Tucson’s City Council offered its 2 cents on the city manager’s $1.25 billion recommended budget Tuesday afternoon.
The meeting was an opportunity for City Manager Richard Miranda hear what his elected bosses had to say and incorporate those suggestions into his budget, which is $22 million less than this year, primarily due to streetcar construction coming to an end.
Council members fretted over Miranda’s proposed steep cuts to parks programs, avoiding changes to long-term financial issues such as pensions and debt, and raising the business license fee.
Some feared residents would suffer because the city would be eliminating 48 positions and making other changes in the Parks and Recreation Department.
Councilwoman Shirley Scott said the department was being disproportionately targeted.
She said parks are an affordable source of entertainment for cash-strapped families, and the department shouldn’t be gutted.
She said she fears the result would be acres of brown grass and no playgrounds for kids.
Councilman Steve Kozachik said the city would be shortsighted to cut three of its five project managers in the Parks Department, especially since there are myriad projects on the horizon. He said the city could start charging project management fees that would cover those employees’ salaries.
Councilman Paul Cunningham made a motion, which eventually passed, to add $500,000 to Miranda’s recommendation for parks. With the city seeking county bond money for park projects in 2015, Cunningham said it was important the city demonstrated it was committed to its parks.
Not everyone objected to the cuts.
Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said the Parks Department had grown into a top-heavy bureaucracy in need of trimming.
She said the city’s failure to rein it in sooner was the reason it has to make tough choices now.
The city should scrutinize every department as closely as it has the Parks Department, Uhlich said.
Other council members said increasing the business license fee from $45 to $60 sends the wrong message.
“I don’t think we’re being business-friendly if we raise the business fees,” Councilman Richard Fimbres said. “We live off sales tax. We need to generate more.”
While the city will close its $27 million budget gap this year, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild lamented the budget process. He said things would have to change next year so officials can start addressing looming problems.
“Because if the wolf is not at the door today, let me assure you it has not left the neighborhood,” Rothschild said.
In addition to lowering expenses, Rothschild said the city would have to increase its revenue through annexation and economic development.
Property taxes are slated to go up next year from $1.43 per $100,000 of assessed value to $1.46.
The rate went up mostly to cover the road bond that voters approved in 2012.
The proposed budget is for the fiscal year starting July 1. It is scheduled for a final vote on June 3. The first planned public hearing will be held May 6.