With a minor proposed amendment, the final budget for the fiscal year 2014/2015 for the town of Oro Valley was approved, along with the 15-year capital improvement plan, in a 4-3 vote on May 21.
Mayor Satish Hiremath, Vice Mayor Lou Waters, and councilmembers Mary Snider and Joe Hornat voted in favor of it. Voting against the proposed budget were councilmembers Bill Garner, Mike Zinkin and Brendan Burns.
The amendment that passed with the budget came from a motion made by Garner to remove the word “cover” from the language on a $125,000 item to allow more flexibility for the preservation experts to determine the best way to preserve and protect the steam pump at Steam Pump Ranch. This motion passed 6-1 with Hiremath voting against it.
The approved budget cap is $107 million, which is in line with the past 10 years’ budgets that were around $100 million. Of those budgets, the highest amount actually spent was about $75 million, with the lowest amount being around $56 million.
“That results in a spending plan that is sustainable and is in line with our historical spending patterns that we have seen over the last decade,” said Stacey Lemos, the town’s finance director, during the presentation of the agenda item.
During a call to audience, members of the public spoke about how they approved of certain items on the budget while others would like the council to consider allocating funds in other places.
Oro Valley resident Bill Adler suggested the council look at changing the mandatory 1 percent of building costs that goes to public art to be upped to 1.5 percent or 1.75 percent. He also asked the council to look at Steam Pump Ranch in the same manner they look at the Oro Valley Aquatic Center with restoring it to the point where people can hold events there, presentations, lectures, classes, weddings and receptions.
“I think this council and future councils need to adopt an attitude about this property that is consistent with the attitude that you’ve expressed with regard to the aquatic center,” Adler said citing that the center stimulates economic activity.
Along with the dollars allocated for the pump house, Oro Valley Town Manager Greg Caton said the town has authorized $82,000 to be spent on the ranch this year, and $560,000 is budgeted to be split during the coming two years, which totals nearly $800,000 that is allocated for the property during a four-year span.
Oro Valley resident Eric Thomae, who is a member of the Oro Valley Historic Preservation Commission, spoke to the council expressing his support of the $125,000 for a cover over the existing pump house ruin.
“The plan proposed by some members of the original task force would be to allow the pump house to deteriorate into obscurity and to put all of the funding into the Proctor/Leiber house, because that’s what will attract more people to the ranch,” Thomae said. “Without a protective covering, it is likely to be even more of an eyesore and will have folks clamoring that it should be completely removed from the property.”
During further discussion of the budget, Burns explained that he could not morally or ethically vote in favor of the budget for two reasons. He explained that he felt a budget is not only a policy document but also a reflection of values.
“I only had one request, and that was for specific programing for our low income and disabled,” Burns said. “Our town currently doesn’t have any program besides the Coyote Run for disabled/ low income individuals.”
Burns said he felt that with a town of such wealth that it should be doing more for those individuals, while Hiremath said to Burns that he felt the town is working to help those in need, such as a place for parents who have disabled children, and reminded him of the current plans to put a Tucson Children’s Museum satellite location in Oro Valley “On face value, while the comment is valid, I think the reality is that the town of Oro Valley does offer programs for the very group that you mentioned; the seniors, the disabled, the poor, and children,” Hiremath said.
Burns later explained that he also would not vote in favor of the budget because Oro Valley residents pay property tax to Pima County and thinks that it should be reorganized to have residents’ dollars not go to the county, but stay within the town.
Speaking about how it currently is, Burns said, “I think that’s the least effective way to fund and run Oro Valley, because we are a donor town.
“We are not getting 100 percent back on what we’re paying to the county bond tax,” Burns added.
Hiremath felt the taxpayers are getting their money’s worth from the county and asked Caton to help him explain how roughly $10 million has been used during the past few years.
“$2.3 million was authorized for Naranja Park, $2.1 million for the undergrounding [of power lines], and then $5 million for the aquatic center,” Caton said.
Snider then explained why she would be voting in favor of the budget.
“The recommended budget is balanced, it predicts a slight surplus and we all know how conservative Mrs. Lemos and Mr. Caton are,” Snider said. “It also maintains a surplus, which exceeds council’s recommended levels, additional monies are being added to the contingency fund in the amount of $5 million. As directed by council, the budget recommendations are tied directly to the 2013 Strategic Plan, which was unanimously passed by this council, as well as adherence to the General Plan.”
On an earlier council agenda item, the council reluctantly and unanimously approved a portion of land from private natural area to a buildable area located in the Pusch Ridge subdivision, which is on Della Roccia Court in La Reserve.
The approval allows developers to extend lots out, which in turn means larger retaining walls will have to be built along a hillside that is in the natural area. The retaining walls are currently 15 to 30 feet tall, and with the extension of the lots the height of the retaining wall could increase.
The property is governed by the La Reserve Planned Area Development, which was approved by the Oro Valley Town Council in the mid `80s. With that governing, developers simply have to comply with the minimum requirements.
Despite public outcry from neighboring residents, Arizona case law and statues would put the council in a legal violation if it were to vote against the approval.