Friday, June 3, 2011
Ward 5 City Councilmember Richard Fimbres sent is this guest commentary explaining why he voted for the city budget.
These past two years have been very difficult because of the economic downturn. During my time as the Ward 5 council member, we have had to deal with three budgetary deficits, and we balanced the city’s budget each time, most recently on May 24, by a 6-1 vote.
The first action for fiscal year 2012 occurred during the study session of Dec. 14, 2010, when the council unanimously approved recommendations to reduce the police and fire budgets (7.5 percent and 6.7 percent) so that no active police and firefighters were laid off, and no stations were closed.
Tucson’s police and firefighter associations, as well as other labor groups and associations, helped to draft and supported these budgetary proposals. The budgets for these departments make up close to 62 percent of the general fund budget, totaling $423 million.
The city has reduced its work force by more than 1,000 positions through attrition and retirements, bring its workforce to the same size it was back in 1995.
In addition, more than 30 administrative and management positions were eliminated in this budget, saving more than $3 million in salaries and benefits. Current employees have taken a 3.5 percent pay reduction by taking nine unpaid furlough days.
This budget did not burden those who can least afford it with a renters’ tax.
Small businesses trying to stay afloat during these tough economic times were not burdened when the council rejected proposals for an advertising tax, an increase in business license fees, and a land-speculation tax.
This council approved increases to the rates for Sun Tran fares. The Transit Task Force was extended two additional years, providing additional time for the task force to continue examining the overall “health” of the system, exploring alternative funding options, and developing a five-year plan for transit services and fares.
Arizona’s Legislature also had a hand in the budgetary process when they swept more than $10 million in funding for roads, as well as $69 million in state shared revenue for the past two fiscal years.
During these times, this council took positive action to help encourage businesses and economic growth for Tucson. Tucson’s certificates-of-occupancy requirements were simplified and streamlined through proposals brought by my office.
Other changes made by council include rewriting the Land Use Code, and changing the rules for business signs and parking-space requirements.
These changes resulted in more than $220 million in commercial construction and development permits taken out for projects since these new proposals went into effect in August 2010.
In addition, this council changed course from previous actions so that city government can meet needs during these current times.
My office brought forward a measure to allow Sun Tran to have more advertising on the inside and outside of the buses, as well as their fare guides, ticket passes and any other materials. This measure will help in cost recovery for the fare box and to alleviate the general-fund expenditure for the bus service in the long run.
Sun Tran is also saving money through a council-directed utilization of the procurement card (P-Card) for their transactions and vendor payments, leading to a potential savings of up to $300,000.
In addition, with the lifting of the restrictions on advertising on Sun Tran buses, at least six buses will have the bus wraps, to the tune of more than $100,000.
The city of Tucson’s use of the procurement card (P-Card) process is being expanded by city departments for their purchases of materials or payments, potentially saving the taxpayers in the millions of dollars.
Parks and Recreation is now able to solicit advertising and sponsorships thanks to the council approving a proposal my office brought forward. This offers another potential revenue stream to help preserve Parks and Recreation programs and services while alleviating the general-fund expenditure.
Contrary to what has been reported, the city has a debt restructuring for $9.5 million in the spring of 2012, if land sales do not come through. Presently, there are a couple of parcels which have received interest and could bring in more than $7 million.
To date, this mayor and City Council have taken the action to balance the budget for this fiscal year. It is a fair budget for these tough economic times. However, this is only part of what is needed. We must stimulate the economic engine to make the city move again. More changes are on the way, so that we will see the light at the end of the tunnel sooner.