There were several take-aways from the March 27, 2013 Glendale City Council budget workshop. Perhaps the most important was the Executive Director of Finance, Ms. Sherry Schurhammer’s quote of the day, “we have an ongoing operational deficit.” I’m not sure what about that statement some councilmembers refuse to understand. It’s really quite simple. The city spends more money than it takes in. It’s almost as if members of this council expect manna from heaven or a sugar daddy to appear as a means of solving the city’s financial problems. Let’s hope this council grows a backbone and accepts that cost of service cuts are needed. The latest proposal from staff shows major cuts of $8M not now but in Fiscal Year 2014-15 and another round of cuts in Fiscal Year 2016-17. Quite clearly putting off the necessary cuts merely compounds the deficit and makes the future cuts to citizen services and quality of life more drastic and more painful.
Another interesting take away is the fact that staff is using $6M as a placeholder for an arena lease management fee. At least there was acknowledgement that this figure is merely a place holder. The final fee could be higher, lower or stay the same. Or is that a place holder for the Phoenix Monarch Group, the good friends of Councilmembers Alvarez and Chavira? There remains a residual “blame the Coyotes” mentality. The first slide up presented by staff showed the city with a $3.4M deficit if it had had to pay the $17M arena lease management fee this year. I think that deficit blame deserves to be placed elsewhere. How about the $2.5M to repay the Water & Sewer Funds, and also used to make the Risk Management Fund and the Workman’s Compensation Fund whole? Or how about the $2.2M of newly created expenses: a $200K audit, a $100K Beacon contract, $1.2M additional to the Fire Department; an additional $370K in legal fees, an additional $370K in water costs in the Parks & Recreation Department or the unknown amount in salary and benefits for the newly hired Interim City Manager? These big ticket items come to nearly $5M in new costs that were unbudgeted when the current budget was approved and they will have to be absorbed this year.
Another take away is there is certainly no doubt about at least one councilmember’s agenda. CM Chavira is “carrying the water for Public Safety.” It was obvious that his friends from inside those departments, especially Fire (don’t forget he’s a Phoenix firefighter), had prepared a series of questions for him to ask. He read them quite nicely. Later when he was asked if he had more questions and apparently had used all of his prepared questions, he seemed to be at a loss for words. Chances are they will have prepared a new set of questions for him to read at the April 2, 2013 council workshop on Public Safety.
While Interim Police Chief Black answered his questions directly and provided a realistic assessment based upon the city’s current fiscal condition, we didn’t see the same level of cooperation from Fire Chief Burdick. There definitely is a further agenda occurring on the Fire side. We heard the first salvo today when the Chief said calls for service had grown. Well, Glendale’s population has not grown per Mr. Craig Johnson, Director of Water Services, when he said new water hookups are flat. Those people leaving Glendale are replaced by others moving in but not in large enough numbers to create an explosion of growth in Glendale. The city is already planning for the fact that as Glendale’s population remains static, it will lose some of its state shared revenue to other, growing NW and W Valley cities.
So where are the increased calls for fire/emergency service coming from? Have you heard of Automatic Aid? It’s a regional and cooperative program among most Valley Fire departments. If there is a call for fire service in Phoenix, Avondale, etc., and their nearest truck is busy on another call, the nearest adjoining city department will respond. I would certainly want to know the number of calls for fire service Glendale responds to outside the city versus the number of calls for service within the city. The increase in calls for fire service may well be attributable to population growth in cities surrounding Glendale. If that is the case and the increase in calls is the result of an increased need to respond to Automatic Aid calls that is not a Glendale driven problem. We are not mandated to grow service or pay for it in Glendale to accommodate surrounding cities. While Automatic Aid is great in fostering regional cooperation in cases of extreme regional emergencies and for creating cost efficiencies in the use of specialized services such as water or mountain rescue, I am not convinced that it works in the best interest of a city with a stable population base whose resources are being used by surrounding cities with burgeoning populations.