Split council sets a $121.55M budget lid - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

Split council sets a $121.55M budget lid

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Posted: Tuesday, June 9, 2009 11:00 pm | Updated: 1:27 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Oro Valley has a fiscal 2009-10 budget limit of $121.55 million, a divided Oro Valley Town Council voted last Wednesday.

Adoption of a maximum spending plan was approved 4-3, with Mayor Paul Loomis and council members Paula Abbott, Kenneth "KC" Carter and Al Kunisch in the affirmative. Council members Barry Gillaspie, Salette Latas and Bill Garner voted against it.

Wednesday's vote came after a series of attempts to reduce spending for specific projects, among them $250,000 for Steam Pump Ranch stabilization work (see related stories), $10,000 for a feasibility study on pet licensure, a $100,000 reduction in funds for the Oro Valley Marketplace police substation, a $25,000 cut to travel and $1,000 intended for a Naranja Townsite survey.

The attempts came a week after the council voted 4-3 to pull $584,000 from reserves to cover the cost of 16.25 full-time equivalent positions that were proposed for elimination in the spending year that begins July 1. Division over Loomis's proposal carried into Wednesday's tentative budget adoption.

After thanking town staff for its work in a "grueling" process, and thanking the council — "even if we disagree, I appreciate their passion" — Gillaspie said Oro Valley had "worked hard to adopt an economically sustainable model" for municipal funding. "We've decided to toss all of that in the tank."

Paraphrasing from a book he'd read, Gillaspie said "it can take years of denial for a government to get into real trouble." Among the stages of decline are the use of contingency funds to balance a budget in which ongoing expenditures exceed ongoing revenues. "In the end, there is implosion."

"We didn't show the courage, me included, to raise revenues," Gillaspie said.

Garner agreed. "It's easy" to use reserves, as the council voted May 27. "Last Wednesday night was abominable. It violates our ethics and policy. It's just ridiculous, and not something we need to be doing. … to me, it showed a failed leadership on this council."

"I consider that a one-time thing," Abbott said of the reserve use for payroll costs. "I would never do that again. The budget has been a problem as far as I can go back. The town has not been operating to cover costs.

"I talked about trying to protect jobs. We had 33, went to 16, and it's now manageable, it's now doable," Abbott said. "It's raining hard. My passion was to protect jobs."

With 70 percent of the town's budget related to personnel, "it's almost hollow" to talk about reducing spending "unless you make the hard decisions that need to be made," Latas said.

"I don't believe taxation out of this probably is the way to go," Kunisch said. "We have a lot of things we need to address."

"We'd better wake up and watch carefully … our spending," Carter said. "We'll be in worse shape. Nine months from now, we'll be looking down the barrel again. We've got to work together, figure out how to hold every penny in the pocket. We've got to take steps, we've got to move forward."

Gillaspie wanted the governing board to cut $100,000 from a $373,000 general fund reserves appropriation to finish a police substation at Oro Valley Marketplace. Town Manager David Andrews said the town had scaled back the substation by removing its emergency operations center, which "probably saved roughly $80,000 to $100,000." The council voted 4-3 to leave the money in place, with the expectation it may not be spent. Gillaspie, Garner and Latas voted to reduce the commitment.

Abbott tried to reduce commitments to the Naranja Townsite survey, without a second, and by $25,000 from intergovernmental relations travel, which was defeated 5-2. Gillaspie joined Abbott in seeking the reduction.

Oro Valley's budgeting process, and town council decisions, drew comments from the audience earlier Wednesday.

"If one of the priorities in the budget was to save jobs, I certainly support that," Bill Adler said. "I disagree with how you got there."

Flaws in Oro Valley's budgeting process are "highlighted now that we're in a recession," he said. The approach is confusing, divisive and "pits one department against another, police against everyone else," and is laced with "impossible contradictions," Adler suggested.

A "balanced budget" matches income and expenses, and not income, expenses and reserves, Adler said. "To me … this is not a balanced budget. You waited for the manager to create a budget, and then, tediously I would say, you picked your way through it. The divisiveness could have been avoided. Make it a collaborative, collective effort."

The council's budget goes to final hearing on June 17. It includes a $40.56 million general fund appropriation, and eliminates 8.85 full-time equivalent positions that are currently vacant.

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