July 25, 2006 - A few days separate one of Marana's longest-tenured employees from a new job handling funds for the region's $2.1 billion transportation plan.

Marana's finance director since 1991, Roy Cuaron has accepted the position of controller with the Pima Association of Governments, which manages the Regional Transportation Authority. He begins July 31.

At PAG, Cuaron will supervise an $8.5 million annual budget for the regional organization. Founded in 1973, PAG combines local, state and tribal governments officials who plan transportation and environmental efforts to deal with growth.

The association's 54 employees get direction from a regional council, which includes Marana Mayor Ed Honea.

Almost 15 years ago, the Marana Town Council hired Cuaron to look after its ravaged finances and minuscule $1.2 million annual budget. Not the town's first choice, Cuaron took the job after Marana's initial hire got the shaft a few months after starting.

"They had no money," Cuaron recalled. "If I had known that the town was in such poor financial situation, I maybe would've reconsidered. But I was so naïve."

He would wait for the state to wire the town's sales tax monies, crossing his fingers and hoping the money would cover payroll for the town's 30 employees.

"I'm not exaggerating," Cuaron said. "I thought cities and towns had money, but it was a total surprise because (Marana) didn't."

Cuaron previously worked for Downtown Development Corporation, a non-profit organization committed to revitalizing Tucson's core. His first exposure to political scheming coincided with his arrival in Marana.

Not long after the town canned a finance director, the town council pushed out Town Manager Roy Laos, known for an iron-fist style of management. Cuaron got a call from then-Mayor Ora Mae Harn the next day.

"She said, 'I just want you to know we let Roy go, but your job is safe,'" Cuaron recalled.

Immediately after he took the job, Harn took Cuaron to lunch to inform the new hire that he had the second-highest salary in the town. He earned $30,000 a year.

"That's when I knew it was different," Cuaron said.

Though the process began before Cuaron's tenure, he oversaw probably the most important moment in Marana's short incorporated history. The town in 1993 annexed land at the Ina and Thornydale corridor, bringing in huge amounts of sales tax dollars.

"That was the turning point," Cuaron said. "Until then, we had no money and couldn't do anything."

The town began to grow - more businesses, more houses, more people. In 2003, the town secured $19 million in bond money to fund the Marana Municipal Complex, arguably the finest in the region. The building's cost eventually soared to $32.3 million, once completed.

Today, the town operates under a $128 million budget with more than 330 employees.

The quick growth presented challenges, too. Sometimes employees lost sight that the town's money comes from taxpayers, Cuaron said.

"Roy is a stickler for detail," Marana Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat said. Cuaron tried to bring accountability to employees and their spending habits, he added.

"We're still maturing and trying to provide for more accountability in our day-to-day operations."

Cuaron would make $91,700 this year as finance director. He will earn an annual salary of $95,000 with PAG.

Along with the majority of voters in May, Cuaron supported RTA's 20-year transportation plan funded by a half-cent sales tax. Many of the road improvements will benefit Marana.

Projects include widening Tangerine Road and constructing an interchange at Twin Peaks Road and Interstate 10.

This week, the RTA will select a bank to deposit its tax money and hire an auditing firm. The authority still needs to make appointments to fill out its accountability and oversight committee, which will oversee the use of funds.

The RTA will make its first bank deposit of tax money in August. The first dollars will go toward the expansion of Sun Tran, Tucson's public bus service.

When PAG/RTA Executive Director Gary Hayes offered him the controller job late last month, Cuaron struggled with the decision.

"Marana has been good to me personally and professionally," he said. "I love the job, but after weighing the pros and cons, it just seemed like the right time to make this move."

PAG's nine member jurisdictions include Marana, Oro Valley, Tucson, Pima County and the Tohono O'odahm Nation.

PAG interviewed 20 candidates for the new position of controller. Hayes conducted follow-up interviews with six candidates before offering the job to Cuaron, whose experience with bond issues put him over the top, the executive director said.

"We wanted someone who would be a quick study," Hayes said.

Honea - who served on the council when the town hired Cuaron - called the finance director "a man who has said no to me more than anyone" during a recognition of Cuaron at last week's council meeting.

"There are very few people outside of our wives who can tell us no and we don't ask questions," Reuwsaat said, joking that Cuaron promised to process Marana's bills before Tucson's and Pima County's.

Cuaron took a minute to control his emotions before speaking.

"I'll always have fond memories of Marana," he told those gathered in the council chambers, his voice cracking. "Thank you."

The town last week began advertising for a new finance director. Town officials and outside persons, possibly a finance director from another municipality, will review the first round of applications on July 28.

A couple of internal candidates expressed interest in the job but have not made a final decision to apply.

Officials hope to have the position filled within a month.

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