‘Sweeping cuts’ to Chandler services feared if measure fails

Being an advocated for Chandler’s Prop. 300 override measure is a lot like being a Realtor in Antarctica. In both cases, for all of the good points that can be emphasized, it is the climate that turns out to be the killer.

Known as a “home rule override,’’ the same measure has been approved by Chandler residents with a wide margin each of the  seven times it has been brought to a vote.

The override allows cities to exceed the state-mandated spending limits if the city’s income exceeds the amount set by the state, a statute that was written into state law in 1980.

In the intervening 30 years, Chandler has been a model of fiscal restraint. The city holds an AAA bond rating and large cash reserve. It also has the second lowest tax rate in the Valley and the Valley’s lowest employee-to-resident ratio .

Given that track record of fiscal responsibility and with no organized opposition, Prop. 300 advocates would seem to have few fears about a defeat at the polls under normal circumstances.

Ah, but there’s the matter of the climate.

The May 18 election comes at a time when voter distrust of government appears to have reached its apex as evidenced by the emergence of the Tea Party movement. And the presence of Prop. 101 – a one percent tax measure to raise money for the state – only further enflames the anti-spending sentiment.

It is for that reason that Chandler Prop. 300 advocates find themselves driven to inform voters on what the measure is or, more accurately, what it is not.

“This is absolutely not a tax increase measure,’’ says Chandler council member Rick Heumann. “That’s our greatest fear, to be honest. We are afraid that voters will look at Prop.. 300 in the same way they look at Prop. 100.

“But there is no comparison.’’

Well, there is one comparison.

In either case, a failure at the polls could reap devastating effects.

“If Prop. 300 doesn’t pass, it’s not matter of going in and making surgical cuts,’’ Heumann says. “It’s going to be sweeping cuts.’’

Heumann estimates a no vote would cut $49 million from the city’s budget.

To put that in perspective, he said, if the city were to shut down all of its community services – closing every park, pool, library and senior center – the city would still be $18 million short of meeting the state limit of spending.

“That means, in addition to all those things, we would be forced to close police and fire stations,’’ Heumann said.

In fact, a failure would put the city in the bizarre situation of cutting hundreds of jobs and all of those services while having in excess of $49 million in its budget.

“We run a pretty lean operation,’’ Heumann says. “We’re not like the federal government. We can’t print money. We are mandated to have a balanced budget.

“At the same time, we have a lot of pride in what we do as a city, from the services we offer our citizens. It is not a coincidence that major companies such as Intel are investing huge amounts of money to operate in the city of Chandler.

“They like being here and their workers like living here because of the services we provide and the fact that we are responsible with the tax money we take in.’’

Heumann says the biggest obstacle facing Prop. 300 is confusion about what the measure means.

“If the voters are informed, we are very confident it will pass,’’ Heumann said.

“The bottom line is Chandler is not asking for a tax increase. We are just asking to be allowed to use the money we generate so that we can maintain the quality of services our citizens deserve and expect.’’

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