[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.]
[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — A proposed ballot initiative in Phoenix would hand Mayor Phil Gordon and four City Council members an extra two years in office, extending their current terms to January 2014. It’s a plan that backers say would save the city money but one that some City Hall observers believe is designed to buy time for the two-term mayor as he contemplates his next political move. Term limits will force Gordon out of office in January 2012.
With little fanfare, the Phoenix Election Consolidation Committee, a political group led by Gordon supporters, filed initial paperwork this week to put the initiative on the city’s September ballot. The proposal would eliminate staggered council terms by delaying the 2011 election for the mayor and odd-numbered council districts until 2013. Supporters said the initiative would put all city races on the same election cycle, boost voter turnout and save the city $1 million every four years, a savings estimate the City Clerk’s Office confirmed.
“The very basic motivation is really the budget issues that the city of Phoenix is looking at,” said Tom Milton, committee chairman and a former council member who served with Gordon and worked on his first mayoral campaign. “It’s a cost saving for the city at a time when the alternatives are looking for cuts in areas that would really hurt.” Milton heads the committee with his sister, Pamala Doan. Milton, who served on the council from 1998 to 2001, said that he worked on Gordon’s first mayoral campaign in 2003 while employed with Riester, a Phoenix marketing and public-relations firm. Doan, the committee treasurer who filed the initiative application Tuesday, worked on Gordon’s re-election campaign in 2007 while also employed with Riester.
Gordon said he would have no comment about the initiative until he reviews it on Friday, and he declined to answer questions about the campaign supporters who filed the paperwork. “The budget is my top priority,” Gordon told The Republic on Wednesday. “My suggestion is that everyone in public and private focus on that.”
The proposal has drawn criticism from some community members who argue that staggered terms, passed by voters in 1991, ensure that the entire nine-member council is not replaced by political “neophytes” in a single election. “We believe that staggered terms are appropriate,” said Paul Barnes, president of the Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Phoenix, a community-preservation group. “This is mostly a move by Mayor Gordon to extend his term, and there is no rationale and no good reason for it.” [Note: To read the full article, click here.]
[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Just hours after City Councilman Greg Stanton announced he was resigning to take a top post in the Attorney General’s Office, more than a dozen names surfaced as possible replacements. Among them include former state lawmaker and [John] McCain confidante Deb Gullett, Mayor Phil Gordon’s ex-chief of staff; former city police administrator and county attorney also-ran Gerald Richard; Don Keuth, president of the Phoenix Community Alliance; and Paulina Vasquez Morris, former chairwoman of the Maricopa Integrated Health System. Others said to be interested in the post: AFL-CIO spokeswoman Dana Kennedy, who heads a group that promotes women in politics; attorney and GOP activist Chris DeRose; Gordon campaign worker Joanna Peters, an Arcadia neighborhood leader; and ASU administrator Laurel Arndt, who sits on the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee.
Jockeying for the vacant seat will likely continue through early February, after the council votes on the budget and Stanton steps down. Council members have 10 business days after the vacancy occurs to appoint someone to finish the remainder of his term, which ends Dec. 31. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]
[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard on Thursday appointed Phoenix City Councilman Greg Stanton to head legislative affairs in his office. Stanton said he would resign from elected office and begin his new job on Feb. 4, one day after the City Council is slated to vote on a record $270 million in budget cuts through the 2010 fiscal year. “I’m excited to continue my public service working for Terry Goddard, someone I admire a great deal,” said Stanton, an attorney who has served on the council since 2000. “I absolutely promised I would not leave my position with the City Council until we finish the budget process. I owe it to the people I represent.”
Stanton, who had filed papers to run for his third and final council term this fall, replaces David Gass as deputy attorney general for legislation, policy and strategic planning. Gass stepped down on Jan. 1 after Gov. Janet Napolitano appointed him a Maricopa County Superior Court judge. Goddard, who served as Phoenix mayor from 1984 to 1990, said he’s been impressed with Stanton while working with him on gang, graffiti and other crime issues in Phoenix. “We’re going with Greg Stanton based on his credentials, his experience and his legal background,” Goddard said. “There is a whole list of assets that he brings to the table that are not duplicated anywhere else.” [Note: To read the full article, click here.]
[Source: Michael Ferraresi and Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Retired Phoenix city employees may no longer be rehired to perform their previous duties, according to a policy authorized by City Manager Frank Fairbanks this week. And employees now must wait at least six months after retirement before they can begin to negotiate another role with the city.
Critics say the new regulation would have prevented top cop Jack Harris from being rehired by the city as a public-safety manager just two months after he retired as police chief in 2007. Under the arrangement with him, Harris was expected to draw a $90,000 pension while collecting an annual salary of at least $120,000 for his current job, according to past media reports. “Personally, if you call him police chief, I think you’re putting his pension as risk,” said Mark Spencer, president of Phoenix Law Enforcement Association. Police administrators defended Harris, saying he was rehired into a different role with expanded emergency-management responsibilities critical to keeping Phoenix residents safe…
Several years ago, as the Valley’s economy was charging ahead, Phoenix had a difficult time recruiting certain types of employees, Fairbanks said. To fill vacant positions, the city began hiring retirees as part-time employees. “We actually took a look at the practice and decided it was the wrong thing to do,” Fairbanks said. “The Personnel and Law departments have come up with new regulation to make sure it doesn’t occur in the future.”
The rehiring policy, known as A.R. 2.92:
- Prohibits retirees from being rehired to perform their original job duties.
- Requires retires to wait at least six months before they can sign a contract for a new role with the city, though there are some exceptions.
- Requires the heads of the Personnel and Budget and Research departments to sign off on the rehiring of a retiree.
- Limits contracts with retirees to one year.
- Allows the city manager to grant specific exceptions to the rule “in extreme and unusual circumstances.”
[Note: To read the full article, click here.]
[Source: Scott Wong and Sadie Jo Smokey, Arizona Republic] — Some offered ways Phoenix could save money. Others said they were willing to pay more taxes and fees to preserve critical services. Troubled by the city’s proposed budget cuts, nearly 700 residents packed the Devonshire Senior Center on Tuesday to urge city leaders to spare arts and after-school programs, libraries, senior centers, parks and public transit. Hundreds more voiced concerns at public meetings at the Maryvale and South Mountain community centers during a day that marked the first chance for residents to weigh in on the widespread cuts. The huge crowds illustrated the anxiety residents are feeling as the city prepares to slash $270 million because of the national recession and dwindling tax collections.
More than 400 people, many leaning on walkers and canes, spilled into the Devonshire auditorium in Phoenix. When it was full, officials directed the overflow crowd to the dining room, where a second, impromptu meeting was held. “Phoenix should not be allowed to deteriorate the way it did in the 1960s and 1970s,” resident Hal Stahl said. [Note: To read the full story, click here.]
[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Phoenix’s $270 million in proposed budget cuts are the largest in city history. And although the national recession has forced almost all local and state governments to pare back spending, Phoenix’s reductions are among the most severe of any major U.S. city when comparing total budgets. Plagued by the dismal economy and plunging sales-tax revenue, Phoenix is being forced to carve more than 20% out of its $1.2 billion general fund to bridge deficits in the current and next fiscal year. Services Phoenix residents use on a frequent if not daily basis — libraries and parks, senior centers, and swimming pools — are bearing the brunt of the cuts.
Other large cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia are bleeding red ink, too, and are expected to slash many more dollars than Phoenix in the coming year. But an analysis of the nation’s 10 largest cities shows that no spending decrease rivals the 22.5% in cuts now being weighed by Phoenix. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]
[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Phoenix leaders received an unwelcome gift just before Christmas: Word that the city’s budget shortfall could be as much as $20 million worse than previously expected. And with tax-collection figures for the bleak holiday shopping season still unknown, the record budget gap could grow even wider than this week’s $260 million to $270 million projection.
In September, Phoenix officials had pegged the estimated deficit at $250 million, or about 20% of Phoenix’s $1.2 billion general fund, which pays for police, parks and other basic services. “Clearly since September, the economy has continued to deteriorate,” said Deputy City Manager Ed Zuercher, who oversees the budget department. City sales-tax revenue from January through October was about $330 million, $20 million less than was collected during the same period in 2007. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]
[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Starting next year, you may want to keep a few extra coins lying around in your car. The Phoenix City Council this week voted to more than double the cost of parking meters to $1.50 per hour, up from just 60 cents per hour. The council also decided to expand enforcement of its 2,300 city meters to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Currently, motorists drop coins in meters only between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays to avoid getting a ticket.
The rate increase comes as the city looks to find ways to generate revenue and close an estimated $250 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that ends in 2010. The increase, which would be phased in from January through March, is expected to bring the city more than $1.3 million a year. John Morgan, who oversees the city’s meters, said charging motorists more for street parking also benefits downtown businesses such as sandwich shops, barbers, and banks, whose customers rely on meter parking for their quick visits. “It encourages turnover parking,” Morgan said. “The meters were so cheap people were using them for long-term parking.” [Note: To read the full article, click here.]
[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Amid a staggering budget crisis, Phoenix is moving forward with the first of a handful of ideas to generate revenue for the city: get businesses to pay their taxes. City Council members voted last week to give city staff members more tools to be able to track down some of the 15,000 taxpayers with missing tax returns, delinquent tax payments, or late tax-license fees. Those tools include automated computer systems that will notify taxpayers of delinquent payments by mail or phone, as well as stiffer collection fees and tax liens. The measures, which will take effect in January, are expected to haul in $650,000 a year for the city. But that will offer only minor relief as city officials aim to slash an estimated $250 million from Phoenix’s $1.2 billion general fund by spring.
Improving tax collections is just one of ten proposals a 25-member city task force came up with this year to generate more money for the city. The group’s charge is to raise $7.5 million by June 2010. Other ideas being explored are:
- leasing space on city properties for cellphone towers
- increasing parking-meter rates
- creating a Phoenix credit card that would give the city a percentage of each purchase
- eBay-type auctions for surplus city-owned land to attract more bidders