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How will Tucson pay for $30 Mil. in raises?

Unfilled job slots and surprise budget boost
Posted at 6:34 PM, May 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-05 22:16:46-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Tucson City employees are in line for their first raises in a long time. Tucson City Council committed to 30 million dollars in raises overall. But how can the city cover that cost, especially during a pandemic?

There’s been a lot of concern about Tucson Police officers leaving for better pay in other departments, but that’s a problem citywide where workers with years of experience move on and leave the city short staffed.

Linda Hatfield leads the union that covers the city’s white collar workers. She’s happy to see the city promising the first real raises she’s seen in about ten years.

She says it’s better for taxpayers if the city holds onto its workers.

“Because every time you lose people, it’s really costing the city money. So as a city taxpayer you want people to stay and you want people to be proficient at their jobs.”

Raise amounts will be based on the job market for a worker’s specific skills.

So how can the city of Tucson raise employee pay by $30 million and not reach deeper into your pocket?

City Manager Mike Ortega says a lot of the money designed to keep city employees comes from all those open job slots the city is not paying for.

“What that means is there are positions that we just physically can't afford or can't fill because people aren't taking them. And so what we've been able to do is utilize those dollars to cover this cost not only this coming year but going forward.”

And Ortega says if improved pay helps fill more vacant jobs there should still be enough empty slots to pay for the plan.

The City Manager’s budget memo says the city’s income is up despite the pandemic, and in some cases because of it.

We only have time to sample some of the numbers.

The city planned on collecting about $527 Million from a variety of sources. Now it expects more than $572 Million---that’s more than 45 million dollars---an 8.5 percent jump.

Most of the city’s money comes from business licences and sales tax.

Instead of the roughly $205 million it expected, it’s collecting more than $231 Million; mainly because retail and construction did much better than projected. That’s almost $26 million---nearly a 13 percent jump.

The city budgeted for just under $53 million in sales tax income. Now it expects more than $61 million for an $8.5 million jump---up more than 16 percent.

The pandemic saved the city about $2.4 million in reduced costs because city workers did less training, less travel and didn’t use vehicles and utilities as much.

The pandemic did cost the city in reduced tourism. For example, the transient occupancy tax collected on hotel rooms was only $7.4 million. The city expected $12.3 million.---a $4.9 million drop that works out to almost 40 percent.