Karin's Budget Note: Tuesday, March 25, 2014



Dear Tucsonans,

On February 7th I shared these thoughts with you regarding the City’s budget:

…The administration and management of Parks and Recreation offers an example of a place to start with that savings approach. Let me first emphasize that the Department employs close to 500 people; collectively they work hard and offer great service to Tucson. In fact, the average Parks employee deserves a revamp of the management and administration of Parks and Recreation just as I believe the public does.

Here’s a spreadsheet I just compiled, pulling from budget books 2010-2014:


Parks and Recreation Department

                                                       2010 Actual              2014 (Current FY) Budget

Total Budget                                $46,970,000                                   $40,445,000   

Total Admin                                   $5,534,000                                     $4,474,000

Admin Positions (Total Dept)          52 (592)                                          40 (497)   



General Services

Total Budget                                 $49,218,000                                  $58,921,000

Total Admin                                       $750,000                                        $771,000

Admin Positions (Total Dept)             7 (324)                                          7 (229)     



Tucson Fire

Total Budget                                 $82,734,000                                  $94,023,000

Total Admin                                    $1,061,000                                    $1,150,000

Admin Positions (Total Dept)        11 (732.5)                                         10 (753)   



So according to our own budget documents, Parks and Recreation carries administrative and management expenses four times that of our Fire Department and almost six times that of General Services. I shouldn’t have to dig and recalculate for days to get at this truth as a Council Member, and you can bet I won’t be supporting the usual approach to budgeting now that these kinds of patterns have become clearer to me.

The City Manager is absolutely on the right track in demanding that the City squeeze expenses from the top and middle of the organizational chart rather than at the ground/services level. Within certain departments, and across common functions that are embedded in multiple departments, there can be significant savings identified. I would suggest that before we fill any more management or administrative positions in the City we first consider reassigning people already in our organization with the skills we need to the areas where they’re most needed. I would also expect us to reevaluate every consulting contract to be sure any outside expertise being paid for does not exist in any corner of any City agency first. We may need specialists from time to time, but we better be leveraging all of the managerial and administrative talent we’ve hired over the years before we approve any costs that burden our delivery of services.

I met with the Manager last week. He and I quickly began rattling off a similar list of specific administrative and functional expenses that concern us. I know he’s been working with our Executive Leadership Team (ELT-Department Directors) with the expectation that they will provide concrete plans that will impact our FY2015 budget and beyond. On Tuesday I asked that the Manager’s planned budget presentation include a specific accounting of those savings and strategies identified for implementation during FY2015.

Budgeting and operating in silos can obscure important patterns. Parks and Recreation might not even be the best example and I doubt it’s the only one. It’s the Manager’s job to push these improvements as far as we possibly can. I applaud him for insisting that we revamp as a whole entity, demanding that priority be given to the on-the-ground services our community pays for us to deliver. These patterns didn’t all start under the current ELT’s watch, but this is the team that can identify real breakthroughs in order to serve our City better.

Today we will begin discussions on the specific recommendations the City Manager is formulating. Those approaches include the elimination of managerial/administrative positions, many of which lie within the Parks and Recreation Department. None of us take lightly the prospect of layoffs; at the same time the Manager is right to evaluate our staffing levels to eliminate areas where we have grown “top heavy.” It is unacceptable to close swimming pools and contemplate service reductions for the public if those services can be provided with reduced administrative/overhead costs.

Some will frame this as the result of the very modest pay increase we gave to workers recently. I agree with the City Manager that our frontline workers (who received higher percentage raises than upper management staff) deserved that pay increase. Neither they, nor the taxpaying public, should bear the brunt of bureaucratic bloat at the top of any department. We have to face reality and realign our resources precisely so more money supports direct service to the public. That’s what we started doing with the structure of the pay raise we approved; that’s what we can continue doing by reorganizing our efforts for the future. It won’t be easy, but it’s the right thing to do.

I’ll keep you posted and welcome your views as the budget process progresses.