A day after a city sales-tax hike was soundly rejected by voters, Tucson City Manager Mike Letcher and Mayor Bob Walkup announced an estimated 400 city workers could be laid off.
Exactly what jobs will cut will be identified by Letcher and discussed by the City Council on Jan. 5. The sales-tax increase, which would have raised $40 million a year, failed by 62 percent to 38 percent, with some votes still to be counted.
Letcher said the number of layoffs could be greatly reduced by attrition, although he declined to project how much the reduction could be because he said he just didn't know.
Letcher and Walkup announced they are implementing the plan created by the city's core tax advisory committee, which called for 10 percent cuts to police and fire and 15 percent cuts to all other city departments.
Using those guidelines, Letcher said the preliminary list of layoffs/job cuts include 100 police officers, 90 firefighters, 161 workers in parks and recreation and between 70 and 73 in all other departments that are not considered "core" services. Police, fire, roads, transit and parks and recreation are considered core services.
Police officers and firefighters will be cut if there is not enough attrition in those departments, Letcher said. "Attrition first and then layoffs," he said.
However, Police Chief Roberto Villaseñor said most, if not all, of the 100 job cuts may come through attrition. The cuts would have been even higher if more than 50 police officer positions were not saved this year by federal grants, Villaseñor added.
Because of the cuts, the Police Department will have to shift its deployments, pulling bike and motorcycle cops off their shifts and putting them on patrol, he said.
Villaseñor said 50 of the 100 positions that need to be cut have already left through attrition, and said he believes another 50 will leave the department by the time layoffs would be needed on July 1.
"They are worried about their future; they're looking for other jobs," Villaseñor said, explaining why the reason the attrition rate is so high. "I will be able to get to most of these through attrition."
Firefighters would not be so lucky.
Approximately 55 of the needed 90 job cuts could come through attrition, but 35 firefighters would need to be laid off under the current plan, said Assistant Fire Chief Dave Ridings.
In addition, two fire stations would need to be shut down, he said, adding the department would take eight vehicles off the street, too, three fire engines, three ambulances and three alpha trucks that respond to non-emergency calls.
The Fire Department would lose an assistant chief, two battalion chiefs and seven fire inspectors, said Assistant Chief Mike Mc- Kendrick.
Ridings said the worst thing for the Fire Department is not knowing what will happen, which leaves firefighters uncertain and on edge. "We're anxious to see where the bottom is," Ridings said.
"To end it and find out what the final number is," is an important thing, Ridings said. "Worrying about it is half the problem."
Shaun McClusky, spokesman for the campaign against the sales tax, said Letcher's plan to use the core tax committee's recommendation is another example of how Letcher is making reactive cuts rather than thinking proactively for solutions to the city's problems.
"It's the same doom and gloom," of cutting public safety, McClusky said. "There's not a proactive solution."
If Letcher doesn't change his recommendation, McClusky said he will begin a campaign to pressure the council to fire Letcher. He said he would start a recall if the council approved Letcher's cuts.
When asked if the across-the-board solution was an uncreative and rigid way to make cuts, Walkup said the plan is simply a starting off point to get the discussions started. Walkup said he had confidence in Letcher and the council to create a good solution.
Both Walkup and Letcher said the public was clear they want to see more cuts, and Letcher blamed the sales-tax increase's failure on a national movement by voters who are demanding smaller government. He cited voters rejections of similar propositions in San Diego and Colorado as evidence of this trend. "It's clear voters want smaller government," Letcher said.
Both said they thought voters lack of trust in Tucson's government was not a big factor in the measure's defeat, but later modified those statements and said it could have contributed somewhat.
"That could be" it failed because of a lack of trust, Walkup said. "The council is very concerned about a lack of trust."
Letcher said Tucson's electorate is more sophisticated than to reject the measure based only on a lack of trust, adding that it is demeaning to Tucson voters to say they voted it down simply for that reason.
"Trust is definitely a factor," Letcher said. "Was it an overriding factor? I'm not a pollster."
"It's clear voters want smaller government."
Mike Letcher, Tucson city manager
By The Numbers
Potential city job cuts/layoffs
Parks and Recreation
Police/Fire mainly through attrition; Police: 100 through attrition, 50 jobs saved by federal grant; Fire: 55 through attrition, 35 through layoffs
Contact reporter Rob O'Dell at 573-4346 or firstname.lastname@example.org