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Guest opinion

Durham: No cuts to this year's TPD budget until alternative responses are developed

I joined with Mayor Regina Romero and Councilmember Richard Fimbres to have our budget adoption process slowed down this year. We did so to ensure we were able to hear from the community and the many voices that began weighing in following the death of George Floyd. The city manager was then further asked by mayor and Council to provide additional budget educational tools that would allow residents to actually allocate dollars as a pseudo-participatory budgeting process.

With that additional feedback, including numerous public hearings, I've had the ability to hear from many Tucsonans. While I've specifically heard comments all over the map on what the Tucson Police Department's budget should look like, all of the concerns that I've heard are based out of concerns to see a community that can thrive. Many are asking the city of Tucson to focus on building up our social service responses so as to limit the need for an armed officer to respond and, ideally, prevent crises. Others are asking for us to divest from enforcement by actually taking dollars away from TPD and investing those in behavioral health supports, education, etc. Still others perceive the former as nerve-wracking because of a perception that weakening an already relatively small number of patrol officers and are concerned that when they really need to be able to call 911 for an officer to respond that their ability to do so will be weakened.

I've tried to understand the underlying issues and think through how we, as a city, can best respond. With that in mind, here's what I, and my colleagues on mayor and Council have done in the last two months. I voted to support an equity assessment on city of Tucson expenditures, specifically the Cares Act funds. I reallocated funds away from public safety personnel toward community investments to respond to the pandemic. I asked the city manager to add public hearings on the budget (the last of which is to be held this Tuesday) and engage in participatory budgeting to inform the FY21 budget. I have also directed the city manager to engage in on-going participatory budgeting processes for the entire year leading to FY22 budget that would go into effect July 1, 2021. I voted to rescind Ordinance 11746.

Most importantly, I advocated for funding for additional social workers and I support and am working with my colleagues to develop a community safety division that is a direct reflection of concerns we've heard from constituents. This is one part of a broader community safety framework that the mayor has presented and that mayor and Council are working together to create. Critically, this will require public feedback and co-creation and the mayor's Racial Justice and Equity Advisory Council will be assisting the mayor and Council in implementing those listening sessions and providing direction as we move forward.

On Tuesday, mayor and Council will vote to adopt or amend the budget. Our budget this year is unique because we do not have clear revenue projections because of the severe economic uncertainty stemming from the pandemic. What that means is that the proposed budget will remain even with last year's budget while incorporating additional medical and pension costs. Each month, mayor and Council will review the actual revenues and expenditures and adjust the budget as needed. These reviews will happen during mayor and Council meetings and, as a consequence, will be transparent.

That said, let me return to the calls from constituents to reduce the TPD budget. Since coming into office, one of the most consistent concern I've heard from constituents all throughout Ward 3 has to do with slow response times to 911 calls. To be responsive to all of my constituents, I do not believe that any cuts on Tuesday are appropriate until we have developed alternatives to divert 911 calls where appropriate.

I am committed to figuring this out. I am confident that we can learn a lot in the next year and develop new processes that will better serve Tucson residents. All of that will depend on there being ongoing opportunities for me and my colleagues to hear from constituents who are most affected and our ability to direct resources accordingly.

Paul Durham represents Ward 3 on the Tucson City Council.

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1 comment on this story

Jul 19, 2020, 8:56 am
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Perhaps at the start of each of their shifts the police could be assembled and collectively required to pledge allegiance to the declaration of Universal Human Rights, and how all law and their work stem solely from equality and liberty for all, and the universe of implications that emerge from this quintessentially American political philosophical fundamental.

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