May 3, 2005
The Mesa City Council faces some tough budget choices this week. The people who elected them may be in the same boat within a year.
The council continued Monday to sift through the $678.5 million budget proposed for the next two years while trying to set money aside for a debt load that will soar in 2007. Council members suggested numerous cuts, which will be voted on Thursday.
A split in political philosophy is emerging, and members on both sides of the divide said Mesans will have to decide how much service they want from their city.
"We have to make a decision, and I don’t know how we get that from the community," said Councilman Tom Rawles, who is pushing for the city’s role to be limited to police, fire, and other services he says are "appropriate and essential."
Many programs were suggested for possible cuts, with Rawles, Mayor Keno Hawker and Councilwoman Janie Thom pushing to have adult art students cover the whole cost of classes, and seeking closer examination of diversity, marketing and communication, and other departments.
City officials are trying to finish the preliminary budget before two public meetings scheduled to get voter input. The final budget will be adopted in June.
The city’s Mesa 2025 committee is studying how the city can stay afloat financially. One recommendation — adopting a property tax — could be before
voters next spring.
Possible cuts to be discussed at the 7:30 a.m. Thursday study session include slashing or eliminating the park ranger program and keeping just one of three libraries open on Sundays, in response to lower staffing.
City funding for the downtown holiday lights display, eliminated two years ago and brought back last year, could be rolled back. Grants to arts groups could be revisited.
Members also want to rescue some programs staff recommended cutting, including junior high school resource officers and the Mesa Day and Constitution Week celebrations.
Several members said the 3 percent increase in water, sewer, trash and gas rates recommended by city staff should be higher.