Town of Oro Valley employees won't be losing their jobs in the fiscal year that begins July 1, a divided town council decided at a special meeting Wednesday night.
By a 4-3 margin, the governing board decided to pull $584,000 from two reserve funds to protect 16.25 full-time equivalent positions that had been considered for elimination. Another 8.86 jobs now vacant shall remain empty, the council decided.
Mayor Paul Loomis made the motion, and presented the case to pull $380,000 from Oro Valley's $13.5 million general fund reserve, and another $204,000 from its $4.3 million highway fund reserve, to keep the 16.25 positions within various departments. Review of the revenue and employee situation shall take place in six months, the council agreed.
Loomis was joined by council members Al Kunisch, Kenneth "K.C." Carter and Paula Abbott in voting for the motion. Council members Salette Latas, Barry Gillaspie and Bill Garner voted against it.
When the decision was made, the audience of town employees and others clapped its approval.
"We retained the help by taking money out of savings when we need it," Carter said after the meeting. "This was a major thing tonight. These people have been sitting out here for two months now."
With the vote, the council decided not to discuss other agenda items Wednesday, among them proposals to reorganize the town's development services offerings, and to look at revenue enhancements. A hiring freeze remains in place.
After a lengthy meeting last week, the council moved briskly Wednesday to reach its decision.
Before the vote, Latas asked if Oro Valley would be changing, or suspending, its policy against using contingency funds for recurring expenses. "It would be suspending policy," Loomis replied.
"Does the motion address the fact we have no building permits coming in right now?" asked Gillaspie, concerned about shrunken revenue derived from construction activity.
"We've got a lot of employees that really have no work," Garner said. He objected to spending money for workers who "might be sitting at a computer, doing nothing," and was critical of Loomis for not moving a plan through Town Manager David Andrews.
"I don't think it's well thought-out," Gillaspie said. Given the economic slowdown and the unpredictability of state funding, "we have no long-term sustainability in terms of revenue for this town. You have no plan, and you're asking us to do something I think is unwise, not that I don’t want to save those jobs."
Latas agreed, calling the proposal "financially irresponsible." She expressed concern the state would impose a moratorium on municipal collection of construction impact fees, which would be "ominous toward our future budget. … This is a really unsustainable position to put our town and our taxpayers in."
"We've been working from Day 1 to try to save jobs," Loomis said. "This is an opportunity to do so without having to get into salary reductions, furloughs" and other measures, "and still have opportunities to talk about how these positions may be used."
"I think every person we can save is a plus," Kunisch said.
Abbott made the suggestion to re-evaluate the situation in six months.
"This is a one-time thing, and it's OK for contingency purposes," Abbott said. "I would not suggest us doing this year after year. This buys us a little time. I value our employees, and want to make every effort to keep those people employed."
"We've worked very hard to bring the amount of money taken from the contingency fund to a reasonable figure," Loomis said. "From my point of view, the reasonable figure was a half-million dollars."
Carter approved of an evaluation of work load down the road. "If nothing's there," Andrews should "bring it to us, and we do what we’ve got to do."
By policy, the town must keep the equivalent of 25 percent of its general fund budget in reserve, Loomis said. The current $13.5 million reserve represents 47.6 percent of this year's spending plan, he noted.
"Basically, we're looking at attrition … trying to hold us through next year," when budgeting may be "as difficult or more difficult" than this year's deliberations, Loomis said.