Phoenix started its new budget year on Monday, three months early, implementing a series of cuts designed to help balance the budget.
For the most part, there were few obvious changes.
The Ironwood Branch library will now be closed on Fridays, but for Jerome Pan, the change is no big deal.
“I use it a lot, but I don’t think I ever went to the library on a Friday night. I mean, who uses it on a Friday?” Pan asked Monday, after checking his e-mails on a library computer.
The Pecos Park Community Center has a new director, Cynthia Brown, and shifted hours on Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but is still in operation, along with the senior program housed in the community center. Both had been on the chopping block but were saved thanks to an across the board pay and benefits cut by city employees and expanding the sales tax onto food.
Two major changes caused by the budget that may impact local residents are the possible elimination of ALEX and one of two ambulances stationed at Ahwatukee Foothills fire stations.
ALEX rider Antonina Difiliti has already been hit by last year’s public transit cuts in Ahwatukee Foothills when the Route 156 bus was stopped on the Chandler side of Interstate 10, instead of running along Chandler Boulevard to The Foothills.
She now takes ALEX to Chandler Boulevard and 48th Street, then walks across the freeway to catch the 156 bus to go to work.
“How will I get to work if I don’t have the ALEX bus,” said Difiliti, who is worried about walking miles in the Arizona summer to get home.
“It’s not right what they do,” she said.
But when state lawmakers swept up Local Transit Assistance Funds last month, to balance the state budget, it left an immediate $9 million hole that city staff has to plug.
One proposal is to eliminate all five neighborhood circulator bus systems in Phoenix, including ALEX, to save $6 million a year.
A committee of local residents formed by Councilman Sal DiCiccio did come up with a plan to keep a reduced ALEX system and save the city more than $700,000, but the final decision will be up to the City Council April 27.
The other major budget cut that could impact Ahwatukee Foothills is the plan to eliminate two full-time and a part-time ambulance in the city. One of the ambulances up for elimination is Rescue 38, assigned to Fire Station 38 on Warner Road around 50th Street.
According to Assistant Chief Todd Harms, Rescue 38, one of two ambulances assigned full time in Ahwatukee Foothills, could be completely eliminated, replaced with a part-time ambulance that operates 12 hours a day during the peak times, or it could be left alone and the cuts made elsewhere.
A recommendation on which ambulances will be eliminated and which ones will be left alone will be made by the fire department’s Deployment Committee today and forwarded to Chief Bob Kahn for final approval.
“This has caused a stir in the whole city,” Harms said, adding that to balance the budget the department has to make cuts. The decisions will be made based upon call volume, when calls for service occur and if a part-time ambulance could be assigned to the area to cover a majority of the calls for service or not.
“Everything is subject to change,” Harms said on Monday.
Despite early fears that hundreds of police officers might be laid off, the patrol element of the Phoenix Police Department escaped the budget battle relatively unscathed.
“Patrol is out there, standing guard,” said Sgt. Bryant Rockwood, who leads a squad of patrol officers in Ahwatukee Foothills.
He said that when people call 911 with an emergency, officers will respond, as they always have.
“Nothing is different as far as patrol is concerned,” Rockwood said.
In spite of a tight budget, an improvement in the works for this summer is the addition of two new patrol beats to the two existing ones in Ahwatukee Foothills.
“Ahwatukee Foothills will be a separate ‘area’ divided into four beats,” with at least one officer assigned to each beat, said Lt. Mark Tallman.
“It keeps officers in a smaller area, which results in shorter response times,” he said.