Glassman: "End Discussion About the Rental Tax"

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Ward 2 City Councilman Rodney Glassman has issued a statement expressing his opposition to City Manager Mike Letcher's proposed tax on residential rental payments:

This Tuesday the City Manager has proposed a "rental
tax" of 2% to be applied to properties with three or more rental units.
I DISAGREE. I opposed the rental tax last time it was proposed because I
did not feel the City had tightened its belt enough or focused the
budget on public safety, transportation and parks. Until all other
options have been exhausted, I still find it irresponsible to balance
our budget on the backs of those working families that are least likely
to afford new taxes: renters. In fact, in times of economic distress, I
am reticent about the City creating any new taxes, which is why I was
the lone vote against supporting the doubling of our hotel tax or
utility tax by the Mayor and Council this past June.

The City Manager's current recommendation would negatively impact the
operation of two Eastside Fire Stations by eliminating their
ladder-truck service (the first in Ward 2 in 2010 and the second in Ward
4 in 2011). I do not plan to support a budget that reduces our number of
cops on the streets or firefighters on trucks. We must all make
sacrifices, but

the number of men and women serving our public safety
system (from the communication workers who answer 911 calls to
paramedics on the streets) are not the appropriate place to sacrifice.
In fact, I feel our City must hunker down, as all families across the
community, and share the burden as a family.

Having been on the Council two years, I can share that Tucson is a city
that has ONLY raised its bus rates twice in the last decade, does not
allow our Parks and Recreation Department to verify income before
waiving nearly $1 million in fees for classes and services based on need
and distributes millions of tax-payer dollars to non-profits in Tucson
without any public process (as evidenced by the fact that the Manager is
simply recommending "across the board" cuts for outside agencies instead
of placing any priority on certain funding). These decisions do not
reflect a city that needs to raise taxes, but rather a city that needs
to operate more responsibly.

I am hopeful that on Tuesday the Mayor and Council will immediately
move to table any discussion of the rental tax or any new taxes at this
time. We must live within our means just like the working families of
Tucson. We must allow our Parks and Recreation and Transportation
departments to appropriately adjust rates to deal with the increased
costs of providing services and we must reverse the "political"
decisions to cut Parks & Recreation fees by half that were made by the
previous Council in 2005 and allow staff to strive for full cost
recovery for our programs.

This past Friday (New Year's Day), I received an email from the Tucson
Firefighters Association Local 479. It read, "The Tucson Firefighters
have four priorities regarding any plan that is ultimately adopted by
the Mayor and Council: 1. The safety of the citizens and our members. 2.
No layoffs of current commissioned fire personnel. 3. No complete
closures of fire stations or divisions. 4. Employee wage and benefit
reductions, although difficult, will not be unbearable." The
firefighters really summarized their position articulately, in writing,
and I agree. Our number one priority needs to be the health and wellness
of our City, our City family, our City facilities operations, and last,
but not least, working to protect the current pay and benefits levels of
those that are working within the City. The reality, as pointed out by
the Firefighter memo, is that businesses and non-profit organizations
throughout our city, state, and country are restructuring in ways never
heard before. People are losing their jobs everywhere. As a city, we
must do what is in the best interest of our citizens and that means
putting the health of our city first.

We should NOT be considering a budget proposal from our City Manager
that eliminates police officer and firefighter positions, closes
neighborhood pools in the middle of the summer heat, or creates new
taxes for those families that are in the worst position to pay. Rather,
we should be reviewing a thoughtful budget proposal that demands
cost-recovery for services individuals elect to receive, that allows
departments to confirm that those receiving tax-payer subsidies are
qualified to receive waivers, and that requires everyone in our City
family to equitably tighten their belts while only eliminating those
positions that Department heads truly feel are no longer necessary.

Belt tightening should occur from the salary of the City Manager
himself, throughout the entire City organization. Yet, it must be done
in a thoughtful way acknowledging that any proposed reduction to an
individual making $25,000 has a much greater impact on a family than the
same percentage reduction to an individual earning over $90,000. While
the Mayor and Council salaries are set by City Charter, we must lead by
example and reduce our staff salaries with the same approach. As a City,
we must all tighten our belts because we are one City family serving the
citizens of Tucson.

The Firefighters memo closed with the sentence "To be perfectly clear
-- The firefighters have only four priorities. Our goals remain the same
whether the Council determines that the landlord tax, a property tax, a
food tax, a sales tax or ANY other combination of taxes, fees or budget
cuts are necessary to balance the budget." So too, on Tuesday our Mayor
and Council should have four goals: 1. The health of the City, 2.
Maintaining a high level of City services, 3. Maintaining City
facilities, and finally, 4. Protecting our City pay levels. In that
order.

By addressing priorities 1, 2, and 3, while keeping a commitment to not
create new taxes, charge appropriately for current services and tighten
belts across the City in an equitable fashion, the City Manager should
be able to bring a more appropriate recommendation back to the City
Council on January 12 after we have given policy direction this
Tuesday.

In summary, I would like to see the Mayor and Council this Tuesday:

1. End discussion about the rental tax

2. End discussion about laying off public safety system workers (from
operators to officers)

3. End discussion about closing pools

4. Increase parks and recreation and other City fees as recommended by
the City Manager

5. Provide a mechanism for departments to validate all fee waivers

6. Direct the City Manager to open discussions with the County to look
for long-term economies of scale by regionally providing specific
services, such as parks and recreation and development services, in
addition to the regional transit service provision that was discussed
last month.

We must direct the City Manager to treat our City budget like the
budget of the working families in Tucson. We need to prioritize, then
figure out how to find savings with the items we want to keep that are
considered extra beyond core services, and then, as a family, tighten
our belts and weather the storm together.

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