June 15, 2005 - Oro Valley Town Manager Chuck Sweet was given the task of developing a strategic plan for the town for the first time in its 31-year history as part of his annual performance goals set last September.
The plan is supposed to be complete by September, before his next performance review, and a draft of the plan was due in April.
The town council recently scrutinized the unfinished document at a study session, where council members applauded the work completed to date and outlined work they saw that still needed to be done.
When tasking Sweet with creating the plan, the council asked that it include a five-year "financial prospectus" with recommended strategies for funding the town in the future; an evaluation of the town's current budgeting process; and development of an information technology master plan, which was to set the direction for a "digital government" in the town, outlining uses for technology.
Sweet explained to the council at the meeting that he and the town staff approached writing the plan by first evaluating the community, looking at its strengths and weaknesses, the opportunities and threats that exist, and any trends in and around the town that might affect its future.
Using the town's General Plan, Sweet and staff then identified six elements of the strategic plan, including goals and objectives, that should be met within the next three to five years.
The elements in the draft plan are economic sustainability, annexation and growth, municipal facilities, town water supply, quality of life and infrastructure.
The goal under economic sustainability, as outlined in the plan, is to create a "long-term, broad based revenue stream" to help the town meet demands from residents for services. Objectives to be met for this goal include developing a diverse sales tax base, identifying and adopting new taxes, identifying user fees to help pay for costs, lobbying to re-establish and create new state and federal shared revenues, and actively pursuing annexation of existing commercial developments.
The goal for the annexation and growth element of the plan is to use annexation as a tool "not only to ensure economic viability, but to also increase land mass and preserve the town's sphere of influence and quality of life." The objective is to annex the areas laid out in the General Plan and to maintain economic viability.
Making sure there are adequate town facilities to meet the needs of staff and the service demands of residents is another goal of the plan, which includes objectives such as telling the public why such facilities are needed, developing a comprehensive plan for future facilities that spans the next few decades, and finding and buying land to build on.
Maintaining a supply of high-quality water is another goal, and includes making use of renewable water, preserving and protecting existing water supplies and continuing to develop new sources of potable water.
Coordinating historic, cultural and recreational assets of the town is part of the goal to maintain Oro Valley residents' quality of life, another of the plan's elements, which includes developing strategies for land acquisition, developing strategies for staffing and maintaining such facilities.
The final element of the plan is to maintain the town's infrastructure and to provide new infrastructure as needed. This includes identifying, evaluating and funding traditional infrastructure such as roads, utilities and bridges, and nontraditional infrastructure such as routers and servers.
Mayor Paul Loomis stressed that the plan brought to the council is a working document that is only about 40 percent complete.
He said that the plan represented a "significant effort" by the staff, and that "some of the words, most of the ideas and some of the format" were in the draft.
He said he sees the strategic plan as "a top-level-down document" that provides guidance and direction to the town's department heads, who in turn may create their own plans for their staff.
He said the plan is "a good start" and asked that the document be brought back to the council during its retreat in July for another look.
Councilwomen Helen Dankwerth said she also believes Sweet and the staff "did a good job" with the draft, but that the different components and timelines need to be evaluated to make sure realistic goals have been set.
"It is a business plan," Dankwerth said. "The town is a business and it has to be run as a business."
Dankwerth said the strategic plan will help the town staff and the council to develop policies in the future. She said she thinks the strategic plan will work together with the General Plan, the economic development think tank and the economic vitality plan the town is now working on because the goal for all these different plans is the same: to provide direction for the future.
"It's like a weaving loom; these are all the yarns that need to be woven together," she said.
Dankwerth said the strategic plan should be developed as a guide to help the town staff and the council make decisions, similar to the General Plan but with a more immediate time frame. Instead of planning for 20 years, the plan is for the next five years and should be looked at periodically, reviewed and revised. Within those five years, there will be tasks outlined that should be completed in a few months, a year or three years.
"The plan forces you to provide a check upon yourself. Are you meeting your goals? If not, why not?" she said.
Dankwerth said she thinks that when the town was in its infancy it didn't need a strategic plan because the workings of the government weren't that sophisticated.
And she said that as the town rapidly grew, it had money from all the construction.
"That well is drying up," she said, however, and that is why she believes now is the time for the kind of planning that is laid out through a strategic plan.
"It is a proactive tool," Dankwerth said. "Before, we sat back and saw what was coming at us and said 'yea' or 'nay.'"
But, she said, she does not think the town can "afford the luxury" of sitting back. She said the plan will help the town "identify what we want and aggressively go out and get it."
The Naranja Town Site is at the top of the list of issues to be addressed through the strategic plan for Dankwerth and other council members for a number of reasons, she said, most importantly because residents have expressed the wish for regional neighborhood parks.
Figuring out how to solve various transportation issues facing the town also is an important aspect of the planning, Dankwerth said, as is planning the types of industries the town wants to attract, such as biotech and tourism.
Councilwoman Conny Culver agreed that this is "a huge step forward" for the town and said that she thinks the strategic plan will be the document that pulls together many of the other plans for the town.
She said she hopes to get public input on what should be included in the plan and to move it forward as quickly as possible.
"A plan like this is long overdue in Oro Valley," she said. "I'm very, very pleased to see the process begin."
She said the strategic plan, when finished, should lay out what the communities want, in terms of services, and how the town plans to get there.
"There's a lot of expensive ideas out there," she said, citing Naranja Town Site as an example. "We need to know if the community wants these things, how are we going to pay for them."
Councilman Kenneth "K.C." Carter agrees that the town needs a plan, but said there are some major issues that need to be addressed before the town can decide what direction it wants to take for the future.
He said the most important issue to him is deciding whether Oro Valley wants to be a bedroom community or a place that provides jobs for the people who live there.
Carter said he does not believe there is enough industrial land left in the town to build a strong base of jobs in the community. The land that is available is in small parcels of two to five acres, he said.
"It's not big enough for an auto mall or something like that," he said.
He said most people who work in the town now have jobs either with the town's government, in the construction industry, or in the few retail stores and, personally, he would like to see it remain that way.
"I'm happy with a bedroom community," he said. "I drive some place if I want to buy a pair of shoes."
Loomis said that, while the community of Oro Valley has about 40,000 residents, only about 5,000 jobs exist in the town.
"Work, live and play is stated in this document several times. I agree wholeheartedly with live and play, but the work part, I don't think we'll be able to drive that train," he told the council and staff at a recent study session held to discuss the draft document.
But Vice Mayor Barry Gillaspie said he was confused by the discussion of whether Oro Valley should remain a bedroom community and added that he thought it had been decided long ago that the town is full-service.
Culver said that while Oro Valley may once have been a bedroom community it isn't anymore.
"Development and growth have changed that. Now we have decided how we are going to keep the best parts of bedroom community and move it forward," she said. "We can figure out how to keep that small town feel and still provide the services the residents want. It will be a very tricky balance."
But, she said, she thinks with the help of the community the council and staff will be able to do it.
Dankwerth agreed with Gillaspie and Culver.
"Frankly, the time has passed that the town could ever be identified as a bedroom community, even if we wanted to. The growth around us precludes us staying that way."
And instead of allowing the areas around to seize on any future opportunities, Dankwerth said she wants Oro Valley to have the "competitive edge" and be a leader in seeking out opportunities. She said having this plan in place will help the town be ready for whatever presents itself.
Whether or not the rest of the council agrees with him, Carter said it's a decision that needs to be made before much planning for the future can be accomplished.
Carter said he doesn't agree with others on the council that the town's revenue situation is stagnate, and he does not think the town needs to talk about a property tax at this time.
"I think we need to get more conservative in the way we spend money, tighten our belts in some places," he said, adding that he would not necessarily be opposed to special taxing for specific projects, for example, raising the bed tax and using some of that money to help finance the Naranja Town Site.
He also said the town needs to decide where it wants to annex and then start work to annex those areas right away so that the town can include any revenue that might be brought in by those areas in its plans.
"We need to get a plan and go," he said. "If it's going to be the Foothills Mall, let's go and get the Foothills Mall."
Carter said the draft plan that was presented to the council is good, but that he believes there will be a lot more planning and discussion before a final product is in place.
"You just aren't going to snap your fingers and have a good plan," he said. "It will take a lot of work, and a unified council."