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Phoenix Budget Hearings Underway
"Save the community centers!"
That’s the message senior citizens gave the Phoenix City Council at a budget hearing in Sunnyslope on Tuesday.
A few centers might be closed to help reduce the city’s massive deficit. Phoenix faces a nearly $38 million shortfall in the budget that starts in July. The city manager has recommended deep spending cuts to close the gap.
Patsy Bauer is among seniors who told councilmembers the proposals would hurt the city’s most vulnerable populations.
"It seems like every time there are sacrifices to be made it’s the old people, the poor people and the children. Well, we have already given our sacrifices," Bauer said as appplause was heard.
Three community centers that the city has not yet identified would be closed. But, Lilian Barker warned the city will face hidden expenses by cutting services for the elderly.
“Senior centers save money, because if we keep seniors healthy we actually save the cost of their medical care,” Barker said.
She said a lot of seniors go to the city community centers to attend exercise classes, play bingo and to feel connected with other people.
Betsy Durkin said the centers also keep young people out of trouble.
"What kind of message are we sending our children if we close the community center? What kind of future are we giving them if we are living them on the street? Where are we going to send them?” Durkin said.
She said kids can find a safe place to play sports, create art or participate in theater at the community centers.
Greta Rogers scolded city council for reducing spending in past budgets.
"We’ve cut our way to the bone. There’s nothing left. We have to raise revenue,” Rogers said.
Rogers and a few others urged city council to reinstate the food tax and send a retail sales tax hike proposal to voters to put more money in Phoenix coffers.
Mayor Greg Stanton said these are only recommendations. He said the budget will change a lot over the next few weeks.
"We don’t want to cut these incredibly important services to the citizens, and that is why this budget process, hearing from the public, I listen and I think the message has gotten across loud and clear,” Stanton said.
But, he stopped short of recommending other city programs that could see cuts. Right now, three city pools and two municipal courtrooms might be shutdown. Some funding for homeless shelters and city arts programs may also be reduced. Plus, 350 city jobs could be eliminated, but police officers and firefighters would not be laid off.
City council will make a final vote on the budget on May 20.