City Manager Richard Miranda has proposed eliminating 92 positions and trimming $25 million from the budget as a starting point to rein in Tucson’s finances.
The recommended job cuts come three months after the City Council approved spending $11 million on pay raises and three weeks after it approved a new paid holiday for city workers in honor of
Miranda will present his plans to the mayor and council during a special budget session this afternoon.
In addition to cutting jobs, Miranda’s plan calls for a reduction in overtime, cuts in social-service-agency funding and other organizational changes in an effort to balance next year’s budget as well as in the future.
Among the future expenses the city faces: a loss of 118 police and fire employees over the next two years; ballooning pension costs; and $1 billion in unmet needs for roads and dilapidated buildings.
“We have to put in a game plan for the future so we can respond to the service needs in upcoming years,” Miranda said.
The city faces a $27.2 million deficit.
But unlike previous deficits, there is little the city can cut without affecting jobs or public services, officials have said.
The council doesn’t have to accept Miranda’s recommendations, opting instead to pursue other cost-saving options.
“I don’t have any confidence in the city manager’s recommendations,” Councilman Paul Cunningham. said. “The recommendations are the lazy way out.”
Cunningham questioned why Miranda would support pay increases last year when he knew layoffs were a possibility.
Miranda defended the raises and said the city needed to begin addressing its pay structure to attract and keep talented workers.
“It was a good decision because we have to understand that our employees are our most valuable resource,” he said. “If we want to be competitive and retain employees, they have to be compensated adequately.”
Cunningham said he supported the pay raises because staff members assured him it would not lead to layoffs later. He will ask the manager’s office to balance the budget without cutting jobs, including delaying the city’s $13 million debt payment another year.
But city finance officials have said if the City Council avoids significant changes, the cuts will be more severe down the road.
“In the past, there was some hope that once the economy turned around that it would bring in enough revenue to cover our expenses. It’s very clear now that it’s not going to be the case,” said Chief Financial Officer Kelly Gottschalk, who warned the council about future consequences before a vote was taken on pay raises last year.
Gottschalk compared the recommended changes to retirement planning. The more that’s done today, the less the burden will be in future years, she said.
Although Miranda recommends 92 fewer positions, it won’t translate in 92 people losing their jobs.
For instance, 35 of the jobs are vacant. The employees whose jobs would get cut may apply for open positions within the city. Also, those with civil service rights would get preference on existing jobs, depending on years of service and qualifications.
The Parks and Recreation Department takes the biggest hit with about 48 job cuts. The rest of the cuts are spread throughout departments including finance, city court and others.
Parks and Recreation’s budget offered the most flexibility for changes compared with other large departments, such as police and fire, which have limits on what can be shifted, Gottschalk said.
The city did not identify specific positions.
Other savings would come from restructuring the city’s departments and policies.
One of the changes sought involves how the city defines overtime hours. Requiring employees to be at work for more than 40 hours in a workweek before qualifying for overtime would save the city about $1 million.
Some of the programs and positions proposed for reductions or elimination include supervised probation and recreation classes, as well as supervisor and administrative positions across departments.
Outside organizations that receive city money would also lose out.
The city no longer would contribute a combined $84,210 to the Tucson Rodeo Parade, the Fort Lowell Shootout and the Science and Engineering Fair. That money would be covered by Visit Tucson, the local visitors bureau.
Social-service agencies would see their available funding cut in half to about $730,000.
If the council adopts all of Miranda’s recommendations, it would shrink next year’s deficit to about $2 million.
Miranda stressed that these were suggestions and just the start of how the city will reorder its finances. The changes are designed to make Tucson more efficient without decreasing services the public expects from the city, he said.
Mayor Jonathan Roths-
child said that while addressing the budget shortfall is unpleasant, Miranda’s changes underscore Tucson’s economic reality.
“It is always difficult to lose people, but the manager’s recommendations are focusing on preserving frontline resources and essential core city services,” Rothschild wrote in an email. “We will still have a few difficult decisions to make, but this plan reflects more accurately the status of the city budget.”
Councilman Steve Kozachik said no one on the council should feign shock about the job cuts after six of them voted for a pay raise even after Gottschalk warned there would be consequences.
“We were told that the workforce would be smaller if it was to be more highly paid,” Kozachik said.
Kozachik said the council must stop avoiding reality and make the tough choices now.
“These aren’t easy decisions, and we’re on notice that next year will bring more challenges,” he said. “These are ugly decisions, but they’re intended to get the budget back to long-term health.”