Paying for motorcycle cops to manage traffic flow, ticket moving violations and oversee funeral processions might no longer be the responsibility of The City’s transportation department if some transit advocates get their wishes.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which is facing a two-year projected budget deficit of $53.2 million, is reviewing its options to reconcile that shortfall. One proposal gaining traction is severing its $9 million annual payment to the police department for its traffic department operations, which include the motorcycle unit.
The SFMTA spends $65 million each year on such intra-agency bills — called work orders — accounting for about 8 percent of its total operating budget. While most of the services it pays for are deemed essential, some agency directors are questioning whether the police line item meets that standard.
“We think the police department’s traffic unit does a great job, but we’re at the point of questioning whether we should be paying for this operation, instead of The City’s general fund” said Cheryl Brinkman, an SFMTA board member.
A special panel, formed by SFMTA executive director Ed Reiskin and comprised of department employees and outsiders, suggested eliminating the $9 million payment.
“As a policy matter, we have to ask if this is something that the SFMTA should be funding,” agency director Malcolm Heinicke said. “And given the different nature of the general fund, should we be revisiting this?”
The work order program has long been criticized as a subsidy for other city agencies, many of which get most of their budget through the general fund. Although that deficit stands at $170 million this year, the shortfall is notably less than in years past.
A spokesman for the police department declined Wednesday to discuss the issue.
However, Mayor Ed Lee is working with the transit agency on its budget, and will weigh in on the work order proposal, his spokeswoman Christine Falvey said.
She cautioned that making up the general fund deficit will be difficult even without making the problem worse.
“The Mayor has been asking department heads to be creative as possible with help in reducing the deficit,” said Falvey. “Impacting the general fund is always a challenge.”
The transportation agency is expected to vote on its upcoming two-year budget April 3, and until then it will continue to explore options — including service reductions and fare increases — to make up its $53 million shortfall. If the board wants to pursue the police payments, the agency is committed to working with City Hall before it moves forward, spokesman Paul Rose said.
Heinicke said he hopes a resolution can come before April 3. Brinkman said the extra revenue would be vital for the agency.
“There is no question that $9 million will help out our situation,” she said.
$19.6 million: Projected SFMTA budget shortfall for upcoming fiscal year
$65.1 million: Funding set aside for work orders
$798.6 million: Total SFMTA budget