Things got heated during the Oro Valley Town Council’s tentative adoption of the proposed 2012-2013 fiscal year budget on May 2.
Mayor Satish Hiremath had to call order to the meeting after a dispute occurred between Councilman Steve Solomon and Councilman Bill Garner relating to funding for the Oro Valley Recreation Room.
The dispute came after Finance Director Stacey Lemos asked for council’s direction regarding the funding of the Oro Valley Recreation Room, which offers exercise and fitness related classes to residents by contracting with private instructors, who then reimburse the Town for a portion of the program profits.
Councilwoman Mary Snider said the public has an impression the cuts to the facility are being proposed in order to fund three new police cars and three new police officers due to an email sent by one of the members of council to an associate of the recreation room.
Solomon, who said he was unaware of any such email existing, asked for clarification and prompted whichever councilmember had sent the email to identify himself.
“All of the councilmembers are here,” he said. “If a councilmember did that, I would assume since it’s a public matter they would state what they did.”
Following an interjection by Hiremath, who identified Garner as the councilmember involved, Garner said the email had been taken out of context.
“The email was to a constituent, and the email pertained to a phone conversation, which I had with that same constituent, which was not privy to the email,” he said. “What had taken place, was this constituent had given it (the email) to an instructor, who then forwarded it on to the Mayor, and that instructor was not privy to the conversation we had on the phone, which I cleared up with the Mayor.”
Garner added that originally, the recreation room funding was included in the budget packet.
“I thought this was already taken care of. It mentions in the budget packet that this facility is moving forward, and then mysteriously this information comes out that we’re going to save $54,000 on a $95 million budget,” he said.
Solomon responded by saying he wasn’t surprised Garner brought the police department’s budget into the conversation.
Garner responded, “No, the constituent was asking me a question about it, and yes there is a tie in to the police, because if we’re going to spend $54,000 for an entire year for a facility that benefits the constituents-“
Solomon interrupted and said, “So the police don’t benefit the constituents?”
“I’m not going to argue with you,” said Garner, just as Hiremath made use of his gavel to call order.
“The bottom line is we can find $54,000 if the facility makes sense, because it benefits the citizens,” said Garner. “If we can find the money to fund police, if we can find the money to fund public works, we can find the money to benefit the citizens.”
The meeting then opened to public hearing, where Oro Valley resident John Musolf questioned the timing of the 2012-2013 tentative budget adoption, as years past have allowed newly-elected council members to be seated before voting on the budget.
Musolf mentioned councilwoman Mary Snider as one of those who opposed adoption of the budget in 2010 before the new councilmembers were seated. In a previous interview, Snider said the scenario was different in 2010.
“At that time in 2010, we only had six sitting councilmembers, plus we were going to be electing a new mayor and had four new councilmembers coming in,” she said. “We currently have a full-sitting council.”
Musolf said newly-elected council members Mike Zinkin and Brendan Burns should have the same opportunity to vote on the budget as newly-elected council members have in the past.
“It seems to the current council would want to forward the same courtesy given to them as newly-elected mayor and councilmembers in 2010 for budget approval, and I assume that councilwoman Mary Snider would want to lead that charge as she did in 2010.”
Snider appeared to make a motion to speak, but withdrew. Following Musolf’s speech, Solomon asked Hiremath for permission to speak, but was declined since it was during public hearing.
Following public hearing, Hiremath addressed the council.
“To this council, keep in mind, the public has a right to voice its opinion,” he said. “I will not tolerate from this point forward any interruption of a speaker.”
When given permission to speak, Snider said Zinkin and Burns will have an opportunity to voice their input since the tentative budget adoption only sets a cap, and would allow for reallocation of funds as needed.
“What I’d like to help people understand is the budget is a fluid document, it’s a forecast, it can be manipulated and moved around to meet the needs of the Town,” she said. “The reason for the delay in 2010 was a deficit and the reorganization discussions that I felt were important.”
The $95.4 million budget was ultimately approved by council 6-0, with funding for the recreation room excluded from that dollar amount. Council clarified with staff that should funding for the recreation room continue, there would be funding to support it, which Lemos confirmed would come from the contingency fund.
Zinkin and Burns will be sworn into office on June 6.