Arizona cities retrenching to cope with coronavirus outbreak

Arizona cities are tightening their belts and revising previously rosy budget forecasts as the coronavirus outbreak’s financial impact takes hold in metropolitan areas and mostly rural counties alike.

Steps already being implemented or under consideration include freezing hiring, putting projects on hold and foregoing planned equipment purchases. At least two cities are already laying off or furloughing hundreds of workers each.

State budget analysts project significant drops in tax revenue, including sales tax collections that are a major source of funding for cities. Meanwhile, fuel taxes that help pay for transportation projects also will be reduced as Arizonans drive fewer miles.

Kingman is delaying the planned purchase of a new $1 million fire truck and putting off building remodeling projects.

MORE: Arizona governor signs stripped-down $11.8 billion budget

Phoenix now faces a projected $26 million shortfall instead of a $28 million surplus. “And that’s after accounting for spending reductions and a hiring freeze instituted on March 19,” City Manager Ed Zuercher said.

“I believe we have even more difficult decisions in front of us,” Mayor Kate Gallego said during Monday’s City Council meeting.

Zuercher has asked each department to list cuts adding up to 25% in case they’re needed, Gallego noted. “We are trying to tighten our belts along with everyone.”

Prescott has already frozen many expenditures and vacancies while halting employee travel for both cost and health reasons.

Prescott's Budget and Finance director Mark Woodfill plans to present the City Council with a revised budget proposal with “a lot of contingencies,” and he suggested leaving open the possibility of a property tax increase.

Publishing a notice of intent wouldn’t require the council to take the step, he said, but it would leave the option open until June when a final decision would have to be made and more is known about the economy.

Tempe on Monday furloughed 495 temporary employees, most of whom work for departments that operate the library, arts and culture facilities, community centers, recreation programs and volunteer services.

“This was a heartbreaking decision because our part-time, temporary employees are the face of Tempe for many people in our community,” City Manager Andrew Ching said.

Tempe anticipates having to make other budget cuts as restaurants scale back operations and other businesses close temporarily, reducing sales tax revenue.

Mesa is laying off 23 full-time workers and 455 part-time employees and not filling 35 vacant positions as it shutters libraries, parks and recreation facilities and arts center.

City Manager Chris Brady recommended that Mesa keep the facilities closed until October for both cost and health reasons, but some City Council members said they’d like to open the doors again earlier if possible.

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In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.