The city of Phoenix is facing a $37.7 million deficit for the 2014-15 fiscal year and that could result in some drastic cuts to services, including the closure of Pecos Community Center, according to the city manager’s trial budget being presented to the public next month.
Revenue was less than expected and expenses for the same services have increased, according to a presentation the city manager gave to the Phoenix City Council on March 25. That has led to more than $29 million in cuts to services.
Those cuts include closing three of the 15 senior centers, closing three of 29 pools, reducing graffiti busters by 28 percent, reducing standard neighborhood code enforcement by 23 percent, reducing annual funds for homeless shelters by 10 percent, reducing annual arts grants funding by 18 percent, and eliminating swim and dive teams at all city pools. The trial budget also calls for closing all community centers, effective July 1. These cuts would mean no full-day supervised recreation programs this summer. It’s unclear what effect the closure would have on the Pecos Community Center as the facility also houses a senior center and a police substation.
“The Human Services Department really cannot project what will happen at this time, there are simply too many variables involved,” said Alejandro Montiel, city of Phoenix spokesperson. “We will work with parks to mitigate the impact between any co-located sites citywide once we are given more detailed budget assumptions.”
None of the cuts are final. The presentation on March 25 was the first official presentation of the trial budget. The trial budget will now go to the public with more than 20 budget hearings scheduled for April. There will be a budget hearing at Pecos Community Center at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 2.
“It was so great when they put it here,” said Joan McGuirk, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident who takes part in classes at the center. “The community came alive. I think through this I’ve met people and through people you make connections. We found a dentist, a doctor, and all in the local area. It becomes a neighborhood. I don’t know why they would want to close it.”
City Councilman Sal DiCiccio said while the cuts in this budget may sound drastic, he doesn’t believe they’ll actually be made.
“The budget itself is not real,” he said. “What the city of Phoenix did is built in an incredible amount of unapproved expenses in the budget. For example, there’s a little over $8 million in pay raises built into it. Imagine the message they are telling the public. They are going to close services to seniors, children and families, but they are willing to give themselves a pay raise. That alone tells you where their priorities are. The next step will be to go out there and ask for tax increases.”
DiCiccio is working on his own budget he plans to present to the council and the public, but says the process is slow. He believes it is possible to balance the budget by freezing pay raises and eliminating vacant positions, among other things.
“The thing people need to be asking is how can the city of Phoenix, in a growing economy, have a deficit,” he said. “There has been an incredible lack of focus on fiscal accountability.”
During the March 25 meeting Vice Mayor Jim Waring blamed the problem on outrageous projections the council approved last year. He pointed out that the council didn’t need to approve those projections and need to be more aware in the future.
“They spent all that money building these centers and now they want to close them. What’s the point of that,” said Ahwatukee Foothills resident Mary Lou Giaquint. “Pecos gets a lot of use. It would be a huge mistake.”
Closing all of the city’s 13 community centers would affect approximately 500,000 users, according to a city spokesperson. The reduction would result in the cancellation of more than 1,200 classes and programs.
“I feel like that’s a huge thing that’s lacking in Phoenix is the accessibility to park districts and community feel, and these community centers are so great I don’t think it would be a good idea to close it,” said Katie Vyles, who takes her kids to the center for their sports classes. “It’s so convenient and cost efficient and the instructors are so great.”
The council is expected to vote on the trial budget in May. To view the city manager’s presentation, the budget, or the calendar of public hearings, visit phoenix.gov/budget.
“Please attend one of our budget hearings,” said Mayor Greg Stanton. “If you can’t attend personally you can certainly contact myself or any member of this council via phone, email, social media, whatever it may be. Your input is incredibly important as part of this process. We have some very tough decisions to make… Every year changes are made to the proposed city manager’s budget based upon the input that we do receive from the public.”
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