Tempe should spend less, cut more before raising taxes - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Tempe should spend less, cut more before raising taxes

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Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net.

Posted: Friday, May 13, 2011 5:45 am | Updated: 11:28 pm, Wed May 25, 2011.

Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman and the city council want to raise property taxes. A median valued home of $149,500 would see an annual increase of $58.31.

In 2008 the council voted to keep property taxes elevated in order to pay city bills. Last year they increased our water bills 10 percent.

Tempe has become an expensive city to operate, and live in. But should it be? Consider the following:

Tempe, population 161,719, has 1,602 employees or 9.9 per 1,000 residents, the most in the East Valley. Mesa, population 439,041, has 8.2; Chandler, population 236,123, 6.6; and Gilbert, population 208,453, has 5.7.

Tempe’s city council is the highest paid in the East Valley. The part-time mayor makes $54,409 annually and council members get $27,747. Other East Valley mayors and council members average $37,000 and $19,000.

Last year Tempe coerced us to vote for the fourth sales tax increase since 1994 or suffer cuts in police officers on patrol.

Police protection has always been the rallying cry when it comes to taxing and spending.

But Tempe’s costs for policing are disproportionately high when compared to other East Valley cities.

Tempe spends $410 per resident for policing — Chandler $350, Mesa $321 and Gilbert $176. Tucson spends $382. Arizona State University has its own police force.

Since 2003, calls for police service in Tempe have dropped from nearly 200,000 to 156,889 in 2010. Crime is down across the East Valley.

But since 2007, Tempe PD’s upper ranks have swollen.

In 2007 there were 14 command officers above the rank of sergeant and approximately 335 sworn officers of all ranks. Today there are 19 command officers above the rank of sergeant and 340 sworn officers. Three of the current command officers retired from the Tempe PD, were rehired and are now double-dippers — collecting retirement benefits while being employed by the same agency at the same time.

In 2007 there was one civilian support assistant for the chief. Now there are three.

Even with two veteran command officers with law degrees on the chief’s staff and the city legal department available, Tempe PD keeps a civilian legal advisor on the payroll who is paid six-figures.

Tempe has three assistant police chiefs, the same as Mesa. But Mesa has more than twice as many officers to oversee — 777 to 340. Gilbert PD has 226 officers, two commanders and no assistant chiefs.

Tempe’s chief has the highest top pay in the East Valley — and $15,000 more than Tucson.

More command officers at headquarters means fewer officers on patrol.

Tempe’s policing costs go beyond command bloat.

Tempe is 40 square miles and has four police stations. Mesa covers 133 square miles with four stations, Chandler has 65 square miles and three stations and Gilbert with 76 square miles has just two.

A 2010 Tempe city memo said the police department has 84 take-home vehicles. Chandler PD has 317 officers and half the number of take home-vehicles.

City and police officials declined to answer questions regarding police command officers and support staff driving city vehicles up to 65 miles or more round-trip to and from work.

The city council’s 2007 spending of $258,000 at the police chief’s request to repaint police patrol cars black and white instead of transitioning to a new color scheme over time like other East Valley cities have done successfully demonstrated Tempe’s propensity to waste tax dollars.

If Tempe spent per resident what Mesa spends on policing, they’d save taxpayers over $14 million a year.

Before Mayor Hallman and the city council take more of our money to pay for their excesses, they need to cut more, spend less and then talk to me and other Tempe residents about another tax increase.

• Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net

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