Phoenix city administration last week submitted a proposed $1.459 billion trial budget to City Council that includes $153 million in new spending, largely for the creation of 306 new positions spread across a variety of departments.
That additional spending, fueled by a surplus of $55 million in ongoing revenue and $98 million in one-time additional funding, would “address employee compensation increases, requests from the community for new or expanded services, and funding to ensure the City is helping our most vulnerable residents,” the city manager’s trial budget memo states.
It calls for no increases in tax rates or fees, but anticipates more money from property taxes because of the soaring increase in valuations over the past year.
It also states “expenditure amounts may change over the coming weeks as staff continues to refine final estimates” prior to the submission of a formal preliminary budget is presented May 4 for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
The document also advises that the city faces a $3.4 billion unfunded pension liability for public safety personnel that “will require continued diligence and further resource strategies in the coming years.”
The trial budget identifies seven priority areas, the two largest of which are $118 million for employee raises and $21 million for “public safety reform and responsiveness.”
The five other priority areas are “administrative accountability, $3 million; “building community and responding to growth,” $2.9 million; “COVID relief and resiliency,” $2.8 million; “climate change and heat readiness,” $2.8; and affordable housing and homelessness, $2.7 million.
Of the 306 new positions, 130 would be for the Phoenix Fire Department’s Community Advocacy Program, which uses civilians in providing crisis responses and connecting people to care. That recommendation is being made “so that police officers are not the only option for residents in crisis,” the memo states.
Another 75 positions would go to replenishing the depleted ranks of the Police Department’s civilian employees “to improve accountability, transparency and relationships with the community.”
The memo notes that the expansion of the Community Advocacy Program “addresses direction from the Mayor and City Council to respond differently, whenever possible, to calls from people in crisis and builds on pilot programs within the city and best practices nationwide.”
“There is agreement a different approach is needed for responding to 911 calls for service from individuals in need of mental and behavioral health services,” it states, adding:
“Staff has conducted research of other cities who have implemented civilian only response models and it has been proven they are successful in helping people and reducing negative interactions with sworn personnel.”
Mayor Kate Gallego agreed, stating, “I hope the program will help connect people to the services they need while reducing negative interaction and sometimes deadly consequences.”
The program would also add five crisis response teams and nine behavioral health units to work with local health facilities to provide long-term options for those who need it.
“This type of funding will allow for the two systems — the behavioral health and the 911 system — to merge and open up the new level of therapeutic intervention and resource connection for our community,” Wendy Philpott, director of crisis and trauma services at La Frontera Arizona, told Council.
“It will allow connection to community members that we wouldn’t typically encounter without a collaboration like this,” she added.
Noting the Police Department has lost 375 civilian positions since the Great Recession, the memo said 34 of the 75 new civilians would help the department comply with data reporting to the National Incident-Based Reporting System, 22 would be used for the continuing civilianization of central booking; 15 to improve turnaround time for public records requests and four to manage the early identification and intervention “to proactively identify trends and intervene prior to an employee’s adverse actions.” That last area mainly involves police officers who act in a troubling manner.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, some activists decried any increase in police spending, saying they wanted department funding cut.
The budget proposal would set aside $500,000 “for police reform to improve community trust and provide a comprehensive review of the Phoenix Police Department.”
“This review will include a thorough evaluation of practices and policies, actively solicit stakeholder and community feedback and provide recommendations for improvement,” the memo states.
Other proposed new spending in the key policy areas includes:
• $3 million for 27 positions in various city departments for “timely, effective and high-quality service delivery in areas concerning city elections, public records requests, contract management, information technology, human resources, legal services, fiscal support, and to increase funding for maintenance of the City’s aging fleet of vehicles.”
Some of that money also would be used to develop a new Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
• $2.9 million for 27 new positions that would be assigned to various city departments “to provide targeted economic development opportunities for the west region of the city, to expand the successful College Depot Program for our younger residents, increase funding for the arts and historic preservation, provide for adequate floodplain management, add funding for landscape management due to recently completed capital projects, and address the need for more resources due to growth and demand for city amenities and services.”
• $1.5 million for the Cool Corridors Program to align it with the Tree and Shade Master Plan and assist with planting 200 trees per mile for a total of 1,800 new trees across nine project areas – one in each Council district and citywide.
• $2.6 million for “COVID response and resiliency.” It recommends creating seven new positions to provide services “to ensure the City not only continues to responsibly navigate the pandemic, but also to provide these service enhancements and information technology benefits going forward.”
The trial budget does not mention specific city neighborhoods, so what benefits Ahwatukee might directly receive under this trial budget is unknown.