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Phoenix Leaders Concerned With Arizona's Budget

Arizona’s biggest city is sounding the alarm about the state’s budget. Some Phoenix leaders are concerned a financial shortfall at the capital could hurt public safety funding at city hall.

They’re worried about fewer dollars for police officer training and the 911 system.  Both areas were addressed during last week’s public safety subcommittee meeting.

“The state is facing at least a $100 million deficit," said John Wayne Gonzales, a government liaison for Phoenix.

It’s his job to know what’s happening at the capital and how bills and budgets could affect the city.

“Unless revenues don’t change they’re going to have to cut funds or sweep funds or what have you," Gonzales said.

Some of the funds are funneled to cities, like the criminal justice enhancement fund. It’s made up of surcharges on fees and penalties. Some of the money goes to the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, known as AZ-POST. And some of its money goes to Phoenix to train officers there.

“Over the last five years what’s happened is the state has seen a decrease in those funds. Matter of fact just last year alone they saw 35 percent decrease which is about $2.5 million lost to AZPOST meaning that they don’t have the revenues potentially going forward to help pay for us to train police officers at our academym," Gonzales said. "Which also of note is that the Phoenix Police Department not only runs the academy, trains the academy, but we also train other officers from other jurisdictions from around the state of Arizona.”

Gonzales suggests the the city go to the governor and Arizona Legislature and try to find a way to make up for the funding shortfall.

“Because if we don’t not only is the city of Phoenix going to have to find the money somewhere but also other law enforcement agencies are going to be in the same place where they’re going ot have to try to find monies to train their officers," he said.

The other funding issue focuses on the 911 system and could impact everyone with a phone. First, some background: In 2001, the state established the telecommunications excise tax – more simply known as the 911 tax. It’s a monthly fee on every phone bill — landlines and cell.  It’s specifically meant to pay for 911 technology and capital improvements.

“Phoenix has the biggest system. Phoenix Police Department is the primary receiver of phone calls that then get diverted to other agencies as needed so this computer technology is so important especially now that we’re going to text to 911 in the region, these monies are so important," said Gonzales.

When the tax took effect, it added 37 cents to every monthly bill. The legislation included automatic reductions so the monthly tax dropped to 28 cents and then to 20 cents. Gonzales told the subcommittee the tax doesn’t generate enough revenue and he shared an idea from the Maricopa Association of Governments.

“Currently state law only provides that you can provide 20 cents to the bill, to the monthly bill. An idea is that you could charge the 20 cents — this was something  that wasn’t brought up when law was passed about 19 years ago — per device," he said. "So you would have 20 cents for each phone that’s on the list. So if you have five phones instead of 20 cents a month you’re looking at a dollar. But all that money has to go into a fund that then pays for this important technology that we pay for police and fire equipment.”  

That could be an interesting sell. You may recall Gov. Doug Ducey’s campaign pledge to cut taxes every year he’s in office. The state legislative session will begin in early January. Members must come up with a balanced budget by July 1.

As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.