/ Last Modified December 3, 2013

Tucson Council Winners Sworn In, Face Immediate Budget Challenges

Three incumbents start new four-year term today, all say long-term budget fixes are priority.

city council 120213 spotlight The Tucson City Council meets Dec. 2 after swearing in reelected members Karin Uhlich, Richard Fimbres and Steve Kozachik. Councilman Paul Cunningham is absent. (PHOTO: Andrea Kelly, AZPM)

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Tucson City Councilmembers Karin Uhlich, Richard Fimbres and Steve Kozachik were sworn in to new terms in the council today, and said their priority for the next few years will be the ailing city budget.

The council, which continues to be made up of seven Democrats, faces budget challenges in the coming years. By 2015, the city will face rising pension costs for employees, new operational expenses for the streetcar, and an ever-growing pool infrastructure improvements.

Uhlich, who started her third term, said the three members' reelection means the city is happy with how they've been managing the city.

“The election was really an affirmation that we’re pursuing the right course of action to help us recover from the economic recession and make sure that we’re paying attention to all residents of Tucson," Uhlich said.

Fimbres and Kozachik were elected to their second terms. They both said growing the city's sources of revenue will be the way out of the economic hardship expected in less than two years.

“We’re not going to get to a structurally balanced budget by cutting," Kozachik said. "We’re going to have to increase the size of the pie, and that means revenues."

He will be working to create local, and then statewide, incentives for the film industry to attract movie and TV production crews to Tucson, he said. Along with Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Kozachik also wants to create jobs in Tucson by increasing commerce with Mexico.

He supports those proposals because he said they will create jobs, "that’s why I call those things game changers,” Kozachik said.

Annexations and infill, and development on vacant city land will also help increase the city's sales tax, Fimbres said. Revenue will lead to fewer cuts in programs, he said, including the after school education program called Kidco.

“The city of Tucson lives off sales tax," he explained. "So if we don’t want Kidco prices to go up, or fares, if we don’t want bus fares to go up, we’ve got to find ways to generate the money to keep those prices low.”

Revenue will be the only way out of the fiscal challenges to come, they said. Brent DeRaad, the CEO and president of Visit Tucson, the local visitor's bureau, said he agrees.

“I would just encourage (the) city council to continue to make strategic investments in those projects and those areas that are going to return dollars back into the community, so that again those services can be provided to the residents of Tucson a little bit less expensively than they would otherwise," DeRaad said.

Uhlich advised a level of caution about where to find funds for solving upcoming budget woes.

“We need to make sure that we don’t jump to short-term solutions things that can seem like solutions that could actually undermine our long-term growth and our long-term stability," she said.

All three reelected council members said they don't plan to change their approach to governing.

“The election was really an affirmation that we’re pursuing the right course of action to help us recover from the economic recession and make sure that we’re paying attention to all residents of Tucson," Uhlich said.

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