Ward 5 opponents spar over spending and the economy

2013-10-18T00:00:00Z 2013-10-18T09:58:44Z Ward 5 opponents spar over spending and the economyBy Darren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

City voters will begin receiving their ballots this weekend for this year’s City Council races and propositions.

To help voters decide, the Star sent a questionnaire to all candidates asking them how they will address some of the issues facing Tucson over the next four years. We continue with the Ward 5 race.

The Candidates

Richard Fimbres

Party: Democrat

Age: 59

Employer and position: Programs Development Manager, Pima County Sheriff’s Department

Education: M.Ed, educational leadership, Northern Arizona University; B.S., public administration, University of Arizona

Political experience: Ward 5 council member, 2009 to present. Pima Community College Governing Board District 2, 13 years

Top priority: Economic development, jobs, revitalization of the South Side.

Mike Polak

Party: Republican

Age: 47

Employer and position: Small-business owner

Education: B.S. in computer science and electronic engineering from the Southern California Institute of Technology

Political experience: None

Top priority: Creating a better business environment and bringing higher-paying jobs to Tucson. Start saying yes to new companies wanting to come to Tucson.

The Issues

How would you use your position as a City Council member to attract new businesses, or help existing ones grow, in Tucson?

Fimbres: I will continue the practices that I’ve implemented, since I was sworn in to office in 2009, which has resulted in the development of the U of A Bioscience Park project, the construction at the Bridges Project, the opening of many retail stores such as: Costco, QuikTrips, Goodwill Stores, American Tire and Curacao, resulting in the creation of 1,200 good-paying jobs alone in Ward 5 and others across the city.

The largest annexation in 15 years, the Valencia Crossing, was in Ward 5, bringing in $32 million in initial fees to the city of Tucson.

I will continue to work to develop Tucson’s domestic and international trade and commerce, in partnership with the city’s Economic Development Office, as well as its international economic development specialist, which I brought the idea of the position to the mayor and council.

Polak:

Reduce fees and regulations.

Eliminate or reduce sign taxes.

Work closer with the business community.

Get business to trust the city.

Create the environment for bringing jobs to Tucson.

Work with businesses out of state that want to relocate.

Offer incentives to move to Tucson.

Next year the city faces many budget obstacles including how to pay for streetcar expenses, retirement costs and more. How will you address some of next year’s budget gaps?

Fimbres: Since I’ve been in office, I have not seen a budget with a surplus. The budget deficit has been $33 million, $44 million, $55 million and $20 million and $15 million for FY 2014. This mayor and council has taken the action to deal with these deficits and to provide the core services constituents request, with fewer employees.

In addition, I have brought proposals to deal with the budget, such as the full implementation of the procurement card system, that could potentially save between $7 million and $10 million annually, and private/public partnerships, such as “Bring Back the Splash,” for which the funding was able to open seven pools in 2012 and eight pools this year.

The city of Tucson lives off sales tax. We don’t have the luxury the county has with their large property tax base. The city needs to continue the work that has been done for the past four years, with our small businesses to generate the sales tax revenue for our core services.

Polak:

Streetcar: Unfunded liabilities, the city will have to subsidize a $4 million loss and no contract with UA. Stop the consulting fees. The city wasted millions with no results.

Retirement cost: Start new employees with a 401(k), and the city could contribute a percentage to the it.

Budget gaps: Reduce spending, cut projects that waste taxpayer dollars and stop borrowing.

The Tucson Police Department expects to lose 100 officers by the end of 2015. How do you propose the city address this issue to minimize impacts to both police service levels and the city budget?

Fimbres: The implementation of lateral transfers, generating a pool of retired public safety officers, revamping the current process for the impound lot so that proceeds from sales of automobiles go to public safety, as well as the larger portion of the fees.

In addition, review the feasibility of a jail district.

Pima County is the largest county that doesn’t have a jail district. This would require a ballot measure countywide and could potentially save the city more than $6 million in jail bed costs alone, which could be directed to the public safety budget.

Polak: Reduce spending in other areas of the city to fund the Police Department.

One possibility is to get rid of the shift differentials and increase the pay for police and fire personnel. We need to compete with other cities.

Pensions will cost the city over $70 million next year . What would you do to reduce these?

Fimbres: Pensions are an ongoing issue for the city, which is similar to other communities. The city’s rising pension costs are due to huge budget reductions — eliminating 1,100 employees and the economic meltdown in 2009.

The city has taken the following actions  to manage our pension issues:

Raised the minimum retirement age, eliminated sick and vacation pay in calculations, modified employee contribution formula and more.

In addition, the mayor and council are setting up a Pension Review Task Force with outside professionals, as well as the Independent Audit and Performance Commission, to review the system and recommend potential changes.

Polak: First, we need to stop making bad investments and look at changing the company that handles the pension funds.

When writing the contract with a new pension carrier, let’s put protection clauses in to protect the city.

We need to hold the Finance Department and the city manager accountable and make sure the money that needs to go into the fund really gets deposited and not misappropriated.

How would you begin addressing the city’s $1 billion it has in vehicle repairs and replacements, building maintenance and other unmet capital needs?

Fimbres: Over the past four years, the city has implemented a replacement program. This program replaces vehicles and other needed equipment. Grants have also been provided to assist with the transitioning of equipment that needed be changed out and for hiring more public safety officers.

This year, the mayor and council put on the ballot a measure to allow the city to gain capacity in using the revenues that have already been generated.

The city has also set up a bond advisory committee to review these needs for a potential proposal to Tucson voters.

Polak: We will need to readjust our city budget and privatize the maintenance with local businesses.

What is the most important issue facing the city?

Fimbres: The sustainability of Tucson, in terms of the budget and providing the core services as stated in the City Charter.

Polak: The lack of higher-paying jobs.

We need more long-term, higher-paying jobs, and that means we need to say yes to large production and manufacturing companies and any others wanting to come to Tucson. These companies would generate the revenue needed to fill our budget gaps.

We have lost thousands of jobs and billions of lost revenue in the last four years. Nothing will change until we change the leadership in the City Council.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com. Follow on Twitter @DarrenDaRonco

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