City budget planners downplayed the actual costs of the city's recent pay raise after the City Council voted to approve it.
The 55-cent-an-hour pay raise approved by the council two weeks ago will actually cost taxpayers almost $8 million, not the $5.3 million the council was told before the vote.
The earlier cost estimate excluded Tucson Water, Environmental Services and other enterprise-fund workers.
Council members were angry about the revelation but made no move to roll back the raises. They tentatively adopted next year's budget 5-2 Tuesday.
The city staff didn't stress the entire cost because the $2.5 million needed to cover those other departments won't come from the general fund, said Human Resources Director Lani Simmons. The departments themselves will have to figure out how they're going to absorb the new expenses, she said.
Simmons said she told the council about the entire cost well before it voted two weeks ago. But that was news to council members.
"Every conversation we've had about compensation the number has been $5.3 million," said Councilman Steve Kozachik. "To come back to us today and say now it's $7.8 million is certainly a surprise to me. Nowhere in our materials or discussions did this ($7.8 million) number come (up). … No one ever talked about this when we were discussing raising water rates. They just slipped it by us."
Kozachik said this puts even more stress on a strained budget.
"How would we have cut $15 million from this year's budget if we didn't kick the can down the road on our debt?" Kozachik said. "Now were going to make it worse by adding almost $8 million more."
Councilwoman Regina Romero said the city staff has a history of hiding deficits under the pretense they don't fall into the general fund.
"This is exactly what staff did on golf. Golf's deficits weren't presented to us … three full years in a row. They were not telling us about that deficit because it wasn't in the general fund," Romero said.
"We need to know. Staff needs to present to us the entire story. Whether it's general fund or an enterprise fund, it must be presented with full disclosure for the public and for the mayor and council."
For weeks, Councilman Paul Cunningham has been saying costs associated with the raises are higher than what the staff has been saying.
He said there are still too many unknowns regarding city revenues and expenditures to place a further burden on future budgets.
"Even if everything bends our way, we still can't afford this," Cunningham said. "We are definitely putting the cart before the horse. We can't afford to live in a fiscal fantasyland."
With other known financial demands on the horizon, Kozachik said he doesn't know how the city can avoid layoffs or furloughs in future years as it struggles to pay for ballooning pension costs, streetcar operations and many other obligations on the horizon.
"We've just made our job more difficult," he said. Kozachik and Cunningham both voted against tentative adoption of the budget Tuesday evening.
The raises will take effect no later than Jan. 1.
On StarNet: Read more about local and state government and political news at azstarnet.com/politics
Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.