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OV still working out budget details

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Posted: Thursday, July 22, 2004 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:48 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

For the time being, the Oro Valley Town Council has agreed to disagree, adopting a tentative budget at the July 7 meeting while disputing various items contained therein.

While individual line items were discussed at length among council members, Mayor Paul Loomis said agreeing on exactly how money will be spent in the town was not necessary at the moment.

What was before the council at the meeting was acceptance of expenditure limits for the fiscal year, proposed at $118 million. Once set, the town cannot spend more than that, although it does have some wiggle room in regards to where that pool of money is laid out throughout the year.

"We are not going to rewrite the budget tonight," Loomis told the council after hearing arguments for budget items desired to be saved or cut.

He moved the council accept the budget tentatively and call a special meeting 6 p.m. July 14 to discuss specific concerns and make possible changes. The motion passed 6-1 with Councilmember Conny Culver voting against it. Final adoption of the budget is not needed until Aug. 4.

"To say the sky has fallen, we have to cut everything down to zero, is not the right answer," Loomis said, adding Oro Valley still is a "fiscally sound" town.

"What we need to do is, we need to make the tough decisions." He told council that meant looking closely at recurring expenses, namely positions, which carry annual salaries and benefits.

"Recurring expenses, in addition to being issues this year, will be issues again next year," he said.

When a budget deficit of $1.5 million dollars was projected by staff at a June 9 meeting, council directed Town Manager Chuck Sweet and Finance Director David Andrews to try again and return with a balanced budget.

The town staff also was asked to provide justification for newly requested personnel and to prioritize positions and requests for operating and capital expenditures.

Sweet and Andrews presented revisions at the meeting, which showed the new budget having a surplus of just over $32,000.

To show that solvency, the staff de-creased personnel positions by 6.5 from the original proposal, saving $365,000 and reduced capital improvement projects for the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 fiscal years.

The staff also reduced operating and maintenance costs in several areas, particularly in relation to supplies and equipment needed for new staff.

But regardless of the positive bottom line, the council still disagreed with where some money would be spent. Councilmember Helen Dankwerth disagreed particularly with dipping into the contingency reserves for two, one-time cost projects still on the budget.

She said she saw other places, too, where she believed money could be saved.

"I think, quite candidly, and you're not going to like this, it's just a start," she told Sweet of the revisions.

She said a note was given to the council signed "the loyal employees of Oro Valley" asking council to reconsider the budget reductions, however, she believes in "living within our means" and would not rethink requests to use the town's contingency funds for one-time expenditures or to pay for new positions.

"We need to practice delayed gratification," she said. "Keep the contingency for emergencies."

She suggested the phasing in of projects as money brought in throughout the year showed the town could afford it, an idea mentioned by other members throughout the night. Town policy requires a contingency fund of 20 percent or more of recurring expenses be maintained and according to calculations presented by Andrews, based on Oro Valley's set expenditures for the year, the town should have $3.9 million tucked away.

The budget proposed reflects $7.4 million in the contingency reserve, an amount that "well exceeds" the requirement, he said.

In regards to staff justification and prioritization, new position cuts included elimination of a webmaster programmer, a clerk in the magistrate court, an assistant town manager, a fire clerk, fire marshal, file clerk and a part-time office assistant.

Three police lieutenants, an office specialist, a fire marshal through Golder Ranch at a reduced cost, traffic signs and maintenance workers, a construction clerk, civil engineer technicians and reclaimed water utility operators make up the 8.75 still proposed positions to be funded in the tentative budget.

There was disagreement among the council as to which of those was necessary and whether some cut positions might better serve the future of the town.

Councilmember Kenneth "K.C." Carter said he agreed with other members the fast-growing town could use additional help in some departments, citing specifically the individuals working in the clerk's office, and said that was precisely what was intended to be discussed during the July 14 meeting.

The tentative budget, as passed, also included the two one-time expenditure projects and the hiring of eight police officers through a federal grant awarded last year.

The one-time expenditures projects are to add a public weapons storage and to expand the existing records room at the police department, at an estimated cost of $160,000 and to renovate the basement area of the Town Hall Administration Building to provide more space for building inspectors, at an estimated cost of $47,239, although Culver pointed out no bids have yet been received for that project, so the cost is still unknown.

In other business, the search for a new town yard continued as council rejected the purchase of an 8.96-acre parcel on Oracle Road at Calle Concordia for use as the new public works yard.

The current location of the yard on Calle Concordia has been contested by a group of residents suing the town to move it. For various reasons, all members of the council except Mayor Loomis voted against purchasing the Oracle Road frontage, directing town management to continue evaluating other possible sites.

According to Sweet, 33 properties were evaluated by the town when looking for a new site and the list was narrowed down to this site as most ideal.

But councilmembers and some residents disagreed the site would benefit the town. Dankwerth said she thought using a site that could potentially attract business was a bad move.

"I have a tough time removing property that could be revenue producing," she said.

Spending money from the contingency fund to purchase the land also was given as a reason she rejected the motion. Money for acquisition of a new public works site is not part of the proposed tentative budget.

The unsightliness of a public works yard at one of the town's entrances also was an issue. Councilmember Terry Parish said a lot of money was sunk into making the area a gateway to the community.

Town engineer Bill Jansen said if the yard was located there, money would be spent on presentation.

"We are not looking at replicating what looks like the town dump," he said. "We are looking at building a facility the town can be proud of."

The idea also was put forward that moving the facilities just around the corner from where they currently stand may not address the noise, fumes and blight concerns already raised by residents.

Several residents who brought the suit against the town were present at the meeting and spoke against the relocation to Oracle Road, including Celta and Stephen Sheppard, who live on Calle Concordia near the current yard.

"The town facilities are just downright ugly," Stephen Sheppard said. "We do not want them on that Oracle corridor."

The possibility of reconsidering the Naranja Town Site was brought up by a resident and spokesperson for the citizen's group "Stop Outrageous OV Giveaways," Chester Oldakowski, and again by resident Bill Adler.

"The town already owns it," Oldakowski pointed out.

Vice Mayor Paula Abbott was quick to oppose this idea, saying residents in the area already have promised to file a lawsuit similar to the one the town already is facing if that were to occur.

She also said the area was set aside for a parks and recreation use in the town's General Plan. The parcel in the motion was designated as a schools site because there was at one time a Pima County Community College extension planned there, according to community development director Brent Sinclair, with a fallback designation as a commerce park/commercial property.

Abbott questioned putting the yard in a residential site such as the one at Naranja. However, Dankwerth said she toured the large site at Naranja with other councilmembers and did see some potential in regards to the site, particularly in one area that had been mined in the past and was now flat and slightly buffered and hidden by a hillside. She said the surrounding homes are located away from this particular site.

Loomis, in support of the land purchase, said he was looking toward the future with the site, claiming a piece of land for the town in the south, where there is little left to be developed. He said the site does not always have to be used for the yard.

The 8.96-acre Oracle Road parcel is smaller than the suggested 15-acre area needed to accommodate the new yard, however, Abbott said there was another neighboring parcel there that could be purchased to address growth.

"This new council seems to not be willing to purchase land," she said, in reference to discussion about using existing town property.

But councilmember Barry Gillaspie disagreed, saying he was willing to make a purchase, providing it was the right one.

"I am not opposed to spending money, I am opposed to spending money now on a piece of property that may not fix future problems."

Abbott agreed the price was "too steep" for the Oracle Road parcel, but urged the council to consider other properties beside the Naranja site.

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