Addressing a packed ballroom Sept. 18 at the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Resort, Mayor Paul Loomis called the State of Oro Valley "better than ever."
Among the town's 2003 accomplishments: a new general plan that includes water conservation, preservation of cultural resources and open space; an aggressive program to bring reclaimed water to the community by 2005 and remove golf courses from the town's potable water supply; new commercial development, including construction of a Wells Fargo Bank and Northwest Medical Center - Oro Valley at Tangerine and Oracle roads; plans to expand the town's Neighborhood Watch program to serve as a communication tree for emergencies and non-emergencies; new biomedical and high-tech employers Gum Technology, Integrated BioMolecule and the Rubycon Corporation; and plans to begin building an exclusive retirement community, Splendido at Rancho Vistoso.
Most tantalizing were hints that the council is ready to bring the issue of a town fire department to voters. If approved, such a move would eliminate Oro Valley's dependency on Rural/Metro Fire Department and Golder Ranch Fire District.
"Over the past five or six years, the town has studied the issue in great depth, and I am here to tell you that we are moving forward with plans to bring the fire service question to the voters," he said. "Can we continue with two providers? Should we form a town fire department?"
"My current recommendation would be to form a town fire department," he said in a later interview. "But to do that we would have to find some way to pay for it all."
The mayor predicted that the cost of a town fire and emergency services unit would probably require a primary property tax specifically targeted to pay for the service.
"Right now, individuals who live north of Tangerine Road pay property taxes for services from Golder Ranch Fire District," he said. "Those of us who live to the south pay a subscription fee for Rural/Metro Fire Department.
"We're all paying for fire services today one way or another, this would just make the town the recipient," he said. "It shouldn't involve a major increase in expenditures."
Loomis acknowledged that there would be initial start-up costs associated with town fire and emergency services. Town staff estimate costs of $7 million initially for buildings and equipment and $5 million annually for operations.
"The advantage is that you can amortize costs over several years based on the property tax," Loomis said.
Despite town budget strains and a lackluster economic climate, the mayor's message remained upbeat.
"We had to take more funds out of reserves this year, but are there budget problems? No," he said during the interview. "I'm not worried about this year's financial situation. It's a tighter budget than we're used to. It's conservative. But that's typical of the Oro Valley budget."
Finally, Loomis urged Oro Valley's registered voters to participate in the Nov. 4 election to vote on the town's new general plan, "Focus 2020: The Future in Balance."
"The 1996 plan is a very good plan," he said. "It provided a good bridge in moving from a town of 19,000 people to a town of 30,000 people. The new plan moves us from 30,000 to 50,000 and has expanded policies of the 1996 plan."
The new plan includes four elements required by the state's 1998 Growing Smarter statute governing general plans and its 2000 refinements, collectively known as Growing Smarter/Plus. The added elements were: areas that can support growth; environmental planning; costs of development; and water resources.
Ballots and information packets on the new general plan are being sent to all Oro Valley registered voters. Mail-in ballots are due at Town Hall on or before Nov. 4. Residents can also review the plan at the town's Web site www.ci.oro-valley.az.us or by calling 229-4700.