After a lengthy discussion about the Steam Pump Ranch property, the Oro Valley Town Council voted to hold a study session within the coming year that involves the council and an ad hoc committee.
The committee will be comprised of people with the Historical Society, Historic Preservation Commission, Pima County, as well as people that were part of the ranch’s original task force. The committee would look at the property in the order of preservation, use, and revenue.
The discussion began with Councilman Mike Zinkin asking the council to “seriously consider” allocating $500,000 toward the restoration of the Proctor/Leiber house this year with the intention of having the building used filling community needs such as a visitor’s center, a location for the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce, or a home base for the Historic Preservation Society.
As a revenue generator, it was also suggested that the restored facility could become a location for weddings, quinceañeras, and other gatherings.
In a short presentation, Zinkin said in a 2008 study, it was estimated to cost $463,200 to restore the house. After talking with people within the town’s historic society, Zinkin said it was estimated to now cost $510,000.
“We do have the money to do that without taking it out of contingency,” he said. “In this council report… Stacy (Lemos, the town’s finance director) gives us a report saying that sales tax collections from the general fund are estimated to come over budget at approximately $571,000.”
The town has spent more than $1.5 million on the property since it acquired it in 2007 for $4.7 million. The town currently has budgeted $125,000 for the 2014/15 fiscal year, $280,000 for the following year and another $280,000 for the 2016/17 fiscal year for the property.
Before the council discussed the issue, Oro Valley resident Bill Adler, Historic Preservation Commission member Eric Thomae, and former Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis spoke in favor of the town allocating funds now to restore the Steam Pump Ranch property.
Vice Mayor Lou Waters expressed a concern of the final plan for the property.
“There still is no plan,” Waters asked Zinkin, “Are we going to rehabilitate, or are we going to restore, or are we going to stabilize, or as you put it, are we going to demolish part of this home, which is not a restoration, that is a reconfiguring.”
Waters also questioned what was going to be the best way to use the Proctor/Leiber house.
“I don’t see anywhere where there is a plan for use of how we are investing or how we are going to plan to invest into the Proctor/Leiber house,” Waters added.
Councilman Bill Garner spoke in response to Waters’ questions with how he sees the plan.
“I think what we have to do first is earmark the money. You can’t really have a plan if you don’t have financial backing,” Garner said. “I think the town has made a commitment and significant investment. And the minute we went after the historic designation both on the state level as well as on the federal level, you have now jumped with both feet into the fire, so to speak, and have made that commitment that we are going to invest in the future of this particular property.”
He also added that he felt that restoration efforts should be started on the property sooner than later.
Councilwoman Mary Snider told the council she is in favor of looking at whatever can be done for Steam Pump Ranch, but would like a consensus established on the priorities among the committees and commissions involved with the property.
Councilman Brendan Burns told the council he felt the town did have a plan, as money has already been budgeted for the property within the coming three years. He felt the discussion was about simply making the money available sooner.
Mayor Satish Hiremath said he had a problem with the agenda item from a philosophical standpoint. He questioned why some council members who voted against the 2014/2015 fiscal budget during the previous council meeting because it was fiscally irresponsible. Hiremath said the council members who did vote against it cited that the council was spending money that it didn’t have. The mayor wondered why there was suddenly a change of mindset and now there was an abundance of money available for improvements.
“My way of looking at things is if we can spend wisely, and attract major revenue resources…you exponentially increase your revenue sources very quickly, so that way we in turn now can do some of these projects that we sorely need to do.”
Councilman Joe Hornat said he felt the property was stabilized and knows the town’s budget has allocated money for the property.
“We’ve got a plan that is a little further out. Maybe after we hear from the committee, maybe we will reevaluate,” Hornat said. “But right now, I don’t like to allocate money for things that I am not sure are the right way we’re are going to go.”
The motion made by Zinkin and seconded by Garner was receded. Garner made a new motion that was seconded by Snider.
“I think the consensus of the council is that we need to move forward, but we need to move forward a little slower,” Garner said as he proposed having a study session with the ad hoc committee and the council within the coming year.
The motion passed unanimously.
Later in the council meeting, Zikin was appointed as a council liaison to the town’s historic preservation commission.