In a 5-4 vote and with a promise from city staff to do a complete organizational review in the coming year, the Phoenix City Council approved the city manager’s proposed budget.
The 2014-15 budget would raise revenue, cut employee costs across the board by 1.6 percent and does not include any cuts to city services. The city has said the budget also resumes hiring police officers.
“We did what Phoenix does. We rolled up our sleeves and we got to work,” said City Manager Ed Zuercher during the City Council policy session on Tuesday, May 20. “Over the past four months we’ve worked together to develop shared solutions to our challenges. A difficult solution that requires each of us to give a little to save a lot. Employees stepped up. The community stepped up. We all joined in together. Now we have a budget based on balanced, shared solutions.”
Several council members disagreed with the city manager’s budget, saying it didn’t make cuts in the right places.
“We’re not in the amenity business,” said Councilman Jim Waring. “We’re in the public safety business. We are actually cutting our officers at the same time we are raising some of this stuff.”
Many council members pointed out the city’s costly public affairs budget, memberships in various organizations, and lobbying budget.
“Right now the public is being told that everyone is taking these compensation cuts, but actually everyone got a compensation increase,” City Councilman Sal DiCiccio said. “We were never told that there’s going to be a property tax crisis, as I call it, in the near future where you will see your property tax go up close to 50 percent if the projections are correct that staff gave us close to a month ago. The public relations budget is 3.2 million… and this council is making a decision today whether to keep the public relations budget or create a water tax. The other – and this is a real problem because this council as a whole has been saying we want to see more officers on the street — is that there is an attrition level. This is only the rosy side of the picture. You’re not being told all the information… I believe this budget will lead to a problem with our credit rating later this year.”
DiCiccio said there is no real plan in the budget to hire more police and that the city will actually still have a deficit in officers. City staff has said the budget will allow the city to begin hiring officers in the first quarter of 2015. More than 300 new officers are projected to be hired by April 2018.
City staff first projected a $38 million shortfall for next year’s budget. The first budget that was presented to the public included millions in cuts to the public to make up the deficit.
Those who did support the budget urged city staff to keep looking for ways to save and reduce, but said the items included in the budget are important.
“I think before we say let’s reduce this or that, why don’t we take a look at the job description, the qualifications, the people and the talent that we have in these offices and really think about how responsible it may be to get rid of it or reduce it by this or by that,” Councilman Daniel Valenzuela said.
City staff was also asked to come up with a cost-neutral plan to equalize City Council office budgets if a specific plan was not voted on. All City Council members, the mayor and the city manager volunteered to take the same 1.6 percent concessions city employees were asked to take.
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