In the midst of an election season in Oro Valley where the mayor and three council members are up for reelection, the topic of the town’s budget has been brought up along with a council seat challenger saying funds have not been properly managed.
Don Bristow, who is challenging one of the open council seats currently occupied by Councilwoman Mary Snider, Councilman Joe Hornat and Vice Mayor Lou Waters, questions why the council was spending reserves while it has been said that the economy has another year until it is out of the recession.
“What I am looking at is what have they been doing with the fund over the last three years,” Bristow said. “It peaked, then, of course, they hit us with the utility tax and that tax helped raise the fund. Then spending it down to the lowest dollar amount since they have been in office and the lowest percentage in probably several years.”
The town is mandated by policy to have 25 percent of the recurring expenditures in contingency, which is 10 percent higher than the state mandate of 15 percent. The council currently budgeted 31 percent for the 2014/15 budget. In years past, the percentage was around 40 percent.
Stacey Lemos, the town’s financial director, said the town has used its contingency fund properly citing the town ended the 2011/12 year with a surplus of about $395,000 and ending the 2012/13 year with a surplus of about $2.6 million. Those funds were used for one-time expenditures such as burying Tucson Electric Power lines, the aquatic center and Naranja Park.
“We worked very close with council to make sure those funds were there and that using those funds did not jeopardize the amount that we needed to hold to meet our contingency reserve policy threshold,” Lemos said.
Bristow said the town is making things look better than they are by lumping the construction tax revenue into the General Fund, rather than being split into multiple areas of the budget.
“The construction tax, we have been living off of that as much as the sales tax,” Bristow said. “That’s been our real cushion that’s allowed things to look better than they are.”
Bristow said within the next few years, the town will get closer to a point where it can’t build as much and the construction revenues will drop as the town approaches build out.
Lemos said town officials and staff discuss budget issues that relate to the coming year as well as years out so money issues don’t come as a surprise.
“We want to make sure that everybody is comfortable with the assumptions in the five-year forecast,” Lemos said, “And the decisions the council is making this year with adoption what is in this year’s budget doesn’t jeopardize what we are able to do in the future.”
Lemos did say it is hard to know for sure what the economy and budget will look like in five years. The town has taken the precautions of tying certain types of expenditures to certain types of revenue sources. One time expenses like the development of the Naranja Park are tied to one-time revenue, and on-going expenditures such as the maintenance and upkeep of the park are tied to on-going revenue streams.
“We are then better able to manage the budget if we approach build out if we don’t have as much growth as we do now,” she said.
Bristow said the council has avoided the issue of getting a consistent, positive revenue stream. If elected, he would see to it that the council begins discussing it.
“As long as we are bedroom community, and dependent on sales tax, it is a reality of life,” Bristow said. “And I’m not sure anybody is prepared to address that issue.”