The city of Tucson will return to hiring freezes as it tries to avoid using up its savings and brace for huge pension bills.
The Tucson City Council got its first look at preliminary, unaudited financial results for the fiscal year ended June 30. Total general-fund income was about $493 million, and spending was about $494 million, said finance director Silvia Amparano.
The council also got a glimpse at the financial future with first-quarter results for this fiscal year. Here are some highlights from both reports.
1. Hiring freezes are helping the city balance its budget.
The city saved about $6 million last fiscal year by keeping some jobs vacant, and it’ll do the same this year, said Amparano and budget director Joyce Garland.
City Manager Michael Ortega said he has asked city departments to hold all vacant jobs vacant, except for public safety positions.
Ortega said he’ll sweep the savings to help solve next year’s budget problems, which include an estimated $81 million in payments for the underfunded public safety pension.
2. The city isn’t spending down its reserves as fast as it thought.
Last year’s budget forecast called for spending $7.4 million of the general fund balance, but the city actually used about $1 million.
“It wasn’t quite as bad as we had projected, but that still is a dip into our reserves,” Ortega said.
The savings from vacant jobs helped the city reach that result, Amparano said. The city also saved about $480,000 by refinancing some debt. As of June 30, the general fund balance was about $65.7 million, but $3.7 million could be spent to help balance this year’s budget, she said.
3. City courts are collecting less money.
The city is expecting to collect $11 million from fines and forfeitures this fiscal year, down from $16 million last year, Garland said.
The number of charges filed in city courts are down 26 percent for the first four months of this year compared to the same time last year, said City Court Administrator Chris Hale.
Civil traffic charges written by Tucson Police officers are down 59 percent, DUI charges are down 32 percent, criminal traffic charges are down 32 percent and misdemeanors are down 25 percent.
4. State changes to the contracting sales tax hurt Tucson.
Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said building permits are up in Tucson, but a change in state law that shifted when and where builders pay sales tax means revenue is down.
The contracting sales tax, which is a tax on new construction, brought in around $1.4 million a month before the change. Now the city receives about half that, Garland said.
5. The city got a good price for selling its Civano property.
The council approved the sale of 173 acres of city-owned land near South Houghton and East Irvington roads to homebuilder Mattamy Homes for $8.26 million.
The property was appraised at $5 million and the city was relying on the sale for a one-time infusion of cash.