May 31, 2006 - Ten departments in the Oro Valley town government have requested 30 new staff positions to help lighten the workload. Yet the town manager, faced with a tight budget to work with, is telling them not to get their hopes up.

The Oro Valley Town Council is in the process of studying this year's budget, which likely will be approved sometime in July. Before that happens, it will have to decide what gets added and what gets cut.

The biggest new item in the proposed budget is an across-the-board raise for all town employees. After seeing the results of a market survey that ranked Oro Valley's salaries among the lowest of 10 Arizona cities and towns of comparable size, town officials proposed raising those salaries to help curtail a perceived trend in staff turnover and aid in recruiting new staff members.

The Oro Valley Police Department is among the departments that would receive a raise if the proposed budget is approved. In April, the council made a tentative agreement to include the salary increase in the new budget after negotiating with the police union.

Under this agreement, starting salaries for police officers would increase from $38,663 to $41,358. The raise won't be official until it is approved by the council, although the council by that time will include at least one and possibly two new councilmembers (depending on how the May 31 council election recount turns out) that weren't part of the negotiations.

"(The council) accepted what was negotiated between the management team and the employee group. All of those calculations are then put into the budget for approval by council when the budget is adopted. That's what would trigger it and make it actually happen," said Oro Valley police chief Daniel Sharp, .

Although most staff members in the town government would benefit financially to some degree from the proposed salary adjustment, for the Oro Valley Police Department, any raise would be primarily concerned with aiding the department's recruiting efforts.

"Up until the last few months, we never had a problem recruiting, so it's finally caught up with us. Other departments have moved up their starting salaries, and now we're lagging behind," Sharp said. "We all draw on the same pool (of applicants), and that's part of the argument for keeping our salaries near theirs."

If approved in the new budget, the OVPD salary structure would change from a nine-step ladder to one with eight steps, and early steps would see the greatest increase to both entice new recruits to join as well as acquire younger officers from neighboring departments, Sharp said. Yet the shrunken salary ladder would also mean larger raises for any officer moving up in the department.

"It addresses a variety of issues including starting recruitment and lateral recruitment but also issues of longevity and retention, although we haven't had a problem with retention," Sharp said.

The Oro Valley Police Department requested the most new staff positions, 13. The Oro Valley Water Utility asked for four, followed by three in building safety, two in both human resources and parks and recreation, and one each in the departments of finance, public works, legal services and information technology.

In all instances, Town Manager Chuck Sweet advised the council not to approve the requested new positions.

"I have to look at it from a more of a financial standpoint and consider all the policies that are in place," Sweet said.

This includes a policy that states personnel expenditures must be matched with reoccurring revenue, which means that the town must pay all personnel costs with funds generated from retail sales tax, Sweet said. By June 30, or the end of the fiscal year, Oro Valley will collect an estimated $8,745,773 in sales tax revenue, according to the Fiscal Year 2006 - 2007 Town Manager's Recommended Budget.

"I'm required to present the council with a balanced budget, and that means matching reoccurring revenues with reoccurring expenses. To bring on 13 new positions in any department that is now matched by reoccurring revenues would be against policy," Sweet said. "Once some of these shopping centers get off the ground and open their doors, the situation could be much better and brighter."

Mayor Paul Loomis said the council faces tough choices with every budget cycle, and this year it will have to weigh staff salary adjustments with the creation of new positions.

"This year, the focus is on bringing everybody up to equity with the market. To do that, you have to consider what you're not able to do. When you add things to it, like the market adjustment, you can't add new employees," Loomis said.

Retail sales tax producers like the Oro Valley Marketplace and Steam Pump Village might be roaring by this time next year, which Loomis said could directly translate into putting new police officers on the streets of Oro Valley.

"The need for police officers is one thing that happens as the town grows, and that's a challenge. If we don't have the revenue, that doesn't stop growth or the responsibilities of the town," Loomis said. "You have to look at the sources of revenue you have, and sales tax is a large part of that, and that's the one that has the ability to grow from year to year, rather than every five years when you do a population census."

Of the 13 new OVPD positions requested by Sharp, six were for new officers who would take over the beats of motorcycle officers, Sharp said.

"Right now we have six motor officers whose primary function is to do traffic enforcement because we have some pretty significant traffic concerns, but we're not getting to the vast majority of the concerns people voice because they're assigned to beats and answering calls for service," Sharp said. "The intent was to take those officers off the schedule so they won't need to respond to calls and can focus on traffic."

Sharp said he also requested two other new officers so he can move a new D.A.R.E. officer into Painted Sky Elementary and a student resource officer into Ironwood Ridge High School. Although Canyon Del Oro High School has two SRO's paid for by government grants, IRHS only has one.

"There's close to 2,000 students at Ironwood Ridge. The school itself is like a beat, and we talk about having a ratio of 2.5 cops per thousand people, and we have a half a cop per thousand at Ironwood Ridge," Sharp said. "Kids are one of the more underserved constituencies of a police department, and in order to provide services to them you need to go where they're at, which is the schools."

Al Kunisch, a councilmember-elect who will be voting on the budget in July, has highlighted the importance of a strong police force during much of his campaign.

"They're shorthanded, but crime doesn't have any boundary and it keeps growing as the crime grows. You want to force it out of the community and so your residents can feel safe," Kunisch said.

Kunisch said he is also well aware that the town's budget must balance many different values.

"I'm going to have to look at the budget really close when we start talking about adding positions," Kunisch said. "Maybe they won't get 13 positions added, but we'll look at it closely."

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