Paul's Note - May 15th, 2020

I got calls at my office from people concerned that Fire Station 21 on Tanque Verde Road and the police department’s air support unit had been or were going to be shut down. Neither is the case right now.

Chiefs Magnus sent us a response on the air support unit:

Regarding your concerns, no decisions have been made at this point about the future of air support but the City Manager and Police Chief have indicated it is something we will be looking at carefully going forward.  This will be done in the context of future budgetary decisions, technology options, officer safety, and overall best practices. 

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being successfully used as an asset to police work on the ground in many cities around the country.  TPD already has several of these UAVs which were put in place to assist with crime scene and traffic collision mapping.  This was done after discussions with the department's Community Advisory Committee and the ACLU.  Information about this program was also shared with the City Council and the City Manager.  It is likely the police department will look to expand the UAV program in the future, but whatever happens will be done in a thoughtful, transparent, and measured way. 

He also said:

The air support unit is one of the most expensive units ( especially because of maintenance and repair costs, so a cost benefit analysis needs to be done moving forward...departments across the country are moving toward unmanned aerial vehicles based on capabilities, cost of operation, and the fact that a much broader group of personnel can operate them. It is important that we explore how they can be used in Tucson- In fact it would be irresponsible not to do so.

Fire Chief Ryan sent us a response to a constituent worried about station closures:

Bottom line up front: Fire Station 21 is not closed. It is fully operational, and it is staffed 24/7/365 with a Paramedic Engine.

Your constituent likely read/heard of City Manager Ortega's May 5, 2020, Memorandum to Mayor & Council which included several pages starting on page 10 under the heading "Department and Functional Areas within the General Fund" where Mr. Ortega set forth every director's analysis of "what a 15% reduction in expenses would entail for their specific areas."  (City Manager's Recommended Budget Memo, May 5, 2020, p. 10).  Tucson Fire's analysis of that "what if" scenario appears at pages 18 and 19 of the memo, and among the elements we identified if we had to cut our budget by 15% would include closure of two stations (Station 6 and Station 21) and a reassignment of personnel from those stations to other, busier stations to help offset overtime costs as a result of position vacancies.  (See, Memo at p. 19).

This is a budget analysis exercise only at this point, and we have no desire to close any of TFD's stations.  The analysis was prepared at the direction of the City Manager, and every director had to make some very difficult conceptual choices in order to show how deeply a 15% reduction could impact their respective departments.  In TFD's case, there is no way to reach that level of savings without some rather dramatic service reductions.

As Chief Ryan said, the City Manager presented every department with what he envisioned as the worst-case-scenario given the projections of the loss in sales tax revenue. To reiterate Chief Ryan’s words, this was a “budget exercise.” Every department came up with the choices they would have to make if the mayor and council told them they’d have to cut 15%. This was for our information as policy makers. It answered the question of what an across the board cut like that would look like for our community.

That was the worst-case scenario. In the meantime, we have been able to get money from the CARES Act that will help boost our general fund. From my perspective, cuts in first responders are not a good response to the current crisis. There will likely be some tough decisions, but none of this is written in stone right now.

I’ll keep you up to date on our budget discussions, and we’ll have some details after our council meeting next week.

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Even with restrictions being eased, many of our city’s small businesses can’t or won’t reopen right away and will continue to struggle. I know that there are a lot of you who would like to have a way to help.

A group of community minded citizens started an effort called Tucson Helping Tucson, which aims to help businesses that are having trouble. They even came up with a fun way for you to give.

Tucson Helping Tucson is raising funds to build upon a revolving loan and grant fund at the Community Investment Corp. (CIC) a nonprofit economic development organization dedicated to the prosperity of Pima County and the surrounding area since 1996.

Over the last eight weeks, THT has raised $200,000 for small loans to businesses in Tucson.  Ward 2 businesses like Dos Manos Apiaries, Odaiko Sonora and Ward 2’s own iBalance Wellness Spa are among the locally owned businesses that have received loans.

You can donate by going to TucsonHelpingTucson.com or by texting “GIVE” to (520) 253-7563. When you go to the THT page, you’ll also have an opportunity for you to watch THT TV, a variety show hosted by local comedian and DJ Frank Powers. The local performers featured in the show have also lost much of their income because of closures, and THT pays them to be on the show. The show live streams every Saturday night.

If you’d like to find out more about the Community Investment Corporation, you can visit cictucson.org.

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We started an ongoing public process last year to help plan Tucson’s transportation future. That effort continues with virtual meetings, like one my staff participated in this week.

The discussion isn’t just about widening streets. Most of the questions asked by the attendees during this week’s session focused on the need to slow traffic down rather than increase the speed that traffic flows. Many of the citizens that attended virtually emphasized pedestrian safety and bike-friendly roads.

You can give your input on MoveTucson.org. There you can fill out a survey, enter data on your transportation concerns on an interactive map or find out about future community events.

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My staff got a call from a man named Steve from New Jersey who lost his brother to COVID-19. His brother had just moved to Tucson and didn’t have a lot of friends out here yet. This meant Steve has had to make arrangements remotely. He told my staff that he’s been talking to folks from the police, local funeral directors, movers and the County Medical Examiner and that “everyone has been phenomenal.”

It’s a sad time, but nice to see that Tucson steps up when it needs to.