When It Comes To Tucson's $398 Million Budget, The City Council Is Michael Brown's Doormat.
By Dave Devine
OTHER THAN A few arguments over funding for the Copper Bowl and El Tour de Tucson, the city council earlier this week rubber-stamped almost all of City Manager Michael Brown's recommended spending plans for the next fiscal year.
While Brown apparently incorporated a few council suggestions in the budget, it's overwhelmingly Brown's document. That, apparently, is the way it should be in the view of most city council members.
The primary focus of what the council did discuss, as usual, was funding for outside agencies. These are non-governmental groups that rely on the city for part or all of their funding. The budgets for almost all city departments, where the really big money is spent, were simply accepted by the council, many without discussion.
On June 3, the council did look at some minor increases in spending for libraries, solid waste education and urban planning. To pay for these changes, the council is considering imposing a fee on smalltime garbage haulers and raising fees for sign permits as well as rezoning and variance requests.
After one month and four review sessions, the council ended up altering only $800,000 out of a total $398-million general operating budget. As usual, there were winners and losers in the process:
Winner: Michael Brown, City Manager. The all-Democratic council's total acquiescence to Brown in budgetary matters was clearly demonstrated at its May 20 meeting. Members were more interested in discussing lame agenda items such as "tax treatment of the sale and installation of window coverings" and "horses in residential areas" than in talking about the city budget. That meant they didn't even consider tens of millions of dollars in proposed spending by the Parks and Recreation and Transportation departments, among others.
To make it look like the council had at least a small role in the process, Brown suggested council members send him questions on these departmental budgets. Only council members Molly McKasson and Steve Leal submitted questions.
Loser: City Employees. Brown's early estimates for the next fiscal year included $9.3 million in pay raises. But to balance the budget, he reduced this sum to $7.2 million.
It was anticipated the Tucson Police Officers Association would fight to increase pay for officers above the recommended levels. But the recent rash of criminal charges and resignations within the department has apparently killed that threat for now.
Winner: City Council Members. Not only did the voters approve a salary increase for council members last year, but the council gave itself a bonus this year as well. The size of each member's staff will increase, at a total cost to taxpayers of nearly $200,000.
Loser: Poor Bus Riders. The City Manager drew the line on more subsidies for mass transit, and a majority of the council might be willing to go along. Brown has made it clear he wants bus riders, not the city's general fund, to pay for the loss of federal funding to the system as well as increased operating expenses. Over the next five years, Sun Tran riders will be expected to cover almost all of these costs.
The city staff has recently floated the idea of raising the 75-cent bus fare to 85 cents in a few months and then to $1.20 next year. They anticipate this will mean three million fewer people will ride the bus each year, out of a present total of over 15 million riders. Cleaner air through more driving, anyone?
A 60-percent fare increase is probably more than the council will support. But the idea that riders, rather than the city's general fund, should pay for Sun Tran seems to be gaining acceptance.
Winner: Landfill Issues. Earlier this year Brown had estimated $4.2 million more would be needed in the next year to meet landfill and solid waste needs. Tucson's old garbage requires a lot of clean-up under state and federal regulations. But even that $4.2 million figure was almost $2 million short of what Brown said was needed to meet "crucial" landfill needs.
Taking funds from a variety of sources, including the proposed employee pay raises, Brown was able to devote $2.5 million more to this issue. Not enough to cover all of the legally mandated needs, but at least it's a start. In coming years, the city will have to pay many millions more to mitigate our landfill environmental problems.
Loser: The Community. In his budget statement to the city council, Brown wrote, "The people of Tucson are becoming poorer." Of the vast array of programs the city pays for to improve the local economy, he said, "The city funds staff and non-profit agencies to go out and promote economic development and thereby, theoretically, jobs by nurturing existing businesses and recruiting new businesses into town. Whether this really works is a serious question in light of the statistics."
Brown's solution to the growing poverty in Tucson was to suggest a series of council study sessions on the issue. The council's response so far has been to continue to fund bicycle races, spring-training baseball and other such "essential" services in the name of economic development.
The public will have a last opportunity to comment on Brown's budget before the council finishes rubber-stamping it. This public hearing will be on Monday evening, June 10, at City Hall. But don't bother going, because you won't make any difference. Michael Brown has made the decisions for you.
Home | Currents | City Week | Music | Review | Cinema | Back Page | Forums | Search
| © 1995-97 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth