Karin's Note: Friday January 24, 2014

Karin's Note: Friday, January 24, 2014

-Ward 3 Events
-Upcoming Area Neighborhood and Coalition Meeting(s)
-Citywide Events
-Did You Know?

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Dear Tucsonans,

This week Mayor and Council started the FY2015 budget discussion through our review of the Comprehensive Audited Financial Statement from FY2013. With these numbers and actual revenue and expense figures through the first half of the current (FY2014) year, we can use the best available information to balance our fiscal future.

It’s quite clear we’ll need to hold the line on expenses in all areas of the budget where we can. The City Manager has already alerted the Executive Leadership Team that some functions will be reorganized to help save administrative costs so we can sustain actual service levels without adding to existing funding levels. We’ll also have to prioritize any growth in revenues to cover costs that we know will increase (e.g. pensions managed at the state level).

Given those realities it will be those areas deemed “discretionary” that will surface again for tight scrutiny. There’s already some rumbling that the City will eliminate human services funding (a line item we’ve already cut 60% over recent years, down to $1.8 million when economic development grants are taken into account). And the usual push to raise transit fares has begun in order to reduce the investment needed from our General Fund.

I think most Tucsonans want us to first examine any and all alternatives that don’t heap hardship onto those already suffering. As former Mayor George Miller has always said, the budget is not simply a balance sheet of numbers, it is a moral document that ought to reflect our community’s values. We shouldn’t adopt a budget that gouges poor and middle class people while paying lip service to our concern for their well-being.

So what other alternatives should we consider? I think it’s time we ask ourselves whether our wise actions to revitalize downtown can soon truly pay dividends for everyone throughout Tucson. Before we make cuts to programs and services for people struggling financially, how much might we be able to reduce our General Fund commitments to downtown? We don’t necessarily have to end the incentives offered to spur further investment downtown; and we certainly should fulfill our plans for more massive infrastructure improvements benefitting the downtown (completion of Downtown Links connection to I-10, etc.). Public investment downtown through the Rio Nuevo district will continue, and we might even sustain the enhanced City services targeting the downtown (e.g. public safety). But if we must cut “discretionary” dollars from the General Fund, I think we have to have an honest conversation about when the downtown Business Improvement District’s private partners (all helped, no doubt, by the City’s construction of parking garages and the street car) can collectively cover the cost of enhanced services they directly benefit from (cleanup and security services, etc.).

Mark Evans pushed this envelope even further in his June 7, 2013 article published in the Tucson Citizen online:

When the city council is facing tough budget decisions, it often makes penny-wise but pound-foolish decisions. If the streetcar is a drain on city coffers in tough budget times (like now), the city is almost certain to make unwise decisions, such as reducing hours of operation and raising fares.
That would jeopardize the whole point of the streetcar and put at risk the investments the private sector has made downtown specifically because of the streetcar (revitalizing downtown almost in spite of the city’s and Rio Nuevo’s failed efforts).

If businesses, property owners and developers are going to make a profit off the streetcar corridor, it only makes sense that they contribute to the streetcar’s success by relieving the city, in total or in part, the cost of its operation after fare box revenue is subtracted.

Such a district is not viable now, there are too few businesses and properties to pay a fee or tax to support the streetcar; the city and its general fund will have to tough-out a few years (about $2 million for the first year’s operation was budgeted in the streetcar’s startup costs but the manufacturing delays are quickly eating up that money).

But as downtown grows and prospers, and those expected billions pour in, a fee or taxing district to provide a few million a year to cover the streetcar’s cost will be just as vital to downtown as the streetcar is to attracting those billions.
Consider it the fare cost of doing business in the streetcar corridor.

FY 2015 will begin in June, a full year -- and many new downtown projects -- after Mark’s article ran.
Now it’s also important to keep all of these line items (human services, transit, downtown revitalization) in perspective. We invest perhaps 2% in “discretionary” dollars out of our $1.2 billion budget on the priorities I’ve noted. However the budgeting focus often shifts far too quickly to those fractions before we double-check the whole numbers and, as the Manager is insisting, reorganizing on a larger scale to cut costs or boost revenues more significantly. I’ll be encouraging us to hold that macro-level focus before we lead the community into a predictably divisive battle over “scraps” (dollars that do in fact matter, even in the bigger scheme of things).

Let’s not forget that we have managed well together through the worst of times; with better days ahead, we can surely craft a responsible budget that moves us all toward greater prosperity.  

Karin

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Ward 3 Events:

-Toy Train Museum Open House – Sunday, January 26 from 12:30 – 4:30 p.m. Gadsden Pacific Toy Train Museum, 3975 N. Miller Avenue. Toy trains of all sizes. Free to the public, donations appreciated. More info: 888-2222.

-Woods Memorial Library Craft Event – Wednesday, January 29 from 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. “Shrinky Dinks” crafts event is free to all kids 6 to 12 years old. More info: 594-5445.
 

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Upcoming Neighborhood and Coalition Meeting(s):

-Keeling NA – Monday, January 27 at 7:00 p.m. Cornerstone Fellowship Hall, 2902 N. Geronimo

-Hedrick Acres NA – Tuesday, January 28 at 6:30 p.m. 2842 N. Mountain
-Amphi Community Action Group - Wednesday, January 22nd at 6:00p.m.  240 W. Navajo Road

-Amphi NA – Thursday, January 30 at 6:30 p.m. 240 W. Navajo

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Citywide Events:

-7th Annual Beat Back Buffelgrass – Saturday, January 25. Buffelgrass is a wildfire waiting to happen. Event is sponsored by Tucson Clean and Beautiful, Southern Arizona Buffelgrass and various groups and municipalities.  Volunteers needed throughout the Tucson area. Sign up online: www.buffelgrass.org

-Community Forum on Keeping Children Safe & Healthy: Prevention, Child Care, and CPS – Thursday, January 30 from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. Tucson Jewish Community Center, 3800 E. River Road. Sponsored by Child & Family Resources, United way, Children’s Action Alliance, Easter Seals and Tucson Jewish Community Center. Free and open to the public.

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Did You Know...?

…that the 2014 Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase is in Tucson from February 1 – 16?  The tents are going up, vendors arriving from around the world. Don’t miss this exciting event. Gem Show Hotline: 622-GEMS (4367).

…that Pima County’s Department of Transportation is offering free bike safety classes through January and February? Free helmets and bike lights, U-locks available to attendees. To learn more: www.BikePed.pima.gov or register at 243-BIKE (2453).

….that in 2012 Nonprofit Loan Fund of Tucson and Southern Arizona  (NPLF) was formed  to bridge cash flow gaps, strengthen the financial capacity of nonprofits by providing affordable, operating loans and to help organizations qualify for conventional bank loans in the future.  With the help of many community partners, it began making loans to mid-size nonprofits late last year.  According to the Alliance for Arizona Nonprofits, Southern Arizona is home to more than 3,500 nonprofit organizations. Many of these agencies report cash flow gaps throughout the year as they await reimbursements such as grants and donations, forcing delays of important community programs and services.
For information on eligibility and to download an application, please visit www.nonprofit-loans.org or call (520)382-9203.