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Higher taxes, fees in latest Phoenix budget proposal

PHOENIX — The city manager of Phoenix has released an updated budget which calls for “shared sacrifice.”

The budget includes $11 million in new revenue from residents paying higher fees and taxes and $16.5 million in savings from city employees accepting lower pay raises and bonuses than they expected. The city manager said Phoenix faces a $37.7 million budget shortfall.

“I’m not looking at any new revenue increases, because I don’t think they’re necessary to have basic city functions,” said District 2 Councilman Jim Waring.

When the city manager released a trial budget last month, Waring said it was a “scare tactic,” because it included the possibility of closing public pools and recreation centers.

During numerous public hearings, people spoke out against closing the centers or reducing services of seniors and children. Some said they supported higher fees and taxes to avoid any cuts. In fact, the city manager’s proposed budget reads: “Comments overwhelmingly supported the continuance of existing service levels, with many indicating a willingness to pay additional fees or taxes as a means to balance the budget without cutting City programs.”

Waring said the expressed support remains in the minority overall.

“I guess if you go to my district that wouldn’t necessarily be so,” said Waring. “I understand the people who use the services specifically come out to these meetings en masse and talk about how everyone is going to pay more and they’re willing to pay more and there’s nothing wrong with that — that’s great participatory democracy. However, do I think that reflects the views of all 1.5 million people in the city? No, I don’t believe that.”

Waring said there are plenty of things the city can cut, like lobbyists, employee travel and membership dues. He has also spoken out against city-owned golf courses that lose money.

In an email, District 6 Councilman Sal DiCiccio wrote: “There are millions of dollars built in for travel, dining, public relations, lobbying, association dues and there are over 100 vacant positions built into this budget. It is one of the worst constructed budgets I have seen.”

While the budget calls for eliminating 68 full-time civilian positions that are currently vacant, it also includes hiring new employees through sources outside the general fund. They include 12 positions in the Planning and Development Department to deal with increased construction and site plan reviews and four staff members to run dog parks that will open over the next year at Paradise Valley Park, Chavez Park, Deem Hills Park and the Carver Mountain Trailhead.

On Wednesday, council members are expected to vote on labor contracts, including the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, the union representing hundreds of police officers. While the budget will also be discussed, a vote is scheduled for May 20.

DiCiccio and Waring said they are opposed to tax and fee increases and will vote against the budget. District 8 Councilwoman Kate Gallego revealed she is not yet willing to commit to higher taxes and she also has concerns about budget-saving measures that could affect police precincts in her district.

Other council members did not respond to KTAR’s inquiry.