UPDATE Senior center: PAC program on chopping block - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Localnews

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UPDATE Senior center: PAC program on chopping block

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Posted: Tuesday, February 2, 2010 12:00 am

Massive budget cuts were unveiled last week to help the city of Phoenix deal with a projected $245 million shortfall.

The proposed cuts include slicing ALEX service by 15 percent; reducing the hours at Pecos Park Community Center from the current 65 to 40 hours a week; elimination of all Phoenix Afterschool Center programs and laying off 144 firefighters and 286 police officers.

The senior program at Pecos Park is also slated to be shut.

For Virginia Morton who has fought since 1994 for services, including a senior center in Ahwatukee Foothills, the news was a blow.

“I’m devastated. What are we going to do?” she wondered Friday morning, just hours after the news of cuts and closures was released.

The senior center at Pecos Park has been open for just three years, after moving from a small rented space in a strip mall, which was home for a decade.

Since moving to the new facility in the Pecos Park Community Center the full-service kitchen was shut down and now the entire facility is proposed to be closed.

“We’ve had to fight for everything out here, and we get crumbs,” a disappointed Morton said.

The Ahwatukee Foothills senior center is one of five that will be closed city-wide under the proposed budget.

Councilman Sal DiCiccio wasn’t impressed when he saw the budget.

“This proposed budget saves the print shop but cuts police and firefighters on the street,” DiCiccio said Thursday night.

City-wide 286 of the newest officers will be laid off and 63 lieutenants and sergeants will be demoted, along with 56 civilian employees.

Closer to home, South Mountain Precinct Cmdr. Jeff Alexander said that cuts to the police department will mean 67 officers being laid off along with two lieutenants and 10 sergeants getting demoted, but that patrol officers will continue to be a top priority for the precinct, which includes Ahwatukee Foothills and the city in general.

“Patrol is the key function of the police department,” said Alexander, who lives in Ahwatukee Foothills.

Public Safety Director and Police Chief Jack Harris said that patrol staffing will be a priority, but that all other services will suffer, and people will notice the change.

“You cannot cut those kinds of officers and civilian staff and expect the same level of service,” he said at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

While patrol and first responders will continue to be a top priority, cuts in other departments will affect crime fighting, including the elimination of one-third of the Auto-Theft Squad along with elimination of the Fugitive Apprehension Unit and the Liquor Enforcement Task Force.

Also on the block are one Neighborhood Enforcement Team from each precinct.

In Ahwatukee Foothills, the NET squad has had success at nabbing criminals, including Henry Diaz, who has been charged with going on a robbery spree with a sawed-off shotgun.

Alexander said that he has no plans to cut the Ahwatukee Foothills NET squad.

“I’m not pulling the NET squad out of Ahwatukee,” Alexander said.

The fire department also is facing the elimination of six engine companies, one ladder company and two ambulances, as well as supervisory staff.

Chief Bob Kahn said that two future fire stations, included in a voter-approved bond program, will be shelved for now because of the staff cuts. One of those stations was slated for 19th Avenue and Chandler Boulevard.

Other cuts in the proposed budget include:

• Shutting six of 16 branch libraries and cutting the hours of the rest by eight hours a week.

• Closing five of 13 large community centers and reducing the hours of the rest, including Pecos Park Community Center, from 65 to 40 hours a week.

• Eliminating the entire Phoenix Afterschool Center program city-wide, starting with the previously scheduled summer program.

The reduced budget calls for the elimination of 1,166 full-time and 213 part-time positions to balance the budget.

Harris emphasized that the cuts are proposed and could change over the next few weeks as public hearings take place before the City Council approves the final budget in March.

Morton is already making plans to attend the budget hearing set for Ahwatukee Foothills on Feb. 18 at the Pecos Park Community Center in the senior center.

“We’ll fight to keep it open,” she said. “That’s what we’ll be working on, to get everyone to the meeting.”

To see the proposed budget, visit www.Phoenix .gov.

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