South Tucson budget woes - Tucson News Now

South Tucson budget woes

(Source: Tucson News Now) (Source: Tucson News Now)
SOUTH TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

South Tucson officials are just days away from making some difficult decisions about its $624,000 debt.

The debt is more than 15 percent of the town's entire budget, but must be paid in order to have a balanced budget for the coming fiscal year. State law requires cities, towns and counties to have a balanced budget.

Where the town will get the money to pay the debt is still up in the air.

One of the options being discussed, although far from approved, is cutting public safety, police, and fire.

"They are the only budgets which could cover that debt," said South Tucson city manager Sixto Molina.

Molina, the former police chief of the one square mile city, was recently hired as city manager but "they didn't tell me about the debt," he said.

The fire department budget is $820,000 so its elimination would wipe out the debt although the town would have to contract out for other services such as fire fighting and emergency medical services.

Molina says he has already been contacted by some companies which might be willing to provide the service.

"We are not there yet," he said.

The fire department has 20 part-time and three full-time firefighters and paramedics.

"It could have an effect on response times," he said. "Obviously, having a fire truck ready to go right here in the middle of the city, the response times would be less."

Molina said there may be other ways to cut the debt such as not filling empty positions, possible layoffs, cutting some services, and encouraging more economic development in the small town.

That appears to be happening as a burgeoning downtown Tucson is beginning to spill into South Tucson.

"We're right on the cusp," he said.

However, that is a long term solution and the town needs help immediately.

Molina says the town could do as it has done in the past, which is refinance the existing debt that he says "is in the millions."

One of those debts goes back 34 years.

"If you're going to move forward and you're going to continue to exist, you have to make some changes," he said. "It's inevitable."

The town has faced difficult times recently. It went several years without paying its multi-million dollar jail debt with was restructured and partly forgiven by Pima County.

When Waste Management refused to renew its garbage pickup in the town for lack of payments, the city of Tucson stepped up to the plate.

This is just the latest in a series of economic stumbles which may threaten the town.

The word bankruptcy has been used many times in the past but the town has always found a way to survive.

"You have to exhaust every option possible and we're not even close to doing that," he said. "So that hasn't been really considered by me, about pulling the plug on South Tucson."

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