Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tucson Budget Crisis

Year end musings on the sad budgetary state of affairs of Tucson, Arizona, USA.

Tucson had an election and I pray the council will succeed in the difficult task ahead. Some guidelines for solving the budget cutting problem should be in place before the task is attempted. Prioritizing objectives must be done.

In this analysis the special place of the responsibilities of cities must be considered first.
The city of Tucson is responsible for providing essential services. As a definition of essential must be made, I say that the following services are essential.

I. Essential

Law enforcement
Fire protection
Water and sanitation
Garbage collection
Prosecution/incarceration/courts/public defender
Records and Elections
Related Administrative

Other services are ongoing but are not essential in the short term. These must be cut back what percent?

II. Secondary (not in order of importance)

City manager
Real estate
Rio Nuevo
Community services
MLK revitalization(no longer low income)
Housing Management
Community development
*Audit Housing Assistance
Convention Center
Event development
Event services
General Services
Information technology
Neighborhood resources
Parks (explore alternate way to keep open, caretaker system)

To continue this categorization, the following must be cut heavily or discontinued.

III. Non-Essential (not in order of importance)

Intergovernmental relations: elected officials
Development Services skeleton crew for the downturn
Budgetary Requirements environmental services
General Services architectural and Engineering
Fleet services could be cut overall by having fewer vehicles online
Internal service fund
Is golf a net economic boost for Tucson? How much does golf generate?
Human Resources
Urban Planning and Design
Non Departmental: mishmash of causes needs weeding out
Debt Service

Cutting the budgets of the secondary and non essential services is necessary. The essential services could use an administrative reorganization and review of expenses in order to shave off a percent of their budgets. They should be given further goals to meet.

Debt service is huge and the debts should be restructured to meet existing economic conditions, in order to prevent a default. I would rather pay police and fire protection than pay debt service, if the choice has to be made. If the pundits say Tucson will ruin its credit, perhaps this is a blessing in disguise, since about ¼ of the budget goes to debt service. The city cannot afford this debt load and certainly does not need more debt in any form. Look at it this way: if you count the debt for water systems, the debt service rises to $140,788,980, which is about 29% of total stated expenditures. I wish it were impossible for elected officials to create debt that lasts beyond their term. With so much of the expenditures tied up in debt service, flexibility appears to be limited to employee pay cuts and departmental expenditures in the form of cuts in services to residents.

What a plan! Raise taxes and continue the level of debt service no matter what happens to essential services? Not a good plan. Tell them to take a hike after you have cut these departments and downsized the budget, if that is still needed. We do not neglect the weak in order to pay debt service. We do not lay off Police and Fire to pay debt service.

Difficult decisions are ahead. May you all succeed in this task.

Dorothy Prater Niemi
December 2009