On Friday, April 26, 2013 the Glendale City Council had another special budget workshop. This time their agenda was to revisit the issues of police and fire requests for additional personnel and healthcare premium increases for employees and retirees.
Ms. Sherry Schurhammer once again presented the proposed budget and the cuts recommended for 2015 and 2018. Staff’s recommendation was to deny the police and fire requests for additional personnel and to accept the increased healthcare premiums. Her major take-away is that the city has a structural deficit and acceptance of this budget as proposed was the first step toward eliminating it.
Fire Chief Burdick came back with a revised request for an additional 8 positions and two fire truck leases. Police Chief Black upped the police ante to 31 positions plus 6 non-sworn positions. Together these two departments requested a new ongoing expense for the General Fund of $5.5 million and a new one time expense of $1.2 million for the General Fund.
For most of the session there was a united front of 4 councilmembers willing to grant the police and fire departments their requests. They were Councilmembers Alvarez, Chavira, Sherwood and Vice Mayor Knaack. Later one of them will break from this pack and change the council consensus and direction to staff-but that’s for later in this blog. Let’s begin with the four’s reasoning for granting the police and fire wish list.
At least Councilmember Alvarez is consistent. She began with remarks like, “a business should be paying for their own” and “ they’ve (businesses) taken a lot.” Make no mistake. She was alluding to the city owned arena. She also suggested that we “forget festivals” and pointed out that Glendale Glitters will cost the city $759,000 to produce this coming year. She even suggested that the funding for Public Safety be taken out of the Enterprise Funds (water, sewer and sanitation). She made sure that everyone knew that “the past is what brought us here” and she’s “not gonna forget the past.” She became confused when talking about crime being up in Glendale. It depends on what kind of crime. Glendale’s overall crime rate is down but certain categories such as theft have gone up. Apparently the bottom line was that she had received a complaint from a citizen (certainly not vast hoards of people) that a “suspicious activity” call was not answered for an hour. Obviously calls are prioritized. If there is imminent danger to life or a crime is in progress it receives the highest priority, a Number 1 and is answered within 4 or 5 minutes. A call such as she described would receive a priority of 3 or 4 and would be answered eventually when an officer was available. Apparently that is not good enough for her. It was vintage Alvarez. She blamed others, protected her agenda in the guise of protecting the taxpayer and exhibited her usual amount of confusion.
We finally saw the true Councilmember Chavira as he stood in support of Alvarez’ desire for more police and fire personnel. He worried about “call degradation.” Bet he couldn’t define it for you. He literally blessed fire and police personnel. Solicitudes were oozing from every pore. He was clearly upset that the police department had asked for more personnel and funding than had the fire department. Then he spoke the magic word, “parity.” Just to remind you, he is a Phoenix firefighter and is going to push his brother Glendale firefighters’ agenda. He and his brother firefighters positively bristled at the mere possibility that police could end up with “more” than they would. So he suggested that the police personnel request be reduced to 20 personnel thereby reducing the ongoing request to $4 million. Make no mistake. His agenda is to further the desires of the Glendale Fire Department. They own him. Not just because he’s a brother firefighter but because the fire union poured upwards of $50,000 into his campaign. That’s a lot of chump change that Sammy will be paying back for a very long time. What Chavira did was not helpful. He widened minor disagreements between fire and police into the size of the Grand Canyon. It has now surfaced like an unwanted boil on your backside.
Councilmember Sherwood offered some well thought out questions and clearly supported the police and fire requests. He, at the end of the session, still felt that if the city paid less back on a loan it has with the Enterprise Funds, the city could pay the additional costs of these requests. Councilmember Martinez stuck to his guns and simply made the point that it was not appropriate to grant these requests and that they “were not in a popularity contest.” He also said it was not productive to continually go back to the past and to point fingers. Councilmember Hugh was silent until the end of the session.
Vice Mayor Knaack made it clear she was in public safety’s corner when she said the defeat of Proposition 457 (would have allowed the removal of sales tax increase) was due to Public Safety’s efforts. She said that voters defeated it because public’s perception was that its defeat would preserve Public Safety. I know that is the message that police and fire were using in their campaign to defeat Prop 457. All that I can say is that at the very least, Councilmember Martinez and I made it very clear, often and quite publicly, that its defeat would prevent the city from making draconian cuts to this year’s budget and buy the city time to make more temperate cuts over the next five years. We both repeatedly referred to the city’s structural deficit. We did not say it would save fire and police jobs. We said it would save the city from having to make major personnel cuts to any department but that cuts would still be needed.
The issue of the proportionality of public safety sales tax was initiated by Vice Mayor Knaack. The voter approved tax calls for proportionally 1/3 to fire and 2/3 to police. This will surface again but I think council will find that changing the proportionality of the tax is far more complicated than they know. She also publicly acknowledged that the arena management fee could very well be higher than the $6M in this budget.
Perhaps the surprise of the session was comments made by the Fire Chief. He said $1.2M to $1.3M was needed to insure “constant staffing” within the department. One would think that would be his first priority within his department budget. He also indicated that he would have “no problem shutting down a truck” to cover his department’s overtime. He virtually threatened council with his observation that they will have to make policy decisions regarding fire next year. He followed that by saying he would close a fire station if fire was not adequately funded. The nut is the definition of “adequately.”
Mayor Weiers also offered some rather interesting remarks. He noted “the angst between the fire and police departments.” He also said that the previous council should have stayed with the 1.2% sales tax increase across the board rather than the 7/10s in place now. He then called for council to express their final positions so that consensus could be achieved and direction given to staff. It broke Alvarez-Chavira-Sherwood-Knaack in favor of increased revenues to police and fire. Weiers-Hugh-Martinez were opposed and wanted to accept the staff recommendation. It appeared that fire and police had won the day but wait…
Interim City Manager Dick Bowers responded with “there is no money to find” and the proposed budget as presented is a “sound and reasonable approach.” He indicated that if council gave direction to accede to police and fire requests, cuts to all other departments would be “surgical.” It was then requested that council identify which departments they would like to see eliminated to meet the police and fire financial requests. Council then spent 5 or 10 minutes reading the material related to departments other than fire, police or enterprise departments. It was embarrassing painful to watch but reality set in when they realized how much would have to be cut. Vice Mayor Knaack finally broke and changed her direction in support of the staff recommendation. Chavira made one stab to try to get her back into the fold and she responded with, “I have the right to change my mind.” It was a tough decision to make but she did the right thing.
Two important lessons surfaced from this workshop. A majority of this council has not accepted that there is a structural budget deficit and expenses are outstripping revenues; and fire has bared its teeth with dire promises to delivery service if their demands are not met in the next year’s budget. Mayor Weiers, Councilmembers Martinez and Hugh are to be commended for holding the line and accepting that budgetary expenses must be pared and pared now.