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Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Phoenix city council approves budget despite objections to police funding increase 

The budget gives an additional $27 million from the general fund to Phoenix police.

PHOENIX (CN) — The Phoenix City Council voted to approve next year’s operating budget despite objections to the Phoenix Police Department's increased share of the city’s general fund. 

The eight council members and Mayor Kate Gallego approved the fiscal year 2024-25 budget Tuesday morning without any questions or discussion. During public comment, citizens complained that the council members weren’t listening to the needs of the public.

“I would really appreciate it if you all look at me and acknowledge my words while I’m speaking,” Phoenix resident Rebecca Denee told the council. “Often you don’t.” 

Facing a projected deficit of more than $120 million for the following two years, the council voted to set aside the coming year’s $80 million surplus to balance the books as best as it can. The projected deficit is largely due to recent state laws reducing the amount of taxes the city can collect. 

Senate Bill 1828, sponsored by Chandler Republican J.D. Mesnard, changed the state’s income tax system from a graduated rate to a flat rate in 2022. A year later, Republican Senate President Warren Petersen’s Senate Bill 1131 prohibited the city from collecting rental tax. That law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2025. 

Across 11 budget hearings in March and April, one of the most common requests from community members was to include funding for legal support for eviction assistance. But because of the impending deficit, City Manager Jeff Barton suggested the city not increase any funding for eviction legal representation or satisfy other community requests like increased homelessness services and more public water and heat relief sessions. 

“Responsibility on landlords and homeowners is zero,” Phoenix resident Nancy Palmer told the council. “They get to kick us out however they want whenever they want. We need the right to counsel now to keep these housing investors from kicking people out of their homes.”

Despite the projected deficit and the city’s withholding of the $80 million surplus, the Phoenix Police are set to receive $27 more million from the city’s general fund than they received last year, an overall budget increase of 0.2%, climbing to nearly $1 billion total for fiscal year 2024-25. The police budget was the most commonly requested funding reduction in public hearings this year. 

“Budgets are a reflection of values,” Ben Laughlin, a community organizer for Poder Action told the council. “Despite what city leadership says publicly, budget documents tell us what y’all are really about. Once again, these budget documents paint a really heartbreaking picture for the future of working class and poor Phoenix residents.”

Laughlin complained that the funds provided to the police could be better spent on community programs like more public water stations and increased operating hours of summer heat relief stations, most of which are downtown. 

“You use police as a tool to hide your failures and then call it crime,” Laughlin said. “If you value the lives of Phoenix residents, use those 27 million in general funds for things that will actually keep people alive.”

The police department has been under a Department of Justice investigation since 2021 over claims of excessive force, discrimination, retaliation against protesters, abuse of those with mental illnesses and disposal of the personal property of those experiencing homelessness. Phoenix police have shot and killed six people so far this year, according to the department’s officer-involved-shooting dashboard. 

Barton said most of the police budget increase is to cover increased salaries, pensions and cost of vehicles. 

The city’s overall budget for next year totals $2.1 billion, nearly half of which is allocated to the police. From last year, funds for legal services will be reduced by nearly 8% and funds for the fire department will be reduced by 0.6%. On the flip side, the city will increase funding for public transit by 4.5% and funding for housing by nearly 30%. 

The budget adds money for five new water stations across the city. The city now has 384 public water stations, but only 290 of them provide chilled water. Community members said that adding only five new water stations was a joke. 

“The city allowed over 600 preventable heat deaths last summer,” said a Tempe resident who called herself Liv. “Five water stations for 10,000 of our neighbors who are unhoused is a choice that the city is choosing to perpetuate.”

They also asked that heat relief station operations be extended past 10 p.m. on weekdays to better serve the homeless community, but no money was allocated for that.  

Council members didn’t directly respond to any of the concerns addressed by citizens in the two-hour meeting, but instead voted unanimously without discussion. The final budget ordinance is scheduled to be adopted on June 12. 

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Categories / Financial, Government, Regional

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