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Phoenix residents urged to provide feedback on proposed public transit cuts

[Source: City of Phoenix] — The Phoenix Public Transit Department is soliciting public feedback on new budget cuts required because of actions taken to balance the state of Arizona budget.  The department will hold community outreach events in each of Phoenix’s eight council districts to get residents’ opinions of possible service reductions.  The public can also provide input online through an online survey or by sending an e-mail with the subject line “Budget Cuts Feedback.”

In the budget passed by the legislature in March, a sweep of the Local Transportation Assistance Funds (LTAF) cost the city of Phoenix approximately $11 million over the remainder of this fiscal year and next year, 2010-11.  These new reductions are in addition to service changes approved in the city budget adopted in March by the Phoenix City Council.  These new reductions could affect all city transit services, including local bus routes and RAPID routes, as well as Dial-a-Ride service.

Options for changes to service include elimination or service reduction of certain bus routes; reduction of Dial-a-Ride service to federally-mandated minimums; and partial reduction or complete elimination of the Phoenix Neighborhood Circulator program, a free transit service that travels through communities, and connects residents to schools, shops and other public services.  Public Transit Department staff will be asking for feedback from the public at the following events, and will also be available to answer questions.

  • Monday, April 12, 7:30 – 9:30 a.m., Paradise Valley Mall Transit Center, 4623 E. Paradise Village Parkway North
  • Monday, April 12, 4 – 6 p.m., Hope VI CTEC, 1150 S. Seventh Ave.
  • Monday, April 12, 5:30 – 7 p.m., Paradise Valley Community Center, 17402 N. 40th St.
  • Tuesday, April 13, 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m., Cowden Center – John C. Lincoln Hospital, 9202 N. Second St.
  • Tuesday, April 13, 6 – 8 p.m., Desert Sky Mall (meeting room near Cinema Latina), 761 W. Thomas Road
  • Wednesday, April 14, 7:30 – 9:30 a.m., Central Station, Central Avenue and Van Buren Street

For more information, call Phoenix Public Transit at 602-262-7242, visit the city’s website, or send an e-mail.

Phoenix City Council approves budget plan, 7-2

[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Despite opposition from two members, the Phoenix City Council on Tuesday approved a budget plan that eliminates 520 jobs and requires $64 million in cuts to parks, public transit, after-school programs, and the arts.  But it contains none of the severe cuts to public safety, senior centers, and libraries that were proposed in late January.  Under the spending plan, no sworn police officers or firefighters will be laid off, and no senior centers, libraries, large community centers, or softball fields will be closed.  City officials clarified that fewer than 50 full-time employees would actually be laid off, due to vacancies, retirements, and efforts to transfer police officers and other workers into other departments.

The general-fund budget adopted Tuesday was drastically different from the initial proposal that called for cutting $140 million in services and axing 1,300 jobs, including pink slips for hundreds of police officers and firefighters.  City leaders managed to save city jobs and services primarily by imposing a sales tax on groceries, using unspent money in a public-safety fund, and getting labor unions to agree to a 3.2 percent concession in wages and benefits.  “Hundreds of people’s jobs will be saved because of the measures we have taken here,” City Manager David Cavazos said.

Annual budgets in Phoenix typically are approved on a unanimous vote, but Council members Peggy Neely and Sal DiCiccio voted against the budget and said this plan contained elements that lacked transparency and were impossible to support.  They pointed to Mayor Phil Gordon’s move last month to push through a 2 percent food tax without adequate public input.  And they blasted a plan by budget officials to shift more than 20 police officers into the Water, Aviation, and Transit departments to save their jobs, a move that law enforcement and management argued would boost security at water plants, the airport, and on light rail.  “I’m very concerned with how we built this,” Neely said during a seven-hour meeting at the Orpheum Theatre.

Gordon and six other council members supported the budget, which runs through June 2011.  The cuts take effect April 5.  They come just a year after the council slashed a record $156 million from the roughly $1 billion general-fund budget.  Among the most severe reductions this time:

  • The city’s after-school program will close at 25 of 55 sites during the school year and the summer program will shut down completely.
  • The city also will stop funding the Shemer Art Center and Museum and Arizona Horse Lovers Park, which could be operated by private groups.
  • Visitor centers at North Mountain, South Mountain, and Rio Salado parks will be shuttered.
  • Bus service along several routes will be reduced by 15 percent and the DASH Downtown Loop bus will be eliminated.
  • Riders also will have to wait longer for light rail during peak hours, though late-night weekend service will be preserved.
  • Some departments will be consolidated, including the City Clerk’s Office and Information Technology.
  • And cuts will claim two top officials in the City Manager’s Office, as well as positions in the mayor and council offices.

In recent weeks, 4,500 residents attended 15 public hearings on the budget. About 500 sent e-mails or made phone calls to the city. Many said that without preserving the arts, culture and recreation in the city, Phoenix would fall into urban decay.  “What I heard is that we are a city that is more than just a police force.  I also heard that we simply cannot be a city-police state,” said Councilman Tom Simplot, who attended a handful of the hearings.  “This budget reflects that to be the best we can, we need our youth centers, our libraries, our art centers.”

Added library advocate Dan Cook: “I am a retired senior citizen and my wife and I live on a fixed income, but I am willing to pay that tax to keep our city vital and alive.”  A handful of African-American community leaders made one final plea to restore year-round funding for the decades-old South Phoenix Youth Center. Food-tax revenue will keep it open only during summers.  “You’re closing the community out by closing these centers,” said longtime Valley broadcaster Art Mobley.

Downtown Voices statement on City of Phoenix 2010-11 budget

The Downtown Voices Coalition Steering Committee, in a unanimous vote with one abstention, supports the City of Phoenix Fiscal Year 2010-11 budget proposal outlined by the Citizens for Phoenix coalition, namely:

  • Acceptance of $49 million in proposed city budget cuts, but rejection of $90 million in cuts that will affect street level police and fire service, as well as cuts that would abandon Phoenix’s most vulnerable residents.
  • Acceptance of the Mayor and City Council approved two percent food tax, with the provisio that the tax sunset in two years and not the five years that was passed.
  • Insistence that 100 percent of the anticipated $62 million in food tax revenue go into the city’s General Fund and be distributed to Public Safety, Human Services, Parks and Recreation, and Arts and Culture, in direct proportion to their share of the original 2009-10 budget.
  • Expectation that the remaining $27 million in revenue needed to balance the budget be raised in the following combination of ways: increase fees for permits and services where possible; gain union and non-union employee concessions; and eliminate remaining fat in the budget.
  • Insistence of an independent audit of the budget, systems, and processes of all city departments by a national audit firm that must report back to the Mayor, City Council, and citizenry within the first 12 months, so its recommendations can be implemented as quickly as possible, but no later than the second 12-month period so the two year food tax will not have been in vain.

Steve Weiss, Chair, Downtown Voices Coalition

Citizen feedback important as Phoenix City Council debates more cuts, food tax

One Tuesday, January 12, the Phoenix City Council is discussing the current budget outlook at a Work Study Session, set for 2 p.m. in the Council Chambers, 200 W. Jefferson St., in downtown Phoenix.  Review and download the meeting notice (note the meeting will now be in the Council Chambers) and the staff memo explaining the depth of the ongoing budget crisis.  In a nutshell:

  • The expected budget deficit for the remainder of this fiscal year and for FY 2010-2011 is $245 million, even after $156 million in cuts a year ago.
  • The elimination of all programs and departments not related to public safety would still not allow a balanced budget.
  • Because state-shared revenues are distributed on a two-year delay, the City faces at least several more years of cuts or no-growth budgets, even if local sales tax collections start to rebound next year (at the earliest).
  • While this budget document refers to the City’s general funds, a variety of other funds that rely on sales tax collection have the same budget issues, including Transit 2000, Phoenix Parks and Preserves Initiative, Prop 1 Public Safety, and the Phoenix Convention Center.

Two related newspaper articles are available:

While there will be a series of budget hearings over the next six weeks to discuss specific programmatic recommendations, Tuesday’s work study sessions will be an excellent opportunity to weigh in on the general direction budget cuts should take, or whether the Council should consider increasing revenues.  For more information about the City’s budgeting process, click here.

City of Phoenix’s budget shortfall hits $245M

[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic blog] — Phoenix’s budget outlook just got a lot gloomier.  In an e-mail to city employees Tuesday, City Manager David Cavazos said the budget shortfall for the current fiscal year and next fiscal year is a combined $245 million, or 22 percent of the general fund that pays for police and fire protection, libraries, and other basic services.  That approaches the record $270 million that was cut last year from the budget, including a $156 million hit to city services.

Cavazos said the national recession and lagging tax revenues continue to hammer city coffers.  Layoffs are almost certain.  “Given the size of the shortfall, we will need to cut positions and unfortunately layoffs are anticipated,” he wrote in the e-mail.  “Our people are our greatest asset and we are focused on holding positions vacant and reducing costs to minimize the impact on our employees, and in turn, the public we serve.”

All city departments have submitted proposed budget reductions of up to 30 percent.  Public safety departments submitted 15 percent in proposed cuts.  After reviewing those proposal, Cavazos will present his proposed budget to the City Council on Feb. 2.  Community members will be able to attend public budget hearings through the month of February, with a council vote taking place in early March.  [Note: Read the full blog posting at City of Phoenix’s budget shortfall hits $245M.]

Viewpoint: Phoenix budget woes, big art, light rail made ’09 quite a year

[Source: Arizona Republic; section headers organized by yours truly] — With this being Christmas week, we figured you wouldn’t want to read a traditional editorial any more than we wanted to write one.  So today, we lighten things up a bit with awards for notable achievements in 2009.

Phoenix Overall

  • Story of the year: Phoenix did the virtually impossible this year — it cut $270 million from the general fund to balance the budget due to low sales-tax revenue.  Residents are feeling the effects with reduced hours or closures of swimming pools, libraries, and senior centers.  They also see more graffiti and potholes because staff is stretched so thin.  Now the city is talking about cutting an additional $100 million or so.  This story is getting old.
  • Best cheerleader: Mayor Phil Gordon earns this award again.  With frequent trips to Washington, D.C., to lobby for stimulus funds, and Janet Napolitano resigning as governor to lead Homeland Security, Gordon is the face of Arizona.
  • Embarrassment: Rep. Ray Barnes’ rambling reasons for voting to cut $144 million from public education.  Grab some eggnog and watch this Phoenix Republican go off.
  • Hot potato: The idea to raise the sales tax temporarily to generate revenue quickly.  Mayor Gordon suggested a community member take on his idea.  But no one wants to touch it.
  • Landmark: The city became the second in the state to offer a domestic-partner registry to gay or straight couples who share a Phoenix residence.  Among other privileges, the registry grants partners visitation rights in hospitals.
  • Pillar: City Manager Frank Fairbanks earns this award again.  He retired this year, but not before balancing the nastiest budget deficit in city history.  Thanks, Frank.

Downtown Focused/Strong Influence

  • Pushin’ on: Light rail has its fans and its foes.  But ridership is up and businesses have sprouted along the line.  The system is approaching it first anniversary.  We say light rail is on track.
  • Newcomer: Janet Echelman’s “Her Secret Is Patience” at the new Civic Space Park downtown opened to much criticism.  Meant to resemble a cactus bloom, the floating sculpture was called everything from a basketball hoop to a male contraceptive.  Not that we mind.  Some of the best artwork in the world drew heavy criticism.  We’re just glad people are noticing what downtown Phoenix has to offer.
  • Comeback: Phoenix Urban Market Grocery and Wine Bar at Central Avenue and Pierce Street is the first grocer to serve the area in 30 years.  It only carries the basics.  But milk, vegetables, bread, pasta and other staples are welcome.
  • Bragging rights: President Barack Obama made three visits to the Valley this year.  One of those was to the new Phoenix Convention Center, where Obama addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention.
  • Feather in the cap: A budding knowledge-based economy, parks and preservation efforts, and teen spaces at public libraries make Phoenix an All-America City.  Now it has the civic award to prove it.  This was Phoenix’s fifth win.  It would be a shame to lose these gains to budget cuts in the down economy.

Other Parts of Phoenix

  • Senseless act: A photo-enforcement-van driver was shot to death while deployed near Loop 101 in north Phoenix.  Thomas DeStories was indicted in connection with the shooting death of Douglas Georgianni.
  • Tallest story: Despite opposition from neighbors, the City Council approved a Mormon temple whose steeple and spire will rise 86 feet above the Deer Valley area.
  • Unsung hero: The Macehualli Day Labor Center in northeastern Phoenix provides a central location for day laborers and potential employers to negotiate business.  The center is for sale.

Phoenix must do more with less, new city manager says

[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — David Cavazos has been appointed to succeed City Manager Frank Fairbanks, who is retiring Thursday after nearly 20 years.  Cavazos, a deputy city manager who started with Phoenix 22 years ago, discussed some of the changes he would like to make, the city’s financial woes and how he plans to get past a 2006 travel-abuse scandal that still haunts him.

What kinds of changes can we expect at City Hall? We have to look at the very best person for every job, that everything has to be based on merit and credentials and that we’re going to look both internally and externally for support.  We (the council and I) talked about innovation.  People need to be able to do more with less.  They need to not only be willing to change but be a champion for change.  They need to adapt to change.  One of the things I’ll be focused on is how can we partner with the private sector to do the things that we may not do as well as the private sector.  We got to look at outsourcing.  We got to work very closely with employees, with our labor groups.

The city closed a record $270 million shortfall earlier this year, largely by eliminating jobs and making cuts to services.  Now we hear that this year’s budget gap has widened again by as much as $95 million.  How do you fix that? “We need to work very closely with the mayor and council.  What are the priorities?  Obviously, public safety, neighborhoods, infrastructure, economic development.  (We have to ask) what do we absolutely have to do?  What services are the most important to the community?  The public hearings are very important, talking to people, getting their input and then realizing there will have to be some streamlining.  I think you’ll see some of it at the top, probably right here in the City Manager’s Office.

Is it certain there will be layoffs? I believe that we are going to have reductions in staffing.  There is no way to get around that.  You are going to be able to do some with lease-purchase and hopefully things get better.  [Note: Read the full article at Phoenix must do more with less, new city manager says.]

Phoenix city budget crisis increases interest in volunteerism

[Source: Cathryn Creno, Arizona Republic] — The City of Phoenix now has a Web page where people can search for ways to volunteers at city parks, social service programs, libraries, and more.  The site was launched Monday in response from calls from citizens wanting to volunteer time to programs in the wake of the city budget crisis, said Deborah Dillon, the city’s education program director.  The opportunities listed include a program to guide visitors at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, a graffiti cleanup program, the Phoenix Police reserves, and the volunteer gardeners at parks, including the Japanese Friendship Garden in downtown Phoenix.  Training typically is provided to most city volunteers.

Dillon said the city is still in the process of trimming programs to balance an approximate $270 budget deficit and is not sure where the biggest needs are yet.  And, “because we haven’t had a central place for volunteers to register their interest, I don’t know the answers to how many new volunteers have come forward,” she said.  “Our first step was to put together a better website so it would be easier for them to find out volunteer opportunities.”

Needy flood increasingly strapped Phoenix charities

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — The grim economy has driven Valley residents to turn to charities of last resort: shelters and food banks.  The economy is also taking a toll on the non-profits that are helping them.  St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance gave away 70 percent more food to needy families this past December than it did the same month in 2007.  Officials say food programs will be scaled back unless they receive more donations.

In six months, the number of people who line up for a free breakfast has roughly doubled at downtown Phoenix’s Human Services Campus. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, an agency that serves meals there, had to lay off eight workers and stopped serving lunch to the needy in Sunnyslope because donations are down.  At the campus, volunteers and employees help handle housekeeping duties because of staff cutbacks, one official said.

Each night, more than 300 people sleep in the parking lot of one Phoenix homeless shelter for men because there’s no room left inside of the building.  Central Arizona Shelter Services, the non-profit that runs that shelter and two others, lost $118,000 of the $839,000 that it used to get annually from Phoenix, a victim of city budget cuts.  Maricopa County, another major funding source, is weighing whether to cut its CASS contribution by half. Maricopa County contributes $600,000 to CASS programs, roughly 10 percent of its $6 million annual operating budget, Jennifer Dangremond, CASS’s development director.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Phoenix city government cuts $270 million in spending

[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Shorter library hours.  Fewer after-school programs.  Senior center and swimming pool closures.  Less money for homeless shelters and the arts.  The Phoenix City Council’s decision Tuesday to cut spending by $270 million, including $156 million in services, signals the start of tougher times for residents and employees as the city tries to cope with a national recession and its largest budget deficit in history.

On a unanimous vote, council members passed the city’s fiscal 2009-10 general-fund budget, a $1.2 billion spending plan that pays for basic services like police, parks, and road repairs.  The cuts will take effect March 2 so that savings can be realized before the July 1 start of the fiscal year.  Because the city recently discovered addition revenue, the council was able to restore about $6.5 million to pay for some of the most serious proposed cuts. 

But the reductions still will hurt.  Among them, about 1,090 city positions, from secretaries and attorneys to park rangers, will be eliminated, requiring as many as 50 layoffs.  Dozens of after-school program sites will be closed.  And the Luke Krohn and Senior Services East senior centers will be shut down.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.  To review the final budget, click here.]