Listen to an excerpt of AZPM'S interview with Michael Ortega:
Tucson’s City Manager Michael Ortega has been on the job for about a month, and said he already knows the budget will be his top priority.
The city budget is based largely on sales taxes, and has seen deficit after deficit in recent years, since the economic recession began. It’s time, Ortega said, to find a long-term solution.
“We have used one-time fixes, one-time revenues, and I think that’s fine for a very short term solution,” he said.
He plans to present solutions to the Tucson City Council in December or January.
To get settled in the new job, he visited all six city wards, and met with department heads. Repeatedly he heard the same issues.
“Most of the conversations start off with ‘several years ago we had more employees,” Ortega said. “Usually it’s down several percentage points from what they have today and they’re still accomplishing a lot of the same or very similar services.”
He said he is “trying to get a handle on the projects and the various issues that face Tucson.”
Ortega most recently spent his career in top administrative positions in Cochise County, including as county administrator and as Douglas city manager.
His jobs are a mix of public administration and work with private companies. Ortega's University of Arizona degrees are a bachelor's in civil engineering and a master's in public administration.
Bringing permanent balance to the city budget will be a struggle, but he said he knew that when he took the job.
“I also think that we’ve got some tough times ahead of us, certainly we’re not out of the woods when it comes to our finances,” he said.
Ortega’s focus is on long-term solutions.
“I can tell you it’s probably not going to happen in one year, it will be a multi-year approach,” Ortega said. “But as long as we have a plan, I believe we can accomplish it and stick to that goal.”
The city must consider both raising taxes and cutting spending to figure out the future financial reality, he said.
Then, it can look at how to fund future programs, based on the city's Plan Tucson document. It's a 10-year plan for the city, and Ortega said it is what convinced him to interview for the job.
“I had not made a decision about applying until I read it,” he said. “We need to look at that as our guiding principle.”