[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — As Phoenix leaders prepare to whittle $140 million in city services to help close a $245 million budget gap, neighbors say they are ready to fight for popular programs. The proposed cuts will be announced this week, and there will be public hearings next month at which residents can voice their concerns before the final vote, scheduled for March 2. But residents aren’t waiting to have their say.
In central Phoenix, downtown activists are worried about two neighborhood parks that they fear could become havens for crime if they lost funding. In west and south Phoenix, residents want the city to stop trimming library hours. And in northeast Phoenix, horse enthusiasts are concerned about a popular equestrian park…
The latest round of cuts comes one year after the city slashed $156 million in city services to close a $270 million general-fund budget shortfall. City leaders are considering a proposed 2 percent grocery tax that could generate $50 million annually. But even if it is implemented, the city would still have to cut about $100 million in city services.
Since cuts are inevitable, residents also worried that Phoenix may end recreation programs at University and Verde parks. Cuts at those parks were proposed last year, but the city backed off amid an outcry from the community. Activists recently spent most of the Downtown Voices Coalition meeting brainstorming ways to shield those parks from more reductions. Cuts could erase years of community efforts to boost youth programs, discourage gang activity, and make the parks safer, said Reid Butler, a local developer who belongs to the group.
It’s premature to talk about specific programs because no proposals have been made, city spokesman David Urbinato said.
The Parks and Recreation Department has been asked to suggest ways to cut its budget by 30 percent. At 30 percent, “it would dramatically reduce, if not eliminate” many parks programs, Urbinato said. The parks would remain open, but the staffing, programs and community centers attached to them would face deep cuts. “That’s the tragic downside. There has been massive investment through the system” over the years, Urbinato said.
People now depend on city services more than ever, said Councilman Michael Nowakowski, noting that he and Councilman Michael Johnson represent some of Phoenix’s poorest neighborhoods in west and south Phoenix.
Residents have pressed Nowakowski to protect after-school programs and library hours, the councilman said. People wait up to three hours to use free computers at César Chavez Library, because they have canceled their Internet service, he said. Recently, a mother came to a community meeting with an armful of notices about sex offenders who live in her neighborhood, he said. She wants the city to keep low-cost after-school programs open so her children will be safe, Nowakowski added. “We need to listen to find out what are the needs and wants for the whole city,” he said.