An initial Phoenix budget proposes more park rangers, more police officers and outreach workers to help people experiencing homelessness.
Phoenix leaders have approved a budget that puts more police officers on the street and more park rangers on city trails and increases funding for voter outreach.
The City Council voted 7-2 on Tuesday to approve a $4 billion spending plan for the next fiscal year, which starts July 1. The decision came with little fanfare or council debate, unlike past years when the city faced serious deficits.
That’s because Phoenix projects it will have a roughly $2 million surplus in its general fund, the account that pays for most day-to-day services, such as police, fire and parks.
Council members largely agreed with City Manager Ed Zuercher’s plan to spend most of that surplus, about $1.3 million, to hire 16 police assistants. Those civilian staffers are expected to help the Phoenix Police Department fight rising response times.
At the urging of council members Daniel Valenzuela, Kate Gallego and Laura Pastor, the budget also included a last-minute $125,000 allocation to boost voter participation.
The city will use the money to mail postcards to 230,000 registered voters who aren’t on the Permanent Early Voting List. Voters who sign and return the card will get mail-in ballots for future elections.
Valenzuela said he hopes the move will expand the early-voter list and make “voting as convenient as possible.”
Deficit on the horizon
Despite spending hikes in the budget, the city’s sunny financial outlook won’t last long.
Phoenix expects to face a $43 million to $64 million deficit nextyear, which city officials say is largely due to soaring pension costs for police officers and firefighters.
The budget sets aside the bulk of the city’s unspent remaining surplus, about $500,000, to prepare for a potential deficit in 2018.
Councilmen Sal DiCiccio and Jim Waring, the body’s fiscal conservatives, voted against the budget. DiCiccio said the city needs to prioritize spending on its key functions so it can erase a structural deficit.
“There should be no reason why the city of Phoenix, the size that we are right now, has the type of deficit that it has,” DiCiccio said. “I believe it’s the only city in the entire Valley that’s having this.”
Zuercher said the budget adds minimal programs, less than $2 million worth in the general fund. He said the city will work over the summer to find “any areas of potential savings” to prepare for a potential deficit.
Phoenix also can pay for some expanded services without touching the general fund.
The city has special revenue funds, including funds for public safety and parks and preserves, that are supported by voter-approved taxes and can be spent only on those areas. More money has flowed into those funds, which allows for new spending.
Among the spending increases in those other funds: about $1.9 million to hire 22 park rangers and about $16 million to hire 219 more sworn police officers throughout the year.
The budget was approved by Mayor Greg Stanton and council members Pastor, Valenzuela, Gallego, Thelda Williams, Michael Nowakowski and Debra Stark.
Council members must take several more votes to finalize the budget before July 1, but those typically are formalities.
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