As of Oct. 8 registered voters could begin voting by early ballot in the City of Tucson’s Nov. 3 election. Voters who will fill three seats on the City Council, a city budget override and the Public Safety First Initiative.
If passed, the Public Safety First Initiative — Proposition 200 on the ballot — would place a mandate in the city charter to hire 2.4 police officers per 1,000 population and set fire department response times at 4 minutes. This is not well thought-out public policy. It is rigid and fiscally unaccountable. Proposition 200 has no funding source, and it ties the hands of elected officials, no matter who is elected to the city council.
Ironically, some proponents have suggested city outside agency funding as a source of revenue for the initiative. This would include taking funding from programs such as Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities (TREO) and the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau. When cities lack strong economic development and jobs, crime increases. It is unwise to take these funds away. Besides the funding would not fully cover the costly mandate anyway.
For years the city has made public safety its highest priority. For example, 64 percent of the fiscal year 2010 general fund budget is designated for public safety related expenditures.
If passed, Proposition 200 will increase county property taxes, already the highest in the state, to hire prosecutors and operates the jails and Superior Court.
City property tax increases would be needed to build new fire and police stations.
Placing this proposal in the city charter is not the solution to controlling crime or increasing the efficiency of fire protection. The Tucson Police website indicates that both the numbers and rates of violent crime have been reduced by more than 35 percent since 1995. This can be attributed to police efficiency and effectiveness with the help of responsive and committed citizens. Also, the Tucson Fire chief has publicly stated the response time required by the initiative is already met the majority of the time.
There is widespread community support for Tucson’s police and fire departments. Both are nationally recognized for their outstanding professionalism. This measure does little to make Tucson safer. I urge voters to vote “no” on Proposition 200.
Proposition 400 was put on the ballot by the Mayor and Council and is in response to state spending limits for local governments set by voters in 1980. The Legislature recognized the limit might not meet local needs for services so it provided “Home Rule” choices for alternative limits to be approved by voters. These budget overrides have been successfully exercised by 85 percent of Arizona’s cities and towns.
If federal grants awarded to Tucson put the city’s budget over the state expenditure limit, the override — if approved by voters — would enable the city to use that money. The budget override will allow the city to maintain improvements to police and fire protection, parks and recreation, and streets. It will also be able to use already existing fee increases to expand mass transit, support the water utility, and meet environmental service demands.
Proposition 400 allows Tucson to define its spending limits locally with the balanced budget adopted by Mayor and Council; it allows the city to spend the revenues that it collects. Most important, Proposition 400 will not increase taxes and it expires in four years. Vote “yes” on Proposition 400.
Contact Carol West at firstname.lastname@example.org. West served on the Tucson City Council from 1999-2007 and before that worked as a council aide from 1987-1995.