City facing no frills – but no layoffs, eitherby Carli Brosseau on Dec. 10, 2008, under Edge, Local, Special
Skimping on training, vehicle replacement, phones to save $31M
With a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Tucson City Council approved the city manager’s $31 million plan for balancing the budget.
The council made no changes to the plan, which involved what City Manager Mike Hein said would likely be the last budget cuts made this fiscal year. The fiscal year ends June 30.
About $27 million in cuts have already been made, with 162 vacant positions eliminated, according to a memo Hein released Dec. 3. There have been no layoffs, and none are expected.
The council applauded Hein’s proposal, which cited increased fees, stepped-up collection efforts, delayed payments and an asbestos settlement as the source of about half the sum.
Councilman Steve Leal said he would like increased revenue to be the answer to more of the city’s budget woes, which are expected to worsen next fiscal year. He mentioned increasing some fees but specified he wasn’t talking about tax increases.
Leal said the cuts happened too quickly, limiting the creativity of shortfall solutions. “How much scenery can you see at 80 miles per hour?” he asked.
Councilwomen Nina Trasoff and Karin Uhlich suggested combining more city and county projects.
“We need to ask, ‘What do we do that nobody else does, what do we do that nobody else can do and what can we afford to do?’ ” Trasoff said.
It’s unclear exactly what effect the cuts will have, as only department names were specified and officials were reluctant to parse the figures.
The exception is transit services. Although $3 million was taken from Sun Tran, officials say no service cuts are expected.
A memo describing the effects of budget-induced changes to date was released last week. In the 56-page document, officials outlined expectations and possibilities, which are summarized below. Proposed savings include the most imminent round of cuts as well as those being considered for next fiscal year.
The cuts will be felt mostly in delays. Plea offers are no longer made to out-of-state defendants or early in the case process. Under austerity measures already in effect, there are fewer appeals, and fewer cases are refiled after being dismissed for technical reasons. No one has been assigned to prostitution, drug forfeiture or neighborhood crime cases. Staff are making more processing errors as a result, the report noted.
Savings so far: $471,958
Cuts were made to mental-health referral services, reviews of magistrates and office supplies. There’s no more bottled water. The court has also stopped mailing warrants to defendants. Some court fees have been increased and other fee increases are planned. The court will likely start charging for records searches. To provide records, the city will begin levying the $17 fee per record request on members of the military, who are now exempt. Instead of treating everyone who violates vehicle insurance requirements as a first-time offender, the court will start penalizing repeat offenders. Sending e-mails to notify defendants about court dates, decisions on motion and pleas, and payment confirmations is being considered to save postage costs.
Savings so far: $4,788,102
The department merged with the now-defunct Department of Neighborhood Services. Responses to inspection requests have slowed and are expected to get slower, with inspectors taking calls because support staff has been cut. Graffiti removal is now run by the Police Department. Higher landfill fees, which were raised in June and are not connected to the city’s budget problems, may lead to fewer neighborhood cleanups. Eliminating contributions to social service agencies has been recommended, but not for the most imminent round of cuts.
Savings so far: $1,290,651
Proposed: $2.9 million
Equal Opportunity Programs and Independent Police Auditor
Personnel cuts have meant the Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise Program is struggling, potentially resulting in almost $28 million in federal money being withdrawn. Diversity programs have been dramatically reduced.
Savings so far: $194,473
No recruits will be hired this fiscal year. Bill collections for services will be more aggressive, and transportation to hospitals likely will cost more, beginning in January. Initiatives that were touted as money-savers – sending low-weight, two-person “Alpha trucks” to medical calls and referring nonemergency patients to social service providers – have been scaled back or eliminated, potentially saving payroll costs in the short term. Other savings are slated to come mostly from driving less, buying less and training less. Diesel will be used instead of biodiesel, which was causing higher maintenance bills because Ford ambulance warranties did not cover the biodiesel the city uses. The most costly equipment will no longer be sent out on routine calls.
Savings so far: $986,431
With case numbers at an unprecedented high and support staff cut by three, attorneys are more stressed and busier than ever.
Savings so far: $153,230
Parks & Recreation
Hours at each of the city’s 25 recreation centers were cut an average of 20 percent, with morning, evening and weekend hours taking the hit. Six of the nine pools that used to be open year-round were closed for the winter. Crowds at the pools left open are expected to increase dramatically. Maintenance at city parks will be slower and less frequent. Director Fred Gray said the measure approved by the council Tuesday could mean higher prices for leisure classes or a focus on only the most popular classes, the ones that bring in the most cash. Fees now cover about 70 percent of the cost of the classes, he said. If the recession continues, classes that resemble those provided by other governments, nonprofits or companies could be eliminated.
Savings so far: $3,887,147
Proposed: $1 million
Only one academy of 40 officers will be held this fiscal year. Fewer officers will likely be available for community meetings and events. Nonemergency calls are expected to take longer, and callers reporting thefts are being encouraged to file a police report online. Fewer officers are working holidays now, and promotions and equipment purchases have been delayed. High-ranking staff have given up their cell phones for pagers. Response times for all calls are predicted to go up if a suggestion to cut the hours of helicopter flight time from 3,300 hours to 2,000 hours a year is accepted by the council for next fiscal year. Bicycle officers may also be moved to patrol squads.
Savings so far: $3,573,300
Street lights that have gone dark because of copper theft won’t be replaced in the next six months. It will be up to three weeks before burned-out light bulbs shine again. Lane lines will only be painted once instead of twice a year to save paint. Requests to fill in potholes could take longer, up to two months, but holes that pose a safety threat should be filled within a couple of days. No traffic studies or traffic counts will be done. Only signs that affect safety will be put up. Reducing the city’s contribution to the Regional Transportation Authority has been proposed for the next round.
Savings so far: $5,649,747
New cuts could affect workers who track the moves of other governments and the creation of the council agenda. Hein has taken away department charge cards.
Savings so far: $441,430
Urban Planning and Design
The city may lose outside funding if it’s unable to turn up the required matches for grant money and staff can’t handle the workload. A minus: It takes longer to finish projects because the department lacks qualified workers. Eliminating the department is on the table for next fiscal year.
Savings so far: $748,016
Freezing vehicle replacements is expected to translate into more, longer and costlier repairs. Eliminating the budget for expensive building repairs will likely mean major breakdowns in heating and cooling, Director Ron Lewis said. Energy efficiency programs will probably be reduced.
Savings so far: $970,710
Requests from employees and the public will get slower responses. Few projects designed to increase efficiency will get done. No specialists will be hired for training. Two more vacant positions may be chopped, adding to the five already eliminated. No layoffs are expected, Director Cindy Bezaury said.
Savings so far: $572,212
Because the department’s fees cover its costs, there have been no cuts, and none are proposed, according to the memo. Director Jeff Biggs said, however, that he is taking savings suggestions from employees.
Savings so far: $0
The biggest risk is system failures, meaning police could temporarily be cut off from dispatchers, employees could receive inaccurate paychecks or networks could fail. The 20-year-old payroll system, which operates on a mainframe computer, is at “extreme risk,” though Finance Department officials say it doesn’t look like there’s enough money to replace it. Director Ann Strine said there is a backup plan. That means responses to IT calls or requests for help are slower, even for police, and no new technology projects are slated to start.
Savings so far: $1,541,315
Everything from permits and inspections to zoning and engineering will be slower. Even downtown development is expected to feel the effects. The next round of cuts will likely include reduced office costs such as overtime, supplies and utilities.
Savings so far: $1,069,190
Tucson Convention Center
There is no longer a parking lot shuttle. The center has hired contract staff to replace some hired workers. The next move would be to reduce hours in the ticket office.
Savings so far: $348,740
Because fees pay for services, there have been no cuts, and none are proposed.
Savings so far: $0
Top cuts so far
$4.7M City Court
$3.9M Parks & Recreation
$1.5M Information Technology
$1.3M Community Services
Biggest cut to come
$3.9 Urban Planning
$2.9M Community Services
$1.0M Parks & Recreation