Tucson city council addresses huge budget deficit

Posted: Updated:

TUCSON, Ariz. -- November 2, election day, is a deadline of sorts for Tucson's city council. They would like to figure out by then exactly how to close a $51 million budget deficit, whether it be through cuts, collecting more taxes or raising fares. Wednesday they got to work.

"We have experienced rapidly declining revenues," said City Budget Director Marie Nemerguth.

City leaders say Tucson needs to pass a sales tax hike. If not, they need a backup plan.

That's what the Core Tax Committee presented to the city council Wednesday, budget director Nemerguth gave them the facts.

"She brings a lot of facts to the table, but they're usually not very good," said Councilman Romero.

The numbers weren't good this time either.  She presented the Core Tax Committee's final recommendations to council. It calls for millions of dollars worth of cuts to plug a $51 million budget hole.

"They are all difficult pills to swallow," said Councilwoman Liz Miller.  "There are no easy answers here."

And mayor and council know it.   "This city needs creative thinking," said Mayor Walkup.

"Every single decision we make is going to affect someone in a very painful way," said Councilwoman Karen Uhlich.

Wednesday the city council finally made a decision. They unanimously voted to immediately raise nearly $2.9 million by collecting more in existing taxes. It was one of several suggestions made by the Core Tax Committee.

"I think city council took swift action," said Miller.  "They understand there's a sense of urgency here."

But not everyone on the council agrees.

"No I don't think we did enough," said Councilman Steve Kozachik.  "We need to do more than rely on an outside tax committee, everyone on council needs to bring forward ideas. "

For now, the core committee's work is done.   "We can exhale a little bit," said Miller.

But the city council's work is just getting started.

The council also voted to look at implementing an additional $8 million worth of cuts for next fiscal year. Conversations over budget cuts will continue next week.

The city council also heard a proposal for a merger between Arizona public media and channel 12.

The deal would consolidate the two groups. Wednesday they asked the council for approval of an intergovernmental agreement to move the process along.

They say the move would save the city thousands of dollars.

"For the city, we would get continued high quality coverage of our events, our news, special programming.  Whether it's 1-on-1 or My City," said Ann Strine from Tucson Information Technology.

The council approved a motion to look further into the possible deal. Both parties will be back before council with a more detailed plan.