According to Councilman William Garner, it’s time for the town of Oro Valley to do some soul searching, acknowledge its growth projections were too aggressive and make the necessary adjustments to its budgetary needs.
Garner hosted a Council on Your Corner community discussion event on April 13 at an Oro Valley eatery. During the 90-minute session, he discussed budget issues and what Census numbers mean to the town.
Many anticipated major growth over the last five years, expecting the 2010 Census to reveal that Oro Valley’s population had increased from about 38,900 in 2005 to between 43,000-45,000 people.
However, actual Census numbers revealed the town grew by only 1,100 people. The current population is 41,011.
Census numbers are important because they impact the budget. The higher a town’s population, the more money coming from state-shared revenues and other funds.
In 2005, the Oro Valley budget was about $99 million. In anticipation of major growth, city officials steadily increased the budget over the last five years. In 2009, the council approved a budget worth $120.4 million, and last year approved a $116 million financial plan.
“The current budget has increased by more than 20 percent, yet our population numbers grew by only 1,100 (8 percent),” Garner said. “We increased staff to accommodate these aggressive growth projections. Now we have to soul search at what areas we ramped up for growth that isn’t there.”
Personnel costs make up 75 percent of the town’s budget, with 338 employees on the payroll. Garner estimated it costs the town up to $68,000 per day for employees.
Garner is proposing every department take a step back and look at staff levels and department essentials.
“We need to ask every department head what numbers were used for the anticipated growth and now that the population model is here, what they will need now,” he said. “We need to tell them to soul search and give us a number of what they can live with based on numbers today.”
Garner said he doesn’t have a number in mind of how many employees should be cut, but he is asking that departments take a serious look at what their needs are based on a realistic look at not only population, but also a slowed residential and commercial development.
Looking specifically at building departments, Garner said with the construction industry struggling over the last two years only 17 permits were processed all of last year.
Building, zoning and public works offices are already being consolidated, and Garner said cross training staff will be economical.
“We just need to take a step back and see what our true needs are,” he said. “Every department has different needs and we have to look at all of it.”
Town Manager Jerene Watson is expected to submit a first draft of the 2011-2012 fiscal-year budget on April 20.
Garner said the budget will be available to the public during a public hearing slated for May 4.
Besides a tough look at personnel, Garner said he is also expecting the council to debate proposed tax increases and the possibility of the town doing away with the Coyote Run Transit system.
While Garner is against eliminating the system, the first-term council member noted it is costing $350,000. Garner is optimistic that the town can find a way to keep the transit system going.
Garner is also against the tax increases being proposed to help balance the budget. According to the notice of intent to impose or increase fees or taxes, Oro Valley residents may be facing a 2-percent utility tax increase and a .25 percent privilege sales tax increase.
Oro Valley residents currently pay a 2-percent utility tax, which Garner said he opposed from the start. Increasing the tax another 2 percent is a bad idea in tough economic times, he noted.
Oro Valley residents are also looking at increased fees for the pool entrance, pool lane rental fee, ball field rentals, ramada rental fees, permit fees for inflatables and piñatas for use of the racquetball court.
The Town of Oro Valley proposed budget will be available during a public hearing on May 4.