The Town of Oro Valley could take money from its reserves to pay for restoration work at a historic homestead.
An item on the July 7 council agenda would restore money to the Steam Pump Ranch fund — from which the council withdrew funds at a meeting earlier this month to make up for lost state support for the town's transit service.
"When our choice was Coyote Run or preserve some buildings," said Oro Valley Councilman Joe Hornat, "I saw funding Coyote Run, as long as we didn't have any money, as a priority."
Hornat offered the amendment to the final budget last month that pulled money from the Steam Pump Ranch fund. The council approved the changes, over the objections of councilmen Barry Gillaspie and Bill Garner.
The town has amassed a reserve account of more than $10 million in the general fund. Across all governmental funds, the town maintains more than $35 million in reserves.
With local sources of governmental income at a low ebb and state-shared revenue decreasing annually, larger questions about what to do with Steam Pump Ranch, and what value it has to the town, remain.
The proposed reserve spending, as much as $310,000, would be used to pay for restoration and stabilization contracts already put out to bid for work at the property.
The town was prepared to award a $410,000 contract based on June 4 bids for rehabilitation work at the 1870s-era Pusch house and the 1930s-era Procter/Leiber house.
The work includes replacing rafters and repairing external plaster on the Pusch house. The contractor also would repair portions of wall and roof that collapsed at the Procter/Leiber house.
Work at the crumbling adobe pump house would be included on a separate bid. Design work for that structure is under way.
The reserves would augment $149,000 in Pima County bond funding to pay for the work.
"I am definitely in favor of funding the money that was taken out," Councilman Garner said. "I don't believe it was well thought out to cut funding when it was done from the dais."
Garner pointed out a portion of the more than $3 million the town used to purchase the property came from Pima County voter-approved bonds. Arguably, an obligation to continue with work at the ranch has been made to taxpayers throughout the county, he believes.
"I think we have made a contract as a community to preserve history as best we can," Garner said.
The immediate work at Steam Pump Ranch would consist of stabilization efforts at the original 1870s era home and the Procter/Leiber home from the 1930s.
In the long term, the town has outlined a plan to spend millions of dollars on historic preservation work at Steam Pump Ranch. A master plan for Steam Pump Ranch lays out a multi-year restoration effort costing more than $8 million.
In 2007, the town purchased the property for more than $3 million. Later that year, it hired the architectural firm Poster Frost to research the property and, with the help of a citizen commission, develop a master plan. The company spent nearly a year working on the project and was paid $250,000.
The plan envisions the ranch becoming a tourist destination, attracting up to 80,000 visitors annually. At this stage, the site would include fully restored historic dwellings and an event center with a capacity for 350 people.
Estimates are the property would cost $567,000 annually to operate, and bring in slightly less than $300,000 in revenue.
Supporters of the historic project want the town to continue funding efforts to make the property viable.
"Steam Pump Ranch is important to Oro Valley because it's the last remaining evidence of historic ranching along the Canyon del Oro," said Pat Spoerl, who volunteers at the ranch and has served on the town's historic preservation committee.
Spoerl is currently involved in a historic garden project at the ranch, where she and others have been tending heirloom crop varieties including corn and squash traditionally grown in the region.
"To me it's important because you can learn from the past and build on it," Spoerl said.
Bob Baughman, another local volunteer and supporter of the efforts at Steam Pump Ranch, said the property provides a link to the past, not just to ranching but also to the indigenous tribes who populated the area for eons before European settlement.
"It's a young community, but there have been people living here for thousands of years," Baughman said. "Our past is not the history of the Town of Oro Valley, but the history of the place."
Garner said the town would see discernable benefits if the master plan came to fruition, through public visitation, use of the proposed event center and as a learning opportunity for local students.
"I can see a lot of programs being geared toward students at BASIS Charter School," building a new campus nearby, "as well as Amphi," Garner said.
Recent reductions in local and statewide sources of revenue have forced many local governments to re-evaluate spending.
In Oro Valley, the financial challenges have raised questions about the appropriateness of spending considerable sums of money on a property whose historic value isn't immediately evident.
With such financial problems not expected to end in the near future, the town may have to make a decision to postpone anything beyond stabilizing the aged buildings to protect them from further decay.
That possibility, however, has some concerned.
"I think that the longer work is put off, the more expensive it becomes," Spoerl said.
Hornat remains somewhat hesitant about the Steam Pump Ranch project.
"I just want to see what we get for our money," Hornat said. "I don't want to lose anything, I just don't see it paying off."
History of Steam Pump Ranch
German-immigrant George Pusch founded the ranch homestead in the 1870s. In the more than 130 years since, Steam Pump Ranch has undergone numerous changes from its beginnings as a working cattle ranch and popular stopover for cattlemen on their trips to deliver herds to rail yards.
The property draws its name from the steam-powered pump Pusch used to plumb water from the depths.
The town bought the home and surrounding acreage from the Leiber family in 2007.
George Pusch and business partner John Zellweger purchase Cañada del Oro Ranch (later renamed Steam Pump Ranch).
Southern Pacific Railroad arrives in Tucson. Steam Pump Ranch prospers from the influx of cattle drives by ranchers trying to get their cattle to market and transport on the railway. Steam Pump becomes a popular stopover on cattle drives.
Pusch and wife Matilda begin to live much of the year in Tucson, where he tends to his numerous business interests.
Pusch serves in Arizona's 16th Territorial Legislature.
Pusch dies on Aug. 20, at his Tucson home.
Matilda Pusch dies in Tucson. Steam Pump Ranch is sold to John Monroe "Jack" Procter for $10,000.
Procter daughter Elizabeth marries professional baseball player Henry Leiber. The pair's sons John Lee and Henry inherited the ranch after their grandfather's death in 1972.
Oro Valley buys the property from John Leiber.
Source: Oro Valley
Ranch on historic registry
Steam Pump Ranch, an historic 15-acre ranch in Oro Valley, was listed in National Register of Historic Places in September.
In June 2009, the State Historic Sites Review Committee gave the town of Oro Valley unanimous support for the nomination as a national historic site, stating Steam Pump Ranch holds "local significance" as an integral part of launching the region's ranching history.
In 2008, the town completed a master plan outlining restoration and future uses for the site. The national historic site designation now allows Oro Valley to move forward with requests for federal funding. U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has included a $1 million appropriations request for the project in the next fiscal year.