Phoenix braces for more cuts to services

Phoenix braces for more cuts to services

by Scott Wong – Nov. 27, 2009 12:00 AM

The Arizona Republic

Closed.

That's a word Phoenix residents are encountering more often as they head to public libraries, swimming pools and after-school and senior centers.

While garbage trucks are still rolling through the city each week and firefighters still show up within minutes of a 911 call, Phoenix leaders and residents say they are seeing a gradual erosion of services that is expected to worsen in the coming year. Reading with her brother and parents outside the Cesar Chavez Library earlier this week, Laura Hernandez, 17, said her family used to make weekly visits to study, check out books and use the Internet. But with budget cuts forcing the south Phoenix branch to close at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends, the Hernandez family now drops by just once a month.

“If they close early, there isn't enough time to get your homework done,” the high-school senior said.

Over the past seven years, Phoenix has cut $360 million from its $1 billion-plus general-fund budget, which pays for most city services. About $156 million worth of service cuts were implemented this year.

Mayor Phil Gordon says that without new taxes, more federal aid and a quick economic recovery, Phoenix may be forced next year to take the unprecedented step to ax entire departments and lay off police officers and firefighters.

By Monday, city departments are required to propose up to 30 percent in cuts to address declining sales-tax collections – about $23 million, or 9 percent, below projections from January to August – and threats by the Legislature to keep state revenue normally shared among cities. The City Council will hold public hearings in February before voting on a new spending plan in April.

But the dozens of cuts made last spring already are taking a toll on the city's nearly 1.6 million residents, many of whom are relying on city services now more than ever.

Waiting out the crisis

Shorter library hours and some Sunday closures mean wait times for computers can be as along as two hours for those looking for jobs or doing research.

Two senior centers have been shuttered, forcing residents to drive or take a shuttle to another facility for a meal and social activities.

And with buses running less frequently, those dependent on public transit are waiting longer – and paying more – for a ride.

Phoenix's recreational and cultural points of pride have taken a hit as well. Half of the softball leagues and swim teams have been shelved. Fewer employees are staffing the Japanese Friendship Garden and Irish Cultural Center.

“At a certain point if you keep cutting and cutting, you start eating away at the fabric of what makes your city your city, what makes it different…

more after the jump Phoenix braces for more cuts to services.

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