October 4, 2006 - Not long after Oro Valley's proposed utility tax failed on Sept. 20, some council members expressed worry about the potential fallout that wasn't addressed during the public debate.
The repercussions of rejecting the tax, which would have pumped an extra $2.1 million into the general fund of the cash-strapped town, probably won't be fully realized until next year at budget time. But Vice Mayor Terry Parish and some other council members fear the failed tax could halt progress on other town projects, namely, the Naranja Town Site.
The Town Site is a 200-acre plot of rugged, undeveloped terrain that the council wants to turn into the recreational epicenter of Oro Valley. It's projected to cost about $100 million to construct.
So far the town council has invested more than $3 million into the park's creation - the heftiest expense being the land's purchase at about $2.5 million.
But shortly after the tax failed on Sept. 20, Parish, who has been one of the park's biggest cheerleaders, put an item on the council's Oct. 4 meeting agenda calling for a possible hold on the Town Site.
Future funding might not be available to keep the park on track, Parish said. The agenda item called for the "discussion and possible action to suspend any additional staff efforts in the implementation of the Naranja Town Site Strategic Plan."
A couple of days later, Parish pulled the item, saying town staff misunderstood his request.
"It's my belief that we may need to delay, but we've already set the money aside for this year," he said.
The council has already approved money for this year's town site-related tasks.
Through his actions, Parish drew attention to the fact that the town might not be able to afford the Naranja Town Site's ambitious schedule. Right now the site is expected to open in June 2010.
Parish also said it's a matter of priorities, implying the town should fully fund public safety before it funds parks and recreation.
"We have to figure out how to fund the basic necessities of the town before we pay for parks," Parish said. "We have to get our priorities straight."
The town staff proposed the tax to pay for 18 and one-half new town jobs, mostly in the police department, that would cost the town $1.2 million. But the 4 percent tax would have raised almost twice that much. About $900,000 extra was expected to pump some revenue into the general fund to cushion next year's budgeting process and ensure that things like the Naranja Town Site stay funded.
Parish, a Pima County deputy sheriff, said he was disappointed after the tax failed because the police department has needed more officers for years.
But he's also looking for ways to fund the town site. The extra money from the utility tax could've been one way. Plus, Parish has said repeatedly that citizens won't support a property tax to pay for the site.
A February survey of 400 Oro Valley residents found that less than 30 percent of surveyed citizens said they would support a property tax of some kind to fund the park.
Nonetheless, the Naranja Town Site timeline still has a primary and secondary property tax election scheduled for November 2007, "if necessary."
Councilwoman Helen Dankwerth seconded Parish's proposed agenda item to halt the Naranja Town Site schedule.
"One of the reasons I even considered holding off on (the Naranja Town Site) was because the non-passage of the tax is going to put a crimp in what we can do," said Dankwerth, who also voted in favor of the utility tax on Sept. 20.
Dankwerth said the extra money from the tax would have generated sustainable revenue to fund a number of things in addition to the jobs.
"It was my understanding we would use the $900,000 in multiple areas. One might have been on work for the Naranja Town Site," Dankwerth said.
Mayor Paul Loomis, who also voted for the tax, said Parish's agenda item might have been a reaction to the utility tax defeat, but that Parish realized it was premature to start looking at alternatives or making cuts this fall.
The failed utility tax will not hinder Naranja Town Site planning for this year, Loomis said, "but next year, maybe it will."
Loomis said the council would have to re-establish its priorities, and determine how high the Naranja Town Site will be on that list.
"Maybe it's a retaliation against the utility tax," said Councilman K.C. Carter when questioned about the proposed-then-removed agenda item. "I don't know."
Carter voted against the tax. He said the town eventually will build the Naranja Town Site, but it will take awhile. It will have to be gradually phased in, he said.
For this year, Parks and Recreation Director Ainsley Reeder will spend the $291,000 allocated to continue planning the town site.