February 8, 2006 - Every election cycle in Oro Valley, the EXPLORER asks candidates for council or mayor a number of questions to determine their stand on the major issues. This year, the EXPLORER only asked three questions, the answers to which should provide voters with key information about the most important issues in this election. The answers are below in this order: Mayor's race, incumbent first, challenger second; council race, incumbents first, challengers second, in alphabetical order.
1. Will you vote yes or no on the Oro Valley Marketplace tax incentive referendum? Please explain your answer.
Are taxpayers getting an adequate return on their $23+ million investment? Are projected revenues realistic? We do not know who/what is coming in other than a movie theater, office space and retail space. Without this vital information, we cannot determine with any confidence how many dollars will actually be generated from this project. Would you buy a home without knowing what's inside?
Are there adequate performance standards in the $23+ agreement? This document lacks teeth, we should have required: sit-down restaurants; rebate to be performance-based (year-to-year), only after meeting projected revenues; and language preventing bait/switch tactics, keeping 100 percent planned retail space. It is my obligation to carry out the will of the people, the $23 million question is: How are you going to vote? Oro Valley is one of the wealthiest/most educated municipalities in Arizona, do we need to subsidize private industry to bring them here?
I will vote no on this item because most of the infrastructure items which were used to justify the $23 million were not required to build the mall. The most glaring example is the revegetation of the adjacent county land, which, in reality, is a Vistoso Partners commitment to the county in return for a rezoning in Neighborhood 12 just before this area was annexed into Oro Valley.
There is a high probability that the net financial town impact of the project will be negative due to the added town costs and reduced tax revenues received from existing businesses. Few, if any, of the currently expected mix of stores are of the type which will cause the major shift of shopping from out of town to this shopping center that would be required to make it financially beneficial to the town.
We need to secure Oro Valley's future. While I don't agree with the magnitude of the tax sharing, I do support the project. Therefore, I will vote yes. The Oro Valley Marketplace (OVM) will generate $100 million in revenue over 20 years.
Our citizens have said they do not want a property tax. As town expenses are growing faster than revenues, our financial choices will be limited if we don't proceed.
Voting yes is a vote of support for public safety given that OVM is providing an on-site police substation (at no cost to the community).
As a Council Member, I requested that OVM include water harvesting for landscape irrigation. This will save millions of gallons of precious groundwater.
The approved development plan contains a 70-acre riparian area restoration and incorporates bicycle and hiking trails.
This project is consistent with the General Plan and deserves our approval.
I will vote YES on question 2. People can discuss for hours about whether the amount of the incentive is too large, too small or whether there should be one at all. But in the end, the fact is the sales tax and other revenue for Oro Valley generated by the Oro Valley Marketplace will be a great benefit to the citizens of the our community. With that revenue Oro Valley can build and maintain more and better parks, hire more police personnel and have additional funds to maintain our roadways. The incentive is an investment in our fiscal future, not a giveaway. With no initial fiscal outlay from Oro Valley, the town is afforded the opportunity to receive nearly $67 million in sales tax revenue. Given that same scenario in the private sector, I doubt any individual investor would turn it down. Why should the town?
I strongly support the Oro Valley Marketplace development. The action taken by the former Town Council to grant a tax incentive was based on their perceived need for commercial development in the town to support the town's growth and expand the tax base. Many cities do this throughout the country. Some people do not feel that this incentive is necessary. The electorate will make this determination in February and March, and neither the current council nor the next council will vote on this incentive issue. In my opinion, our community is ready to have dining, quality shopping and movie theatres nearby, and they would prefer keeping our sales tax dollars in Oro Valley. As our town has grown, the demographics have changed to younger families. This project will not only give us tax revenue it will create jobs for many, including jobs for our high school students. If I had children in high school, I would prefer that they work or spend time in our community rather than other areas of Pima County. I will vote yes on the referendum.
NO! Vestar's contract has no performance guarantees, so NOW Vestar says they're bringing in offices … That's less sales tax revenue for OV!
All four Vestar malls near Phoenix are generic with big boxes - nothing unique like we'd find at Westcor's La Encantada. "Quality" restaurants? How about Vestar's favorite: Chile's?
A Vestar "Open House" had a large "L" shaped 3-D model on display. I asked their architect if the Marketplace will have a courtyard like the one shown. "No," he admitted, "That's to show the kind of work we can do." People filing by mistakenly thought they were looking at "our" shopping center!
Vestar needs to come clean with Oro Valley.
A movie theater is featured in Vestar's ads because marketing research said people want one. However, the contract doesn't say we'll get one, so don't count on it! The sales tax revenue we expect may never materialize, either.
2. When will the Naranja Town Site, as proposed and designed, be constructed and how will its construction and maintenance be paid for?
To build Naranja Town site as master-planned will cost approximately $60-80 million. We can build it through bonding, unfortunately we do not have enough money in our general fund to pay the maintenance and operation costs of approximately $4.5-6 million per year.
I believe that phasing is the most achievable method to develop the site. If we develop the site in phases, what do we build first? How do we pay for these quality of life issues in our future? The town recently conducted a survey regarding priorities and funding strategies for the Naranja Town Site. We will analyze the survey results to determine what our community's priorities are and explore funding opportunities to achieve our community goals. These are some of the opportunities we should explore to help fund the Naranja Town Site: public/private partnerships; increase bed tax allocation; user fees; increase impact fees and others.
Building this park will be a phased project over a number of years to design, construct and finish the entire project. At the present time, some money is available from the extra bed tax and this source will increase as additional hotels are built. I picture that the early use of the park will be for sports use, with the community center and other buildings at a later date. There is good chance of getting assistance from corporations for some of the funding. It could require a sales tax increase to finish the project and to pay for maintenance and operation.
Family recreation and cultural areas are desperately needed in Oro Valley. Baseball fields, tennis and basketball courts, a swimming pool, picnic areas, hiking trails and entertainment venues can be accommodated in the Naranja Town Site.
I believe that construction on some parts of the Naranja Town Site will begin later this year. Opening hiking trails in the park will help everyone visualize the future possibilities.
The completion of the NTS is dependent on the town's ability to generate revenue.
A survey of our citizens to determine what recreational and cultural venues should be included in the park is now complete, and will help us make decisions.
I support the park being built and maintained using grant funding, corporate sponsorships, bonding and possibly the collection of user fees.
It is one of my primary goals to begin the construction of the Naranja regional park as soon as possible. It's time to walk the walk. There may be some further design work and we need to ensure that the uses proposed in the initial stages of this planning process remain valid. Corporate sponsorships should be encouraged and sought. Grants from federal and state agencies and private foundations should be vigorously pursued. Revenues from local sales tax, bed tax and other current income streams can be utilized. Naranja Regional Park is one of the primary reasons for voting YES on question 2! Once built, the users of the park facilities should, where appropriate, pay for the use. Privatization of some park operations should be reviewed. To the extent possible, the park should pay for itself.
The need for interactive parks in our community is important. Studies have been done and questionnaires completed indicating the types of recreation desired. A community committee led by business leaders and an ad hoc group such as "Friends of the Park" should be created to promote the park and consider funding options to include, but not limited to, grants and corporate sponsorships. Meanwhile, the park can remain natural desert open space. Trails could be added at a minimal cost so that the public could begin enjoying the beauty of the park site. Ultimately, voters should decide through a referendum whether or not to financially support the improvements and maintenance for the park.
We don't have the wherewithal to carry out the whole 213 acres as proposed and designed, but let's start Phase One with fresh-air-loving volunteers working on pathways to extend in different directions through the park, accessible from surrounding neighborhoods. Ask the Save-a-Plant organization to add cactus in appropriate areas where most needed. Begin creative fundraising with Oro Valley clubs and organizations. The Municipal Property Corporation should arrange capital funding in the form of bonds to pay for some of the major buildings - the Community Center, for example. Apply for grants and matching funds. Invite individuals and corporations to underwrite playground equipment, sports facilities with lighting for night use and the arts buildings. Eventually, when the performing arts facility is operational, it will be time for the complex to begin to pay for itself through ticket sales, rental of rooms and facilities, concessions and a gift shop.
3. Where will Oro Valley draw added income from to meet expected demands on the town's budget? Or, if you prefer, what departments and programs should be cut to balance the town's budget if tax income does not sufficiently increase in the next fiscal year?
We would examine our budget very closely and take all necessary action to reduce waste/identify potential revenue. Initially, I would ask all of our town's department heads across the board (including council) to cut their department budgets by x% and to prioritize their needs, as they know what is critical to their department.
I would then ask our town manager to review/adjust this information and prepare a list of priority items for each department to council. The town manager has an overall understanding of our community and what is necessary to run it. The town council would then review the manager's recommendations along with public input/feedback and make the necessary adjustments.
We should work diligently to promote our highly educated populous/desirable workforce to the high tech and biomedical industries. Jobs equate to more money spent in our community, less traveling, increased "Quality of Life" and will help bring economic growth.
Each year a close review of the proposed income will be reviewed vs. the money needed to maintain our town, growth and progress. In case a need is found to slow down the town's needs, we will freeze new hiring, cuts in many of the perks in out of state travel and other items. Making use of our existing autos for a longer period of time is also a possibility. Review the use of so many telephones each employee uses and carries. If necessary an increase in impact fees and maybe sales tax will be needed to move us ahead.
We're currently facing budget deficit issues because we've been dependent on building fees for the town revenues in the past. As almost all of our land is developed or will be developed, revenue from building fees will soon become unavailable.
We want to secure our future and ensure that Oro Valley remains a community of excellence. Our citizens say they do not want a property tax, so we need to find opportunities for renewable revenues and increase efforts to manage our resources efficiently.
We must seek and apply for grant opportunities. Historic preservation and transportation grants, such as the federal "Safe Sidewalks" funding, could be available to us.
We need to strengthen our relationships with existing area businesses to foster expansion within our community. Encouraging high tech and biomedical firms to establish and expand in Oro Valley will generate additional revenues through high paying jobs.
Current projections indicate the income from proposed retail projects presently in the pipeline in Oro Valley will produce sufficient income to meet expected demands for the near term. However, we must now plan for the future. We must take a long-term look at our horizons and chart a course that will keep us on sound financial footing while maintaining that great lifestyle that we now enjoy in Oro Valley. We have achieved the success we enjoy today, not as a result of mismanagement and not because we planned recklessly. A responsible annexation plan can also increase revenues. This was demonstrated in the annexation of the Oracle and Magee area. Those who advocate for higher and higher impact fees are simply attempting to price development, which generates the impact fees, out of the area. Having a variety of affordable single family residences is key to good economic development.
We must encourage both economic development for sales tax revenue and annexation. I support maintaining a cash reserve in the town budget. It is the town manager's responsibility to present a balanced operating budget to the council. If the town manager is unable to do so without significantly cutting services, the council should direct the town manager to present two budgets: (1) with cuts to reflect the council's priorities, and (2) at the currents level of services. The council should establish a priority list for budget. My priorities would be: police and the water utility. Beyond those priorities, I would support the town manager returning a balanced operating budget with cuts reflecting his expertise. Council should amend budget as they see fit and approve a balanced operating budget. Thereafter, the electorate should be given opportunity by council to vote additional funding for current level of spending and, perhaps, additional capital improvements.
Growth and development generate income, but OV needs a much more diversified revenue stream. The completion of Rooney Ranch Town Centre, Steam Pump Village and Steam Pump Ranch will add to solvency. Oracle Crossing's Sprouts just opened; El Mercado on Pusch Ridge Lane and other new businesses on La Cañada will raise revenue, but we need more resorts, medical-related facilities and biotech firms. High-end, unique retail shops that bring in a full 2 percent sales tax revenue would be healthy additions.
The town can continue to annex, and higher impact fees can be charged to reduce our financial burden.
Cut waste. Unnecessary litigation such as the $130,000 incurred for court costs in trying to defeat the SOVOG referendum, and funding improvements such as the $900,000 water facilities for the Ritz-Carlton Resort that located elsewhere are examples of egregious government waste and mismanagement that OV must avoid in the future.