With the city of Tucson facing a multi-million dollar budget gap next fiscal year, Tucson City Manager Michael Ortega has a big job ahead.
“Certainly, there’s an opportunity for us to rethink how we do business,” said Ortega.
Ortega has to spearhead balancing Tucson’s nearly $26 million budget shortfall. He said the bottom line, which leads to the bottom dollar, is that the city’s expenses are increasing, but the money it takes is not keeping up.
“It really is more of a sign of the times. It’s not specific to one area,” said Ortega. “If you really look at it, the cost of business has increased.”
News 4 Tucson Investigators took a look at the city’s biggest expenses and how the gap can be closed. Salaries account for about 75 percent of the budget.
Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus has been charged by Ortega to cut costs, like he asked every city department. Magnus proposes reducing those personnel costs by scaling back the number of police officers from 880 to 830.
There would not be any layoffs though, but they will be lost through attrition. He also wants to leave the deputy chief position vacant and reduce special assignments for officers who get paid extra.
“I wouldn’t be truthful with you if I said that you have somebody who was making an extra 5 percent based on some special assignment that they have been working and now going back to patrol, are they necessarily happy about that?” said Magnus. “I get it. I understand they’re not.”
The Tucson Fire Department also needs to cut about $4 million. TFD said emergency services would not be affected, similarly to the city selling of some of its properties to bring in cash, albeit above appraised value.
Officials also have to figure out which services Tucsonans value the most, such as parks, which cost money to maintain and transit, which is one of the bigger expenses. That is on top of a retirement incentive that saved the city $10 million for the next fiscal year.
“Overall, we’re very strong from a financial standpoint, but it is an adjustment that needs to be made,” said Ortega.
The city does have a rainy day fund, but does not want to use it to shore up ongoing operations. Rainy day funds generally are reserved for catastrophic events if federal aid is not available or is not enough.
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