City staff were faced with a crowded room full of passionate pleas to save the Pecos Community Center Wednesday night during the city’s budget hearing.
The City Manager’s trial budget calls for the closure of all of the city’s community centers and the closure of three senior centers. It is unclear what would happen to the senior centers housed within community centers like Pecos in Ahwatukee Foothills.
“You say you’re closing three senior centers but all community centers,” said Virginia Morten, who was the driving force to get a senior center in Ahwatukee Foothills years ago. “Well, five senior centers are inside community centers… We’re really struggling and we’d like to see it happen that we never have to worry again. We deserve it.”
Morten said she comes to the budget hearings every year to fight for the senior center. This year she was not alone. There was a strong showing of support for the senior center at Wednesday’s meeting, with many sharing stories of deep friendships made at the center.
“Many of you will become senior citizens within the immediate future,” said Rich Coplan, a senior who attends the center regularly. “To deprive you, not necessarily me, of the opportunity for the recreation and camaraderie people have talked about, is a shame. If we are going to discard older people and say they do not matter as much as other things in this city, then why have older people at all … I understand what these accountants do, but do they see people behind those numbers?”
Councilman Sal DiCiccio, an Ahwatukee Foothills resident, told those present at the meeting that there are ways to make cuts to the budget without affecting services. The crowd cheered when he called this year’s trial budget the worst he has ever seen.
“I am offended that you could grant $270,000 for dog parks and put the seniors at a lower level than dogs,” said Constance Holcomb, who operates a volunteer card class at Pecos Senior Center. “We’ve been paying taxes the longest... We’re capable people. We want some respect. We want some consideration for the life that we’ve lived… We’re capable of helping ourselves... We need the opportunity to do this. Twenty or 30 days is not enough.”
Several community members thanked the city for the low program costs at Pecos, but said they’d be willing to pay more if it would save the center. The summer programs in particular fill up every year.
Kamryn Hodson said she has been bringing her sons to the center during breaks for years and would hate to lose it.
“I can’t be with them because I have a job and I’m not on welfare anymore and I can keep my job because I can afford Pecos,” she said. “Hundreds of kid’s parents line up outside overnight away from their families so they can get here and be the first to afford this center. I wanted to thank you all for being here every summer and making them feel warm and welcome. I think it’s sad that everyone is so focused on their pension. Some day their spouse will pass away and they will hope there’s a senior center around for them.”
City staff will be hosting budget hearings across the city through the month of April, including an online hearing on April 22. A revised budget will be presented to the City Council on May 6 and the council will vote on the budget on May 20.
For more information on the trial budget or the budget process, visit phoenix.gov/budget.
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