Tempe recently paid $3,800 so employees could attend a luncheon where Councilman Ben Arredondo picked up a community service award, an expense coming at a time when the city may be facing a multimillion dollar budget shortfall.
The Valle del Sol Profiles of Success Hispanic Leadership Awards Celebration, held on Sept. 5 in Phoenix, is just one of many events attended by Tempe officials and staffers. In a typical year, more than $50,000 is set aside for banquets and luncheons, city spokeswoman Nikki Ripley said.
These expenses are under examination while the city scrambles to find more than $2.7 million to take care of financial liabilities that appeared soon after the fiscal year began in July. Even more, the first two months of sales tax revenues collected were down nearly 10 percent from the same period last year, leading city officials to warn of a deficit that could grow to $7 million.
While Arredondo said cuts need to be made, with nothing sacred, he was unwilling to specifically put the banquet budget on the chopping block. Instead, he said he would defer to city staff's suggestions.
Arredondo refused to answer when asked whether it was appropriate for the city to spend thousands of dollars so staff members could attend his award luncheon.
City Manager Charlie Meyer, who attended the luncheon, did say such spending was worthy of examination.
"We need to be looking at everything, including the events the city participates in," Meyer said.
The City Council, during its meeting tonight, was slated to discuss discretionary spending.
Community Relations Manager Shelly Hearn controls the $22,000 used by council members and top city staffers for banquets and luncheons. Due to the budget crunch, changes are being made in how that money is spent, she said.
"From this point forward ... I intend to only purchase seats for council members who are interested or available rather than purchase a table up front and try to fill it," Hearn said.
According to Hearn, 37 city employees attended the Valle del Sol luncheon at the Phoenix Convention Center. Workers had the option of staying for a post-luncheon reception, although they would have to file for vacation time; two employees did so, Hearn said.
The expenditures by department broke down as: $1,800 from Diversity; $1,000 from Community Relations; $500 from Parks and Recreation; and $500 from Community Services.
Also purchasing tables at $1,000 each, Hearn said, were Arredondo, the city's firefighter and police unions, and the Service Employees International Union. In addition, an unknown benefactor paid for a table in the name of the Tempe Community Council.
Arredondo was one of 10 people honored by Valle del Sol for their contributions to the Hispanic community. The organization says this event is its primary fundraiser for its behavioral health, human service and leadership development programs.
"I'm very proud of the award," Arredondo said.