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Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2002 11:00 pm

Oro Valley's police will get at least some of the extra pay they've been asking for and Vistoso Partners will get more open space to build on in Rancho Vistoso's Stone Canyon, based on actions taken by the Town Council during a marathon meeting June 19.

Neither party's victory came easy. Debate on Vistoso Partners' request for amendments to General Plan and planned area development proposals to build 89 homes on 90 acres of open space in the Stone Canyon section of Rancho Vistoso took more than two hours of a six-hour session.

The Fraternal Order of Police request took the council more than an hour to resolve. The council had held six study sessions on the budget during May, including one devoted largely to just the police pay issues.

In the process of tentatively adopting a $83.5 million budget and setting a cap on spending for the 2002-2003 fiscal year, the council approved a cost of living increase of 1.5 percent for all employees, a step increase of approximately 4 percent for police and merit increases of up to 4 percent for all civilian employees.

These raises will cost the town an additional $97,000, said Finance Director David Andrews.

Town staff also was directed to examine over the next six months what market adjustments might be necessary to keep town salaries competitive and what the financial impact of those adjustments could be.

Mayor Paul Loomis was the sole dissenting vote, voicing concerns about the impact the police pay increases would have on the budget with the town facing the possibility of having to pay at least $200,000 more for employees' health insurance and a projected $189,316 deficit in general fund recurring expenses.

Events since Sept. 11 have made this year "the most challenging I've had in my career," Town Manager Chuck Sweet told the council in opening remarks.

Sweet's recommended budget for the 2002-2003 fiscal year initially totaled $84.447 million when presented to the council at the end of April. That was a reduction of $7.94 million from the $92.4 million budget adopted by the council for the fiscal year which ends June 30. Since then, Sweet has trimmed another $900,000, resulting in the $83.5 million total. The recommended budget calls for adding 13 employees, including eight police to cover additional territory scheduled to be brought into the town with two planned annexations.

The latest trimming was brought about by decreases in state-shared tax money and state revenues, grant cutbacks, revisions in estimated water revenues the town would earn and lost roadway grant money, said Sweet in explaining why the situation had turned in the last 30 days.

The FOP had also sought approval of a plan that would have allowed officers to buy back accrued sick time in excess of 480 hours at 50 percent for hours accrued beyond the 480 rather than at 720 hours. The council directed staff to examine the financial impact this would have and to report back by July 17 when the council is scheduled to adopt the final budget for the coming year.

For awhile, it seemed as though councilmembers were tossing out suggested motions like loose change at a Shriner's convention. All were in the act until Councilmember Bart Rochman brought order to the situation by suggesting the council divide the question, sorting out those proposals that would have an immediate budget impact and those likely to have an impact later.

The council directed staff to examine how the town's retirement plan compares with the state's and the International City Management Association. Staff was also directed to review various cost of living indexes to see if the FOP and the town can come up with a standardized version. The availability of contingency funds for future market adjustments also will be reviewed along with restoring $20,000 for the Greater Tucson Economic Council. GTEC's request had been cut to $5,000 earlier.

"We should not procrastinate in the development of a comprehensive benefit and pay plan to attract the quality of officers and staff that this community has come to expect," FOP spokesman Mike Stevenson told the council. "Procrastination is the natural assassin of opportunity."

The unanimous public support expressed for the FOP's request stood in sharp contrast to Vistoso Partners' proposal for development in Neighborhood 11.

Amphitheater Public School District Boardmember Nancy Young Wright, a member of Citizens for Open Government, chastised the council for taking up a controversial issue "in the dead of summer, in the dead of night" when "citizens are once again being outgunned by Vistoso Partners and its entourage."

It will be the developers who will be the beneficiaries of the deal, not the townspeople, Young Wright said. "I'm surprised it can be put forward with a straight face. It's a bad bargain for the town."

Bill Adler, a member of the town's Board of Adjustment, criticized the Vistoso proposal for its alleged failure to comply with the town's current General Plan. The town isn't getting back equal value for its land trade, he said.

Vistoso is deeding to the town 360 acres as open space and agreeing to abide by a number of other conditions so it can build 89 homes on 90 acres of what is now designated as open space in Neighborhood 11.

The request, which has been kicking around since at least 1998, was last addressed in November when the council postponed action so a General Plan amendment request could be reviewed simultaneously with planned area development proposals and conditions Oro Valley was imposing for its approval.

At its June 19 meeting, the council approved both the General Plan amendment and planned area development proposals by 3-2 votes with Mayor Paul Loomis and new Councilmember Paula Abbott voting against and Councilmembers Dick Johnson, Werner Wolff and Bart Rochman in favor.

The land being deeded to the town consists of 65 acres in the northwest corner of Neighborhood 11, 120 acres of ITC property in the northern portion of Neighborhood 12, 60 acres in Honey Bee Park and 98 acres in the common areas of Honey Bee Wash. All of the land is included in a development agreement between Vistoso Partners and Pima County approved by the Board of Supervisors March 12 setting aside 848 acres as open space to create a five-mile biological corridor leading to Tortolita Mountain Park. The county, as part of the agreement, attached conservation easements to ensure that no development takes place in the area.

Vistoso Partners has also agreed to pay $90 an acre foot for all potable water used by the Vistoso Highlands and Stone Canyon golf courses, up from an average of between $58 and $74 an acre foot it had been paying, but for only 339 acre feet. The increase would cover between 80 and 235 additional acre feet of potable water. An acre foot equals about 326,000 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre to a depth of one foot.

The higher water fees are part of an amended supplemental agreement between the town and Vistoso Partners dating back to the town's purchase in 1996 of the Rancho Vistoso Water Co. and the Canada Hills Water Co. The town has been subsidizing Vistoso's cost of watering its golf courses by as much as $500,000 a year. The agreement becomes effective 90 days from the council's approval of planned area development proposals.

Vistoso's base rate of $100 an acre foot for potable water would climb by $600 a month for each of two six-inch water meters.

In addition, Vistoso Partners has agreed to pay the town $890,000 in the form of first liens on each of the 89 lots to be developed in Neighborhood 11. The town would receive $10,000 on the sale of each lot over the next several years.

The town has agreed to pay Vistoso Partners about $571,000 to compensate the company for water system improvements under way when the water companies were purchased by the town.

Terms of other conditions, including those related to how much Vistoso Partners would pay toward establishing trail access in the area and how much land the developer would set aside for recreational uses in addition to its Stone Canyon golf course and $3 million community center were also settled at the June 19 meeting.

Development in Neighborhood 11 had been stalled by a lawsuit filed by Citizens for Open Government seeking a referendum vote on amending the General Plan for Neighborhood 11. The necessary signatures were obtained but in the meantime the Town Council reconsidered its earlier approval, essentially erasing that vote and killing off a potential referendum threat.

A similar petition drive was successful in placing plans to annex 341 acres in Neighborhood 12 on the ballot. Voters approved the annexation March 12, the same day the Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning of the property for the construction of 194 housing units.

Abbott said the Neighborhood 11 development plans "flew in the face of what people want" and that was why she was voting against. "Every time we change the General Plan we're going against the wishes of the people," she said.

Mayor Loomis described the deal as "way off the mark," adding "I just don't think it's right." .

In other action, the council unanimously approved a cost sharing arrangement with Tucson Electric Power under which the town will pay $262,853 of the $593,497 it will cost to bury new electrical distribution lines extending from the utility's Rancho Vistoso substation south and east to a widened Tangerine Road.

Some councilmembers wanted TEP to pay the entire cost, claiming the utility would be profiting most from it when the 180-bed Northwest Medical Center and a proposed 100-acre retail center is completed at the southwest corner of Oracle and Tangerine roads. TEP said it would pay only for what it would cost to install overhead lines.

Town officials said the new line is critical in meeting the power needs of the new development and addressing the town's plans to widen Tangerine from two to four lanes from La Canada Drive to First Avenue. Construction on this stretch could begin by the fall.

The cost sharing idea was defeated by a 3-1 vote June 5, but one of the opposing votes was cast by Councilmember Werner Wolff so he could be in the majority and thus qualify to have the agreement reconsidered. This is what led to its eventual passage.

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