The March 5 Oro Valley Town Council meeting focused primarily on budgeting and financial issues, including passing a $500,000 program implementation and council members expressing frustrations over a difference of opinion on how the town operates its budget.
In February, Councilman Mike Zinkin gave a report of his opinion of how he believes the town council should be more involved with understanding how each department manages its portion of the town’s overall budget. The first-term councilman said he would like the cost of each program identified for the council.
“Then the council can make the decision whether or not we think the program is worth while, whether it needs to be modified, whether it needs to be expanded, or whether it needs to be eliminated,” Zinkin said.
Zinkin said he would like to see the budget process handled with more transparency.
Mayor Satish Hiremath took “very offensive exception” to Zinkin’s claims, saying the town administrators should be trusted to run their departments rather than having council go through the 300-page budget line item by line item.
Hiremath said each year, during the budget study sessions, the council goes through every single department and if they choose to, can go line item by line item.
“The notion that we aren’t transparent is really frustrating to me, because it is as transparent as individuals want to make it be,” Hiremath said. “Now, if individual council members don’t get the answer they want to hear, then all of a sudden, transparency comes into play.”
Zinkin then challenged Hiremath to look into the budget to find out how much things such as the teen academy costs the town.
“I don’t need to know that because as long as [Greg Caton, the Oro Valley Town Manager] thinks it’s worth while, and the department you are referencing thinks it’s worth while, and it’s a good program, it is not for me to justify whether I know the costs or not,” Hiremath replied.
While no action was taken regarding Zinkin’s concerns, the council did approve three agenda items that will alter and merge its pay and benefits plans with all employees of the police department. Implementation of this restructuring will be a one-time cost of about $500,000, which is planned to be part of the 2014-2015 budget.
Under the revised Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the police department and the town, the step pay plan is now on a seven-year schedule. The previous program was an eight-year plan.
Under the approved measure, sergeants now have a five-step pay increase plan opposed to a four-step program. The increase in pay that takes place each year is currently anywhere between 2.5 percent and 5 percent, whereas the new plan will have a consistent 5-percent wage increase annually.
The MOU will now do away with an expectation of an annual cost of living adjustment.
A wellness initiative will also be put in place where employees can volunteer to take part in a medical screening process so they are made aware of possible issues such as high blood pressure or imbalance in glucose levels.
For those employees who do not wish to participate, a $10 monthly fee will be added.
The town currently pays for 80 percent of a dependent’s health insurance.
The three agenda items were broken into three parts and were not all unanimously approved.
Councilman Bill Garner opposed the first of the three items around the MOU. With its approval, all non-sworn police department staff members are now removed from the negotiating process, and it created a Public Safety Employee Group that is made of only police officers.
The police department’s staff that are not police officers now have the same benefits as regular town employees.
The second of the three items was opposed by Garner and Zinkin, which outlined the revisions of the MOU.
The third portion was approved unanimously that gives hourly employees of the police department a rate increase of $1 per hour for hours worked between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The town council also approved to take the next step forward with the development of an additional building to Basis School and the development of a commercial building on the northwest corner of Ina and Oracle roads where the currently vacant gas station resides.
The council voted to cancel the March 19 regular council meeting. The next council meeting will be on April 2.