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Escondido’s impending budget deficit results in cuts to city services

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article incorrectly stated some items were cut from the city’s budget. The items have not yet been removed but are being considered for future budget cuts. 

ESCONDIDO — The City of Escondido is facing a projected $176 million budget deficit over the next 18 years, including a forecasted budget deficit of $8 million in the fiscal year 2021-22 alone. In the city’s attempt to grapple with the budget shortfall, public services have suffered the most.

In July, the City Council declined to place a revenue measure on the November 2020 election ballot that would raise the city’s sales tax by one cent to close the looming deficit.

The 1% sales tax would have generated $25 million annually in new revenue that would address the deficit, as well as fund projects and programs in the community and maintain city services.

A unanimous vote was needed to pass the measure, but the motion failed 3-1 with Mayor Paul McNamara and Councilmembers Olga Diaz and Consuelo Martinez voting for the measure, while Councilman Michael Morasco voted against it.

In the weeks leading up to the vote, McNamara encouraged the council to approve the sales tax measure explaining that “if we don’t get the sales tax, we will put ourselves in such a downward spiral economically, I think it would take us years to climb out of it.”

The city was also warned about the budget deficit in June 2019 by City Manager Jeffrey Epp and the city’s financial team, which told the council in a memo: “This coming year, the City of Escondido faces a turning point that will require intense focus to maintain a firm fiscal footing while laying the groundwork for the longer term.”

The current fiscal year is coming to a close, and the city has still not found a permanent solution regarding its financial future.

The city has, in the meantime, implemented cost-saving measures that include reducing staff, deferring infrastructure maintenance, investing in technology to reduce ongoing costs and outsourcing services, reducing the maintenance of city parks, and eliminating community outreach programs involving crime prevention and youth engagement.

Other cuts that the city is considering in the future include closing a fire station, which could eliminate nine jobs; reducing animal control services; reducing funding to the Escondido Public Library; closing two city pools; and reducing funding to the California Center for the Arts Escondido.

This November, three council seats are up for election and preparations are already underway for a new city manager and new assistant city manager.

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