Most of the $25 million Mesa budget cut list that would eliminate city jobs, possibly close museums and shut down youth programs if voters reject new city taxes was given the go-ahead Wednesday by the City Council.
The council — after months of saying this list was only a recommendation — adopted the reductions with only a few notable exceptions, including full support of Williams Gateway Airport and continued membership in a regional economic group.
“This is huge,” City Manager Chris Brady said of the council’s approval. “They’ve never done that before.”
Prior to the list’s approval, many council members expressed regret over the large cuts.
“This has been very challenging,” said Vice Mayor Claudia Walters. “None of the suggestions are personal. It isn’t that we think someone is doing a bad job.”
Mesa voters will decide May 16 whether to implement a property tax at a rate of $1 for $100 of limited assessed property value and increase the city sales tax rate to 1.75 percent.
The list of proposed cuts is designed so that various programs and positions depend on passage of either the property tax or the sales tax. Programs considered a higher priority depend on the sales tax because it is considered more likely to pass.
Williams Gateway Airport was one of the council’s primary concerns in the proposed cuts. The original list recommended roughly $2 million in airport cuts. Now, the most Mesa will cut is $1 million — only if both taxes fail — with the other $1 million coming from either land sales or a possible agreement that would add Phoenix as an airport board member.
This brings welcome relief to airport officials, who warned such a drastic cut would have closed some runways and reduced night fueling hours. It also would greatly reduce Mesa’s ownership in the facility. Currently, Mesa contributes $2.5 million a year toward the airport — the most of any of the participating municipalities.
“That is really good news,” said airport executive director Lynn Kusy. “We’re pleased to hear about the level of support we are receiving from the council.”
The council for the first time factored in the cost of an auditor’s office, estimated at $374,000 per year. Voters will decide whether to approve funding
an auditor who would report directly to the council.
The council also agreed to pay its annual $176,372 dues to the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.
In addition, the council wants to find a sponsor to stock two city lakes with fish for $8,000.
At the end of the meeting, the council wound up with a roughly $250,000 deficit beyond the $25 million shortfall, which Brady said should be easily overcome.
To raise additional revenue, the council agreed to charge fire inspection fees, expecting to raise $300,000 more a year. Mesa currently does not charge for that service.
Walters proposed a 20-cent-a-month environmental fee to be included on the utility bill. The estimated $273,600 raised by the fee would fund four household hazardous waste events each year and reinstate the Clean/Green Sweep trash program that the council had already agreed to cut.
Other council members expressed an interest in additional environmental fees to fund the removal of arsenic from the city’s water system, as required by a new federal regulation.
The council has not adopted these fees. If it does, they would be in addition to the planned 5 percent hike for all city utilities.
The council will meet several more times to discuss budget issues, with a draft budget scheduled to be presented to the council May 4.
Where budget stands
AGREEMENTS REACHED BY CITY COUNCIL:
Implement fire inspection fee to raise $300,000 Charge housing complexes fees to participate in Police Crime-Free Activity
• City Council Auditor Office — $374,000 (if approved May 16)
• Greater Phoenix Economic Council membership — $176,372
• Mesa Community College takeover of adult Mesa Arts Center classes
• Arizona Museum for Youth hours
• Number of municipal security guards
• Utility bill environmental fee (in addition to a planned 5 percent increase in utilities)
• Possibly selling ads for bus shelters
• Discussion about school resource officers