Streetcar costs could derail public safety funding
Photo: Video by kgun9.com
Reporter: Marcelino Benito
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - What is more important to you? Street safety or the street car? The city now says it may have to spend millions of general fund dollars to operate the new modern streetcar. And that has Tucson Police officers speaking out.
They've been told for five years the money's just not there. They've taken furlough days. They've endured cuts.
"I was shocked," Bill Bonanno, President of the Tucson Police Officer's Association, said. "I was angry. I think we were hurt."
Tucson Police officers are learning the money is there, but one to three million dollars of it could go to operate the modern streetcar.
"My feeling is public safety is paramount," Bonanno said. "The citizens of Tucson obviously want and need police services."
If the city doesn't find millions of dollars in alternative funding, the streetcar will drain the general fund. It's the pot of money that supports core city services like police and fire.
9OYS reporter Marcelino Benito asked Carlos de Leon, Deputy Director with Tucson's Department of Transportation, what he says to taxpayers anxious that streetcar funding is still uncertain. He replied, "We're concerned as well. We know the general fund is in trouble and can't support continued burdens. We're going to work to aggressively bring down the burden."
The city has a year to nail down the funding, but councilman Steve Kozachik says there's no time to waste.
"Where's it going to come from?" Kozachik asked. "Is it going to fall out of the sky? It's got to come from somewhere. If public safety is on the radar screen, it's wrong. We can't do that."
The TPOA says public safety should be the priority. 9OYS wanted to know if the Transportation Department agrees.
"What do you say to groups that say public safety is more important than the streetcar?" Benito asked.
"It's a balancing act," de Leon said.
The RTA is expected to subsidize part of the bill. The city is also currently negotiating deals with the University of Arizona and Pima Community College.
It's a tricky balance the city has to strike, but streetcar construction pushes on despite not knowing exactly how they'll pay for it when it's done. Meanwhile, police can only hold their breath and make sure they're not financially run over by this fast moving project.
"The city needs to step up and find a way to fund the men and women that work throughout public safety," said Bonanno.
The streetcar should be up and running by this time next year. Tucson's City Council will meet next week to discuss the issue.