Oro Valley residents had the opportunity to hear the perspectives of the six candidates running for Town Council when Sun City hosted a forum at the town’s Social Hall on Feb. 18.
The candidates include Fred Narcaroti, Mike Zinkin, Bill Garner, Mark Napier, Steve Solomon, and Brendan Burns. Three council seats are to be filled, with current Councilman Barry Gillespie choosing not to seek reelection. Garner is up for reelection, and Solomon is looking for his first four-year term after being appointed to Council 18 months ago when a vacancy arose.
Residents filled out index cards with questions relating to some of the town’s major concerns. Moderator Jack Everett then read the questions, and each candidate was given two minutes to answer.
Candidates were asked to name their two top priorities for Oro Valley if elected. The answers are listed in the order they were given. The official primary election date is Tuesday, March 13.
One of the top priorities that I see is economic development. I would like to foster to the environment we have at Innovation Park with Ventana, and to build on that. I think that is a core area where Oro Valley can bring some high-paying jobs and also some of those other jobs that are ancillary to those businesses. I think that will increase our sales tax revenue, and build a community that is based upon those clean-type tech jobs.
In addition, I would like to focus on the Tangerine corridor between Oro Valley and Marana. That’s a corridor connecting with I-10 that’s going to be a booming area of economic development for commercial, retail, and probably some other biotech businesses along the way, especially with the logistics connecting to I-10 and the development in Marana with transportation logistics.
The other priority of mine is public safety. I think we need to continue to have that as a top priority in our community, to continue to have the safest community in Arizona. I think you cannot spend enough time and effort on that to be ranked number one and continue to have a safe community for everybody.
My priorities would be to continue to balance the budget, which of course is state law, but balance it without any additional taxes, any new taxes, or increase in existing taxes. I think when you look at Oro Valley and Oro Valley government, there is still a multitude of areas we can cut budget, and not have to raise taxes and we can do it with no sacrifice to safety, we can do it with no sacrifices to the services we now enjoy.
Let me put to rest a rumor that I heard the other day. I have no intention of initiating or going forward with outsourcing the police force. I don’t know where that started, but it’s not true. I have worked with Daniel Sharpe, and I’ve worked with Larry Stevens. We have done resolutions together, and I will continue to work with the command staff of the Oro Valley Police Department to continue public safety. We can still balance our budget, and there is still a lot of fluff in the government that we can cut. We don’t need to increase taxes or start any additional taxes.
In the area of economic development, I think we can do economic development right here in Oro Valley. We can do our own economic development departments. We can hold that department accountable for the job they do. We can go out and sell Oro Valley as being a part of Oro Valley. I agree that economic development is certainly one of our top priorities, because economic development is what brings in the tax revenues, and we need those tax revenues in order to keep the town sustainable.
Number one would be signature events. I’ve always been a proponent of signature events, especially here in Oro Valley, and some of those you’re starting to see come to fruition. I think it comes down to destination. Oro Valley needs to create a niche for itself, very similar to Fourth Street Fair, and Chili Cook-off, which occurs in the city of Tucson. We don’t have a Pima Air and Space Museum, we don’t have a physical attraction that can bring people here other than our beautiful Catalina State Park, which technically is not in Oro Valley. How are we going to bring people to be interested in Oro Valley? We bring them through signature events, and you’re starting to see some of those events materialize over the last few years. One of those is the IronKids triathlon meet. The other one is the Duathlon, which we’ve had here in Oro Valley, and we’re taking advantage of the beautiful desert landscape and the beautiful trails and groomed areas that we can have children as well as adults do this type of training and activity in Oro Valley.
One of the other things that you’ve seen from the Council being approved is the $3 million expansion of our swimming facility. That will add additional competitive activities to Oro Valley that can bring signature activities of an aquatic nature, as well as just recently, the archery group is looking at putting two walking or action courses and one fixed course in Naranja Park, finally getting that park to be utilized for recreational activities.
The second thing I’m looking at is Innovation Park. That is the gem of Oro Valley. It brings clean jobs, it brings jobs with high-paying executives at PhD level who will relocate here to Oro Valley and hopefully spend their dollars here. That is very important. Innovation Park needs to continue to be fostered and we need, as a community, to embrace the fact that Innovation Park is going to be the linchpin that hopefully guides us to the next level to bring in those additional businesses that will feed off the larger businesses that will come in to hopefully manufacture and do additional research.
First would be sensible and sustainable growth. There is always this dichotomy in Oro Valley of growth and no growth, and the push-pull, and I think what we need to move toward is sensible and sustainable growth. We’re about 85 percent built-out. What we do with the remaining 15 percent of our land is of critical importance and will guide what kind of community we live in in the future. It’s the matter in which we grow that is very important to stay in congruence with our general plan and make sure that growth complements and augments the beautiful nature of the community we live in. Growth for the sake of growth is always a mistake, and standing in the way of all growth is equally a mistake. We need to move towards sensible, sustainable growth that complements our community, expands our tax base, and expands our opportunities in respect to housing and commercial development. It’s absolutely vital to remain a viable community moving forward. That would be something that is very important to me and something I am skilled in as my position as the commissioner with the planning and zoning.
The second thing that is really important to me is fiscal responsibility. Fiscal responsibility means an awful lot more than balancing a single fiscal year budget. That’s a very myopic view. We need to be looking strategically at where we want Oro Valley to be in the future, and that doesn’t mean just entering draconian cuts for the sake of balancing a budget, or increasing revenues simply because it makes managing a budget easier. It means fiscal responsibility. It’s looking at how we bring in money and how we can get the best return for the citizens of Oro Valley for the revenues we take in, and that’s hard work that takes experience and competence to get done.
My top priority is to keep Oro Valley the best place to live in Southern Arizona. We are a community of excellence. We have an incredible police department, our roads are second to none, and we have an incredible water system with an ensured future. We’ve started delivering CAP water to replenish our ground water a few weeks ago. All of these things will bring economic growth and development and people, because they come to the best place there is to live. It’s our responsibility on Council to maintain that, to ensure that when we look at budgets, we make sure we don’t jeopardize public safety, we don’t jeopardize our roads like Pima County has, we don’t jeopardize our water system or our future. The good news is over the last 18 months, we have done that. We have a stable, balanced budget. There are no more needs for large cuts. There are no needs for additional tax revenue, and we are looking forward to the future to ensure we have that financial sustainability.
Along with this, we are also working on the arts and cultural component. We just opened up Steam Pump Ranch, which is a classic, historical preservation of the cattle industry in the Tucson area. We have the historic Hohokam Honey Bee archeological site, and we have the Honey Bee Park, all three connected by a trail system. We can use the synergy of that to attract people. One site on its own may not sufficient, but if you connect all three, it’s a great cultural resource.
My two priorities would be commercial development and fiscal responsibility, and they go hand-in-hand. For long-term fiscal sustainability as a town, we need to do something different from the rest of Tucson. We need to be a place where when visitors come into Tucson, they go to Oro Valley to go to a nice restaurant, and while they’re here, they go to gathering foundations and give us sales tax revenue. How do we get to that point? You keep hearing the term “critical mass,” and that we don’t have the critical mass to get unique cultural, artistic things in Oro Valley, and upscale dining and shopping. Critical mass is a fancy way of saying “demand.” People like to say we don’t have enough people, but it’s really how much money we’re going to spend on our businesses, because if businesses are going to make profit, they’re going to open. How can we increase demand? I see two ways that Oro Valley can afford to increase the demand if we’re going to be self-sufficient fiscally.
One is by continuing to focus on our retired population. A large part of Oro Valley is attracting retirees to Oro Valley, which will increase our property values, but also attracting young professional families from Tucson. If you look what Catalina Foothills did 10 to 15 years ago, when all the professionals in Tucson went to Catalina Foothills, they really thrived. Their communities and schools got a lot better, and they started developing the upscale businesses and culture up there. I’d like Oro Valley to do the same thing- focusing on bringing retirees, but also young professionals, which is so important with Biotech around. Everyone wants to bring in new biotech, but some of our drawbacks are that schools aren’t as good as they should be, and we don’t have a lot of programs for the employee’s families. These are young, highly educated professionals that can go anywhere in the world. To get them to come here, we have to offer them and their spouses and family members something.