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How a City Budget Reflects the Community’s Values

Hello, Northern Arizona! I hope your year and your decade are off to a great start! Here at the city we’re getting ready to work on our annual budget. It might be the most important thing we do as a council. Collectively, over days and weeks, we decide where to spend your tax dollars in order to keep Flagstaff running. Regardless of what happens on the national stage, a city has to operate, firefighters and police need to be available, roads need to be cleared, the landfill needs to be available, and the recycling plant needs to run.

I believe that a budget is also a moral document. It should reflect our values. Flagstaff values education, our children, and working families — and so we help fund LAUNCH Flagstaff, which will provide cradle-to-career educational support, including preschool, early childhood reading intervention and professional development for educators. We help fund F.A.C.T.S., which has provided before and after school care for so very many families. We care about the environment so we fund our climate action and adaptation plan. We help police officers buy homes, and we maintain our parks and the urban trail.

That said, a budget is also about choices. There is not an endless pot of money to fund every project we would like to see. It’s a strategic allocation of resources. My grandfather used to say that if you watched your pennies they’d turn into dollars, and my 12 years in municipal government have showed me just how right he was. To share a story: years ago, we were facing a shortfall. There are things a city has to pay for; necessary, important things, and then there are things that we would like to fund, which are often also necessary and important, and then there are things that we’re required to pay for that might not make much sense. Anyway, we were facing a shortfall and looking to make it up by cutting library hours and some open time at a youth center (things we like to pay for that are also necessary and important). We have to keep the lights on at the city, and there is only so much wiggle room. If you want to pay for something and there is no surplus, you have to cut something else, so I sat down with the budget. The budget for the City of Flagstaff is not a small document, it’s a “you’d need a burro to get it down the canyon” document. But I needed $150,000 to keep the library and the senior center open – and that mattered.

I’m combing through this thing for hours and hours, and eventually I found that we were spending $180,000 to pick up trash at the landfill (a thing we’re required to pay for). Now, why on earth are we picking up trash at a landfill? I’ll tell you – because plastic bags get caught in the wind and blow away and we’re required by law to pick them up. There are alternatives to plastic bags, there are industries and businesses that can be created developing locally made alternatives to plastic bags. There are people with sewing machines and ideas that will enter that marketplace and fill that need. Which is what I suggested, how about we stop spending money to pick up trash at the landfill and maybe create an opening for entrepreneurs while we do it? But, as you probably know, within the week, the Arizona state legislature had preempted us from addressing the $180,000 we spend to pick up plastic bags at the landfill and we never did get to consider alternatives.

It’s budget season here in the City of Flagstaff, and it’s the same for the state legislature. These are the decisions that will impact your schools, your roads, your small business, and yes, your library and the landfill. I urge you to reach out to us and let us know what matters to you, and to do the same with the state legislature. The city, the county and the state will all create budgets that reflect our values. Make sure they reflect yours as well. You can reach me at cevans@flagstaff.com, find me on facebook at Coral4AZ, or coralevansaz.com. FBN

By Coral Evans

Coral Evans is the mayor of Flagstaff.

 

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