Aug. 11, 2004 - While the Oro Valley Town Council agrees a decision as to who will oversee historic preservation in the town is now due, who will be charged with the responsibility was a matter of debate at the Aug. 4 council meeting.

The town is facing three major historic preservation projects after voters passed a county bond issue in May. Steam Pump Ranch, Kelly Ranch and Honey Bee Village will all become public historic sites within the next five years.

"With the bond issue, we have nothing in place," Vice Mayor Paula Abbott said in regard to designating someone to be in charge of overseeing the planning and upkeep of such historic sites.

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) has requested the council place any historical sites in the town under the supervision of the Oro Valley Division of Parks and Recreation.

Councilmember Terry Parish said he thinks PRAB is "a motivated group of people willing to increase their work load" and because of their interest in the sites he moved to continue any decision on who should oversee the sites to the second council meeting in September to allow the board to prepare a plan of how it would handle the responsibilities and present it to council.

The motion passed 6 to 1, but Mayor Paul Loomis disagreed with the decision, saying he felt PRAB already had its own responsibilities and that a task force of citizens should be formed to study the issue and bring back recommendations to the council on a management plan for the sites.

Councilmember Conny Culver said there was no need to "tie things up with a study session and task force."

She said the projects need to move forward now, with the possibility that the council will purchase some of the properties in question in the near future.

This is not the first time the parks board has requested this responsibility. In April 2003 the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board made an inquiry to the town about becoming responsible for acquisition, management and preservation of historic sites. At the time, the stated reason behind the request was that there is potential with historic sites to include educational experiences, recreational uses, trail connections, conservation and responsible land management. Another letter was sent in March 2004 with a similar request.

Placing the care of historic sites with PRAB is the accepted practice at both the state and national levels and other cities in Arizona also handle such sites in that way, according to Jo Terry Sinding, vice chair of the board, who sent a letter again to the council in July with the same request.

"We strongly feel that the preservation and development of historic sites are a primary concern of parks and recreation," Sinding wrote in the letter. "These are areas that are critical for our community to preserve and protect now!"

However, PRAB is not the only group looking to oversee the historic sites. A group of citizens also waspresent at the council meeting to make a case for the town to become a Certified Local Government and form a historic commission that would take on the responsibility. The Certified Local Government program is run under the National Parks Service and aims to help citizens and communities identify, evaluate, protect and preserve historic properties, according to its official Web site.

Pat Spoerl, one of the group's members, said doing so would open up eligibility for grant money and provide a set process for evaluating and planning such sites. It was suggested that if such a committee were formed, members of PRAB could serve on it if they so wished.

At the same time, members of the community with expertise could also serve on it, said Jim Kriegh, the town historian, who added he has recently visited several nearby historical societies and envisions something similar in Oro Valley.

However, town policy prevents individuals from serving on more than one board at a time. Culver said she envisions both PRAB and a historic commission working together and did not think that would be a problem.

Representatives of PRAB who were in the audience said they would be willing to work with existing historical groups, specifically members of the Land Conservation Committee, an ad hoc group that also was represented in the audience, as well as any future group that might be formed.

Parish asked that PRAB return in September with answers as to how the board would structure a historic site, if the board being in charge would jeopardize the ability to secure grants and how the board plans to interact with the existing historic committee.

In other business, the council adopted the 2004-2005 budget, in the total amount of $117 million. Resident Bill Adler, during the public hearing on the budget, said he thought the council had not made enough of an effort to help the community understand the details of what he said was a large budget.

He found it "ironic" that development projects are faced with scrutiny from the town, but in his opinion, this budget was not. He said developers are asked to meet with neighbors of a project to make sure they understand what is happening but "the town makes no such effort."

He said he took the time to go through the budget and to ask questions of the town finance staff and thought there were places where money could be saved.

"I don't believe this budget is balanced," Adler said.

Councilmember Helen Dankwerth agreed the council was passing a budget that is "not completely balanced, although we did shave $1.1 million off the original budget."

But Mayor Paul Loomis said the idea that the adopted budget is unbalanced is "totally incorrect."

"We are not spending more than we have as a community," he said.

He reiterated an idea from earlier hearings on the budget, explaining that local governments are not permitted to operate in the hole. He said while the council will be spending out of what he has dubbed "the savings account" or contingency fund, it is all money coming from the town. He explained again that town policy requires 20 percent of recurring expenses and revenues be kept for emergencies and the rest he sees as money that can be used on expenses as the council deems necessary.

He asked town staff to re-examine the policy on the contingency fund and provide some clarification on what it is and how it can be used for the future.

The council also further discussed an anti-big box ordinance suggested by a citizens committee at the July 21 council meeting. The councilmembers had questions about how such an ordinance would work and moved to hold a study session in early October to discuss the issue, inviting the citizens group to participate in the discussion and share the information it has already gathered.

Councilmember Terry Parish objected to the motion, saying "it appears several council members already made up their minds" about having big box development in Oro Valley. He urged the council to keep in mind limiting big box development included some "high end" stores that may be attractive to the town, such as Nordstrom's.

He also said such an ordinance could impede the town's ability to bring in enough sales tax and "could have the effect of shoving a property tax down our throats."

But Loomis said no one has decided whether such an ordinance is right for the town and that the theme of a study session would be along the lines of "what is a big box ordinance?" to help inform the council of its options regarding future development.

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