Mesa to reveal financial forecast - East Valley Tribune: News

Mesa to reveal financial forecast

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Posted: Tuesday, November 18, 2008 10:57 pm | Updated: 12:01 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Thursday is anticipated to bring one of the most difficult public revelations for anyone with an interest in Mesa. That's when the City Council will get an official picture of the revised financial forecast in light of revenue shortfall and how the city management plans to deal with it.

Mesa faces layoffs in economic crunch

Mesa's debt grows as sales tax revenue falls

Mesa offers voluntary severance to staff

Department heads have, since late last week, been informing an as-yet-unconfirmed number of employees that their positions are being cut. Dismissing earlier media reports that the layoff figure is 70, City Manager Chris Brady said the number is "definitely different." Brady did not say how many positions are being eliminated.

Speculation about the number of layoffs ranges from 400 to 600.

Since Thursday, department heads have been informing employees about their status. Some found out they will be out of a job Tuesday.

Some departments, such as Parks and Recreation, and Planning, are likely losing 50 to 70 employees.

Others such as Code Compliance are losing the equivalent of more than 11 full-time positions, according to city staff members.

Those laid off will have a job until the end of the year. The city also earlier this month offered a voluntary severance package.

"It's very painful," Brady said. "As hard as it is about the message of layoffs, we really are trying to be as fair and respectful as possible." Brady said remaining employees would also most likely have to deal with "compensation adjustments."

The grim news has led to low morale at city offices. The leaders aren't painting a pretty picture, either.

"We're on the threshold of layoffs," Mesa fire Chief Harry Beck said Monday.

Apart from the gloom among employees fearing layoffs, those remaining will have to deal with the significant restructuring that's being planned for numerous departments.

Brady said some departments are expected to be affected more than others by the revamp - being termed a significant shift in how things are done in Mesa.

The Planning Department, for instance, is especially hard-hit because of a weakening construction economy.

"We have to see how we can operate as a city in the years going forward and see how the city will deliver services," Brady said.

Exact changes in service will be revealed on Thursday.

But a handful of employees contacted by the Tribune say they expect major reductions in many city services that residents expect.

The worsening national economic situation has trickled down to a $5.4 million dip in actual sales tax revenue compared to what was projected between June and September this fiscal year. The city's budgeted sales and use tax revenue for this fiscal year is $147.2 million.

"We don't know for sure when this slide will end," Brady said, adding that it makes it harder to plan for the future.

Mesa had budgeted 4,044 full- and part-time workers before realizing layoffs would be necessary.

With public safety comprising a bulk of the city's operating budget, union leaders are concerned about the changes being planned.

Bryan Jeffries, president of the Mesa United Firefighters Association, has been in touch with officials regarding the changes.

Jeffries said there are some significant elements in 20 percent of the plan, which includes layoffs, that are "very, very serious and problematic issues for us."

Also, Jeffries is concerned about "dramatic changes in the department's response model and the resources that will remain to serve the public."

The fire department budget is likely to include $3 million in cuts for this fiscal year and an additional $5 million to $6 million for the next fiscal year.

After Thursday's study session, Jeffries plans to meet with fire department employees to show them an alternative plan, get their input and then relay these to the council.

Fabian Cota, president of the Mesa Police Association, said he's concerned about plans that include taking officers from traffic and other units and putting them on patrol.

The police department faces cuts between $10 million and $15 million.

Cota said he would rather see the city tapping other resources, like levying a secondary property tax on existing debt.

"A good portion of the budget goes to pay interest on that debt," Cota said. "If they levy secondary property tax, it would free up the debt."

Mesa's outstanding debt is in the $250 million range.

"All the other fat has been cut," Cota said. "We need more officers on our streets, not less."

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