The Tucson City Council got its first look at a menu of spending cuts and tax increases that could help it fill a projected $25.6 million budget gap next fiscal year.
Some were easy noes.
A proposal to reduce Kidco after-school programs for 900 children was slammed by Council Member Regina Romero.
Some were easy yeses.
Hiring two new employees to improve tax collections and challenge underpayments to bring in an estimated $633,500 was a no-brainer for Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.
Most of the proposals will require more details, which the council will get during a budget retreat next month, before decisions are made.
The city made progress in closing the budget gap through hiring freezes, buyouts and reorganizations, said City Manager Michael Ortega.
The next step is rethinking how city departments do business, he said, and “everything is on the table.”
Without drastic changes, the projected general fund deficit grows from $25.6 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1 to $58 million in fiscal year 2020.
Here’s a look at some of the proposals brought by city department leaders:
TAX AND FEE PROPOSALS
Increasing the public utility tax from 4 percent to 5 percent would bring $5.85 million in new revenue next year.
Councilmember Karin Uhlich favored that option in combination with cuts proposed by the police and fire chiefs.
The mayor said a proposal to raise $500,000 to $1 million in new revenue by increasing transit fares is one whose time has come.
Tucson Parks and Recreation Director Fred Gray said a 7 percent across-the-board fee increase for parks services has been proposed among other offerings from the department.
“Our fees have not increased by a substantial amount since 2010,” Gray said.
While fees have been mostly static, personnel costs have risen, he added.
Another parks cost saving proposal is to reduce water costs through more efficient turf management and irrigation.
“That’s more of an efficiency saving,” Gray said.
He explained not all of the city’s parks are part of an automated central control system designed to manage watering schedules based on weather conditions and other factors.
The system turns off scheduled waterings of ball fields and other park facilities when it rains.
Gray said the department doesn’t plan to stop watering park turf or allow fields to die, but essentially to defer maintenance.
Other cost-saving measures Parks and Recreation has proposed include closing all city pools during winter months and closing Kidco programs during the school year.
The total package of Parks and Recreation cost-cutting proposals totals nearly $1.7 million.
Romero seemed disgusted to see Kidco cuts back on the menu of options after a battle to save the program eight years ago. She said the parks department leaders need to propose more creative ways to save.
“Are we going to affect 300 families and 900 kids by eliminating Kidco? Or are we going to privatize golf and save millions and maybe discomfort golfers?” she said.
Cuts in the parks department shouldn’t affect quality of life, Romero said.
If the council approves all of the spending cut proposals, it wouldn’t have to implement the tax and fee proposals, Rothschild said.
Many of the cost-saving proposals would eliminate jobs.
If the council agreed to all of those proposals, it would eliminate 125 non-public-safety jobs, most of which are vacant.
SCHOOL SITE REZONED
In other action Tuesday, the council approved new zoning for the vacant Fort Lowell Elementary School site, on East Pima Street near North Rosemont Boulevard.
Developer Mainstreet plans to build a 47,300-square-foot transitional care center that would serve up to 72 patients who need care after a surgery or injury.
A future phase could include two outpatient medical offices of 14,000 to 15,000 square feet each on the north side of the 8.5-acre property.
The Tucson Unified School District closed the school in 2010 during a budget crisis. Mainstreet will buy it from TUSD for $1.1 million.