Tempe residents would be less safe and fire-response times longer if voters fail to approve a two-tenths of one percent increase in Tempe’s sales tax on May 18.
That warning came from Rich Woerth, president of Tempe Fire Fighters, and Jeff McHenry, president of Tempe Police Officers Assn., during a news conference held April 13 on the steps of Tempe City Hall.
Former Mayor Neil Giuliano, who is chairing a citywide campaign on behalf of Prop. 401, the enabling measure, headlined the event.
An $8 million decrease in sales tax revenue will require the city of Tempe to make drastic cuts across the board, including elimination of 37 patrol officers and 12 fire fighters, public-safety officials have noted.
McHenry proudly pointed out that, with a fully staffed police department, Tempe witnessed a sharp decrease in crime in 2009.
“Robberies were down 28 percent, burglaries down 18 percent and auto thefts dropped by 66 percent,” said McHenry. However, the 37 proposed staff reductions if the measure fails will mean cuts in Crime Prevention, Gang Squad, Anti-Narcotics and Traffic Safety divisions, he noted.
At the Fire Department, the First Response Dive team that routinely responds to water-related emergency calls at Tempe Town Lake would be eliminated, along with a complete engine company.
“If you cut one engine company, our response time is going to go up and the level of service is going to be diminished. Right now we’re looking at a 10 percent cut in the direct services to our citizens in 911 calls,” said Woerth.
And, he said, “We‘ve been fiscally responsible, taking probably some of the biggest cuts around the state and have agreed to voluntarily to take another 2 percent cut in wages and benefits to help the city and help the citizens of Tempe.”
Tempe officials insist that the sales tax increase would be only a short-term remedy. If Prop. 401 passes the Tempe sales tax would be increased from 1.8 percent to 2.0 percent and expire in four years.
“And by then sales tax revenue in Tempe will have returned to normal levels,” said Giuliano, who is chairing a Keep Tempe First Committee.
Giuliano is leading the charge to galvanize support for the passage of Prop. 401 and is confident the residents of Tempe will pass the measure.
In an interview prior to the news conference, Giuliano said:
“Tempeans very much appreciate and enjoy a great level of service, and the temporary Tempe city sales tax increase will allow us to get through these next few years and maintain most of the level of service we already have, including public safety, without having to make any additional cuts to programs and services Tempe residents currently enjoy.”
Mary Ann Miller, president and CEO of the Tempe Chamber of Commerce, also supports the temporary tax increase.
“The business community traditionally doesn’t like general tax increases, but extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” she said.
“We have looked at this very carefully and the city, under the leadership of the council and city manager, has massaged their budget as much as possible; they have streamlined and put together so many ideas for cutting costs, but it is not enough, unfortunately.
“On behalf of the Tempe Chamber and business community, we fully support this tax increase,” Miller said.
In addition to cuts in the Police and Fire departments, failure of Prop. 401 would result in other city services being cut or having their hours reduced, including reductions at the senior center, youth programs, library and parks and recreation programs.