Glendale council OKs tentative $632M budget amid concerns over police, fire staffing

The Glendale City Council will vote this month on a $632 million tentative municipal budget for fiscal 2016 that raises the property tax rate by 4 cents while dropping spending by 2 percent.

The hike, which takes effect after Dec. 31, raises the overall tax rate from $2.15 to $2.19. The secondary property tax rate will go from $1.66 to $1.70, while the primary rate will remain at $0.49. Secondary property taxes are used to pay down bond debt.

A series of bond refinances prevented further increases.

The council voted 5-2 to approve the tentative plan, setting its spending limit, during its May 26 meeting.

The operational spending increases are mainly labor-related.

According to interim City Manager Dick Bowers’ budget presentation, memorandum-of-understanding costs are going up, nonrepresented employees will receive a 2.5 percent pay increase, and the city’s cost is rising to fund the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System. The higher contributions are in line with recommendations by the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.

The city also is saving money through increased integration of technology in a number of operations to streamline processes.

All of this is occurring against the backdrop of a series of updated financial policies intended to help the city continue to recover from the recession as well as some expensive contracts.

“Overall, the goal of the FY15-16 budget is to improve service delivery by leveraging technology, retaining dedicated staff and continuing to improve the city’s financial stability,” Bowers stated in his report.

The city also is going to address a number of significant capital needs. The largest of these is $45.3 million in transportation and street improvements, followed by $28.9 million in water and sewer work. A total of $22.4 million alone is being spent on pavement management.

The projects are part of the first year of a new 10-year capital improvement plan presented to the council in March. The FY ’16 spending totals $125.3 million, of which $51.9 million is requested carryover spending from the current fiscal year for work still under way.

The budget includes $44.8 million set aside for contingency spending for emergencies or unforeseen events.

The blueprint takes into account a series of measures intended to strengthen Glendale’s financial standing. Among them are not dedicating revenues for specific purposes unless approved by council or required by law and not using one-time revenues to fund recurring expenses.

Other measures include allowing personnel to be added to a department only when service needs have been thoroughly examined and if increased net ongoing revenue is confirmed.

“Overall, the focus of the ’15-’16 budget was financial stability. Staff feels this budget accomplishes financial stability,” interim Assistant City Manager Tom Duensing told the council during the May 26 session.

However, the policy affecting staff increases was at the heart of concerns raised by two council members who voted against the tentative budget during its presentation at the May 26 council meeting.

“We need more firefighters and police officers,” said Yucca District Councilman Sammy Chavira. “We need to take care of (high) response times. I’m just very, very concerned with delivering the services we need. What I’m really afraid is this … usually somebody has to get hurt or even worse before we put the stoplight in. I don’t want this happening.”

Chavira and Sahuaro District Councilman Gary Sherwood questioned increasing the reserves — part of the budget’s plan to ensure financial stability — while more police and firefighters are needed. Sherwood wondered if requiring departments to fund needed additions by cutting somewhere else in that agency’s budget.

“It seems like we bottom-lined this … to get to the fund balance we needed. We may be hurting service on the public safety side. I’m just in a quandary on this budget in terms of when do we start making up that?” he asked.

Mayor Jerry Weiers, Vice Mayor Ian Hugh, Ocotillo District Councilman Jamie Aldama, Cholla District Councilwoman Lauren Tolmachoff and Barrel District Councilman Bart Turner all supported the tentative spending plan, which includes funding for 20 additional police officers. The department has begun advertising for those jobs.

Tolmachoff said the governing body was taking the responsible path by not dipping into savings for further public safety personnel.

“I wish the money was available to give to public safety, but unfortunately, those decisions were made and we have to be responsible. We’re the stewards of the taxpayers’ money,” she said.

The budget faces a public hearing before the final vote during the council’s meeting on Tuesday.

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