of dollars for a new library, plus parks, roads and fire stations.

Instead of dealing with the needs piecemeal, as was done this year with police, city residents need to see the overall financial picture, and the long-term plan the council is working on. This will help residents understand the magnitude of the problems and intelligently weigh the options.

The task facing the council is a daunting one.

But it is not theirs alone. Each of us must start taking a hard look at what we are willing to pay for and what we are willing to do without.

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