Five years ago, when our nation was hit with a recession, families, businesses and governing bodies were making difficult decisions on how to best manage resources. The recession forced many Americans to limit spending and make cuts. Similarly, the Town of Oro Valley was tasked with providing outstanding services with limited resources. While the scope and quality of government services varies across the country, Oro Valley has four major areas of focus: public safety, roads, water and parks and recreation. These particular services are vital to the success of our community, and it is our responsibility to deliver these services at an exceptional level.
Approximately five years ago, when the recession began, many cities and towns were cutting police officers and programs; however, we did not. For example, our school resource officer (SRO) program was recently recognized at the state level. We could have reduced the SRO program, because the town’s level of financial support is significant, but we stayed true to our core mission of providing top notch public safety services to our youngest and most vulnerable community members (our youth). This is one of the reasons why we have one of the top-rated police departments in the country.
Another great program that we have continued to support is the Citizen Police Academy. Citizen academies are not uncommon across the county, but what is unusual is continuing the program through the recession. Programs such as this are at the core of community policing and civic engagement, yet they are often the first programs to be cut. We continue to invest in engaging our community.
In recent months, the deteriorating roadway conditions in the Tucson-metro area have been discussed at great length. By contrast, Oro Valley, under the direction of Town Council, has been investing in a pavement preservation program for years. An analysis indicated that an annual investment of $1 to $1.2 million was needed to maintain the town’s roads in their current condition. Absent this investment, the town would face $64 million in improvements in just five years’ time. While an annual commitment of $1.2 million to this program was a stretch for us, we stuck to our core.
In the wake of wastewater discussions among neighboring municipalities, many people have asked about Oro Valley’s situation related to wastewater and water in general. The Town of Oro Valley is very fortunate that Council and staff had the foresight many years ago to develop an excellent water portfolio, which includes reclaimed water (processed effluent), Central Arizona Project (CAP) water and the aquifer. Over the past five years, town staff has given considerable focus to reclaimed and CAP water. As a result of joint projects with the City of Tucson, we have successfully instituted a reclaimed water system and delivered a portion of our own CAP allocation to residents. These projects have reduced the utilization of the aquifer by nearly 40%. During those five years, when the recession was in full-swing, it would have been easy to maintain status quo. Instead, we invested staff time to implement creative ideas, securing our water future and ensuring our long-term resources are protected.
Parks and Recreation
This is clearly an area that saw dramatic reductions in communities across the county, state and nation. Interestingly enough, when you ask people why they decide to live in a certain area, their reply usually includes something about “quality of life.” In Oro Valley, we strive to deliver—even when faced with a downturned economy.
While many towns were still cutting back, Oro Valley Town Council led with the bold vision to invest $5 million into an expansion of our 1974 municipal pool into a competition-level Aquatic Center with family-friendly amenities. The Aquatic Center, which opened in March of this year, has already been wildly successful. Our residents were starving for more recreational opportunities, and this beautiful facility certainly delivers. The Aquatic Center also doubles as an economic driver, playing host to national and international aquatics competitions. In its first five months of operation, the facility has already had an economic impact of nearly $1 million for our community, and is estimated to generate $2 million annually.
A number of benefits have resulted from our continued focus on providing core services. Our strategic investments ensure the Town of Oro Valley will not have to “play catch-up” as the economy recovers. Additionally, businesses and residents want to locate in areas where they see investment and reinvestment. With the town’s continued focus on core services and infrastructure, business growth has been booming. We have seen all sectors rebounding—residential, commercial and business.
Throughout the recession, the Oro Valley Town Council and management made the decisions to stay true to core services. As a result, our services and infrastructure are strong, and we are better positioned to move forward and take full advantage of opportunities as they arise.
(Editor’s Note: Greg Caton is the Oro Valley town manager)