Oro Valley Town Council voted 5-2 to approve the town’s $93.9 million budget on Wednesday evening.
The vote temporarily brought an end to council debate on if, and how, cuts should be made to the town’s police department, a debate that continues to be a central focus during each year’s budget season.
The police budget makes up 50 percent of the town’s general fund, and is up 9.2 percent year over year.
Council members Bill Garner and Mike Zinkin have been at the forefront in exploring cuts to the department. Both were on the receiving end of public comment by a number of town residents during last week’s meeting.
“During the budget study session on April 24, Councilmember Zinkin made a statement about knowing nothing about police work,” said resident Richard Tracy Sr. “If that’s the case, then how is it he goes on to micromanage the police department in the guise of making recommendations to reduce the police budget?
“At the last council meeting, Councilmember Garner stated, ‘I am not an expert in the police science area,’ and then went on to discuss efficiencies in the police department.”
Tracy, a 40-year law enforcement veteran, said from his experience, “efficiencies are not the same as effectiveness.”
Resident Don Bristow took an alternative stance. He says Zinkin and Garner are simply asking the tough questions on behalf of the taxpayers who are concerned about the police department’s increased budget.
“The council and the members should be asking questions – now, perhaps say there is no other solution, that’s fine,” said Bristow. “It would not serve this community if you were not at least asking questions about that increase.”
Zinkin argues he was simply doing what he was elected to do, and meant no disrespect to Police Chief Danny Sharp in exploring cuts.
“They were questions I thought were pertinent, and I don’t apologize for asking those questions,” said Zinkin.
On the other hand, Zinkin was apologetic about his prior suggestion that town employees pay 10 percent more for health care benefits. His apology came after hearing from resident and town employee Carmen Trevizo.
“We haven’t had raises in four years,” said Trevizo. “To do this at a time when we’re actually going to make some headway I think damages the trust between employees and council.”
Zinkin subsequently withdrew his suggestion to cut employee benefits.
“I apologize. That probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do,” he said. “I have the utmost respect for the town employees. I think they do a fine job. If you took that as a slap in the face, I sincerely apologize… I have no intention of continuing on that.”
Zinkin would go on to vote against the budget, arguing it does not pay enough attention to funding for parks and recreation, arts and culture, and historic preservation.
Garner was the only other councilmember to reject the budget, which ultimately passed in a 5-2 vote.
In another item, council voted to reject repayment to the town’s Contingency Reserve Fund after spending $2.1 million of the fund to underground power lines along Oracle Road.
Finance Director Stacey Lemos said if repayment was made, it would mean either reducing the budget in other areas or finding ways to increase revenues.
Even without replenishment, the town sits about $3.6 million above the minimum reserve balance threshold mandated by council.