Monday, October 5, 2009

More Opposition to Public Safety First Initiative? Republican Kozachik Says He May Flip

Posted By on Mon, Oct 5, 2009 at 5:43 PM

Republican Steve Kozachik, who wants to unseat Democratic City Councilwoman Nina Trasoff in the Nov. 3 election, may be having some second thoughts about supporting Prop 200, the Public Safety First Initiative that Tucson voters will decide alongside the council races.

Kozachik, who is on record as supporting the initiative, now says that he’s concerned the city may not be able to afford the price tag.

City officials have said the initiative, which would force the city to hire an estimated 333 police officers and 70 firefighters over the next five years (along with support staff in both departments and the associated costs of equipping the new cops and firefighters), could cost as much as $51 million a year once it’s fully implemented five years from now. City Manager Mike Letcher has called the impact “catastrophic,” while critics of the initiative—including the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Multihousing Association—warn that the additional spending on police and fire would result in tax hikes or cuts to street repair, park maintenance and other city services.

The initiative is being pushed by the Tucson Association of Realtors, with some financial support from the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association and the police and fire unions.

A new report from the city’s Independent Audit and Performance Commission estimates that the recurring operating costs of the initiative will actually be $64 million a year once it is fully implemented. (It will cost another $3.1 million annually in capital costs.) That will be offset by an estimated $3.3 million new fees and fines on criminals who are caught by the new police officers. (We’ll have more details on the report in this week’s Skinny.)

Kozachik says he’s looking over the city budget to determine whether Letcher’s forecast of a $45.9 million deficit (at minimum) in next year’s budget is accurate.

“I want to either be able to verify or refute the numbers that Letcher has come out with,” Kozachik says. “If they are verifiable, I’m concerned about locking the city in, by charter, to another $8 1/2 million a year.”

Kozachik says studying the budget—which he calls a “damn shell game,” echoing complaints that Trasoff had with the city when she ran four years ago against Republican Fred Ronstadt—has been frustrating.

“I’m really tired of both sides coming out with either inflated or deflated numbers,” Kozachik says.

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