After an awkward and somewhat contentious City Council meeting last week Councilman Sal DiCiccio says he doesn't want an apology from Mayor Phil Gordon, he just wants more transparency about the city budget.
DiCiccio of Ahwatukee was called "childish" by Gordon during a council meeting on June 8. The argument was over the city budget and the food tax that was passed last year.
DiCiccio claims that the food tax was pushed as a tax to save fire and police but the money raised by the food tax is the exact same amount that was paid in pay raises and bonuses for city employees. He believes if the food tax had not been passed, those raises would not have been given.
"What we were able to do was find a direct correlation between the food tax and the pay raises," said DiCiccio. "The timeline is pretty clear that the public was kept in the dark about all of this. The food tax was passed with barely 24 hours notice. Then the council voted on the budget. Then the labor agreements. Two full months after every decision was made the public got the first notice of what those pay raises were. It was completely done to hide that information from the public and that's just completely unacceptable in a city like ours."
Gordon asked DiCiccio during the meeting if he is claiming to not know about the city's steps and increases policy but he refused to allow DiCiccio to answer beyond a yes or a no.
Since the meeting DiCiccio passed a memo asking fellow council members to consider shortening the time of the temporary food tax from five years to three. He wanted the item to be placed on the agenda for the council's June 14 meeting.
Gordon sent out a memo informing DiCiccio that a panel would be formed to discuss the food tax and a full report of where the tax money was allocated would be released and discussed in September.
"Rather than this political game of putting your finger up in the air let's deliberate on this, then have public hearings on it and let the council adopt it," Gordon said. "That was my reasoning behind this panel. If that tax isn't needed and that's what the majority of the community wants, then I'm a taxpayer, too."
Gordon asked each of the council members to select two people to be on the task force that will compile the report. The report is expected to detail where the food tax revenue has been spent, which jobs were saved and projections examining the impact of removing the tax from current and future budgets.
Gordon believes the report will show that the tax was indeed needed to save police and fire jobs and important services that residents wanted. He says no money from the food tax was used for pay raises.
"I think a good thing resulted out of a very uncomfortable situation," DiCicco said. "I would like to see a complete repeal of the food tax. It was completely unnecessary then and it is completely unnecessary now. To get people at least talking about it I think is a good thing. It's a step in the right direction."
DiCiccio said only Councilman Bill Gates responded positively to his idea of shortening the food tax. Gates, Neely and DiCiccio were the only members of the council to oppose the tax when it was passed. He believes shortening the tax would be a good compromise and possibly ensure that the tax would remain a temporary one.
DiCiccio believes getting rid of the food tax would not lead to a violation of labor agreements but that the city would just have to find a more creative way to pay. He believes cutting the food tax would be a good incentive for finding a new creative solution to the budget problem. For now, because he does not have enough support in the council, DiCiccio plans to wait for September.
"My pledge is that we're going to get through this," said DiCiccio. "It may be uncomfortable but I'm starting to see signs of life with the other council members. There may be some willingness to tackle some of these tough decisions and not kick the can down the road. As the public becomes more and more aware it's going to be less likely that people will hide these things."
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