Phoenix Public Safety Budgets Affected by Large Deficit

January 20, 2009

The Phoenix police and fire departments won’t be spared the budget ax as the city pares down its spending to offset a projected $270 million budget deficit.

The budget cuts aimed at the departments are expected to total $54.4 million, or around 7.5 percent. The cuts could delay filling 250 vacant police-officer positions, eliminate dozens of civilian public-safety employees and reduce some emergency resources.

Pete Gorraiz, president of the United Phoenix Firefighters Association, said approval of the proposed cuts will eventually affect emergency-response times in some way.

“We’ve deferred engines and ladders,” Gorraiz said. “It didn’t make them go backwards, but those are trucks that would have positively affected response times.”

A proposed fire station in northeastern metro Phoenix could be filled with existing staff rather than new staffers, which could lengthen response times that already fail to meet the fire department’s goal. The department wants the first fire engine at an emergency scene in five minutes or less on 90 percent of all calls.

The two stations that currently cover the area that the new station would be in charge of took more than five minutes on 66 percent of calls last year, according to department statistics.

Fire Chief Bob Khan said he and other department heads are “optimistically hoping” for a 2010 opening of the new station, though it is too soon to say how new stations could be affected.

Phoenix police plan to cut $35.1 million from the budget through attrition and by not filling vacant positions that extend from patrol to the administration, officials said.

Police Chief Jack Harris estimated the department loses 10 people per month through attrition and has “somewhere between 50 and 100 vacancies at any given moment.”

Meanwhile, the Phoenix Law Department is expected to trim nearly 15 percent of its budget, or more than $3.3 million.

Those cuts would eliminate 28 positions, including assistant city attorneys assigned to specialty details like those who help prosecute domestic-violence and federal weapons charges.

The Phoenix prosecutor’s office is the largest municipal agency of its kind in Arizona. Attorneys are responsible for nearly 55,000 misdemeanor criminal cases each year, fielding many of the cases initiated by police.

While trial cases recently decreased because of tighter drunken-driving restrictions, city attorney Gary Verberg said he still expects the budget to affect the flow of cases at municipal court.

“It might take longer for cases to work their way through the system,” Verberg said. “When you cut 15 percent, it looks draconian and it is difficult. You have to get back to your core functions and prioritize our work.”

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