$99 million budget, new 'modern' development OK'd: Oro Valley also settles part of class-action lawsuit - Tucson Local Media: Import

$99 million budget, new 'modern' development OK'd: Oro Valley also settles part of class-action lawsuit

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Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2005 11:00 pm

July 27, 2005 - Oro Valley will spend $99 million this year on new roads, new buildings, new staff and a chance to preserve history.

But the 2005-06 final budget does not include a step increase for the town's police officers, according to Community and Governmental Affairs Director Bob Kovitz. However, he said, the town and the Oro Valley Police Officer's Association are still negotiating other aspects of a contract between the town and the union that will not affect this year's budget.

Town staff estimated the cost of making the proposed step plan change from a 4 percent raise each year to a 5 percent raise at an additional $301,000 this year. The budget now includes money allocated to fund a 4 percent increase to eligible police officers, Kovitz explained. It also includes a 2.3 percent cost of living adjustment to all employees' salaries and a merit raise for those employees who qualify.

The budget also includes the following:

€ Six million dollars to be used for the land acquisition and construction of a municipal service center, which will be northeast of Ventana Medical Systems in Rancho Vistoso Neighborhood 3, off east Rancho Vistoso Boulevard.

The 24 acres of land will be used for a variety of town services, which include moving the public works yard from the Calle Concordia site, moving the water utility from the town hall campus and building a police training center and an evidence storage unit on the site.

€ Adding the equivalent of nearly 14 new positions. One position is in the police department: an information technology specialist who also will work as a forensic technician. Two and a half of the positions are in the public works department, five and a half positions are for the library and five positions are being added in administration: an assistant town manager, an assistant prosecutor, a file clerk and victim's rights coordinator, a civil attorney, and a paralegal. The police position and the civil attorney were added to the proposed budget of Town Manager Chuck Sweet by the council.

€ More than $19 million to fund road improvements and 2004 Pima County bond projects including the library expansion and Steam Pump Ranch and Honeybee Village land acquisitions. Eight and a half million dollars will fund various water utility projects, including the reclaimed water system project and the CAP water rights acquisition.

The budget was approved by the council in a 5-1 vote, with councilwoman Paula Abbott absent. Councilman Kenneth "K.C." Carter voted against the final budget, saying in a subsequent interview that there was spending in it of which he could not approve.

"I thought Chuck Sweet did a good job on the original budget," he said. "But I thought some of the council people put too much pork in it."

Carter would not point out specific examples of items that were added to Sweet's proposed budget that he objected to. "It's already passed now," he said.

However, he said that if those items come back up for discussion throughout the year he intends to follow up on his objections.

In other business, after two years of planning, a shopping center to be built to the north of the existing Fry's grocery store on North La Cañada Drive has been approved by the council.

The Mercado at Cañada Hills will be built on just more than 8 acres, which will hold nine different buildings filled with various retail stores, office spaces and restaurants. The developer, Whirlygig Properties, met with the neighbors nine times during the course of planning the development and met with the Cañada Hills homeowners association leaders four additional times to discuss their concerns. The results of those meetings showed up in the final plan before the council at a July 20 meeting. They included buildings all below the maximum height restrictions of the town, no drive-thru restaurants in the plan, screen walls and landscaping that keep noise and light pollution from reaching nearby neighbors, and hidden dumpsters and truck loading zones.

The developer also has incorporated two outdoor courtyards and pedestrian walkways to make the shopping center easily accessible and user-friendly.

"We're all for it," said Frank McGee, president of the Cañada Hills homeowners association. He said the neighbors appreciate the willingness of both town staff and the developer to work with the residents in the area to alleviate some of their concerns about the development.

"The community is very much in favor of how this project has been handled," he said.

The council approved the development plans 5 to 1, with Councilman Terry Parish voting against them.

Parish said he voted "nay" because of concerns he has with the safety of the parking lot design in the development. As proposed, the builders of Mercado have a driveway at the northern end of the center that can be entered by taking a right or left turn from N. La Cañada Drive. That driveway becomes a one way street behind the center to be used for trucks making deliveries to the stores in the center. Parish said having the access set up that way will cause trucks coming down the hill on La Cañada to noisily jake brake, which will disturb the nearby neighbors. He also said it will cause large trucks and the cars of patrons of the center to "compete" for entry and exiting at that spot. He asked that this particular part of the plan be changed, adding that he thinks the rest of the development is good.

There is some controversy about the development because of what is being described as a sleeker and more modern design than the other buildings and homes around it.

While the council does not approve the architectural design - that's the job of the Development Review Board - several of the council members said they support the look of the shopping center and think it might be time for a little design update around town.

"You've done a great job on this, and I appreciate your two years of work," Vice Mayor Barry Gillaspie told the developers, adding that though the architecture of the buildings does not comply strictly with the town's code the rules are guidelines and can be rethought under the right circumstances.

Councilwoman Helen Dankwerth agreed, saying that while the developer plans to use more modern materials and design than the buildings to the property's south, Oro Valley has a lot of the same looking buildings throughout its boundaries, and "maybe it's time to look at that."

Also in other business, after losing $920,000 on a bad investment several years ago, the town will recoup a fraction of its losses. The council voted 6 to 0 to settle with a company involved with National Century Financial Advisory, an investment firm that went bankrupt after many municipalities invested with it.

The town lost close to $1 million, and Town Attorney Melinda Garrahan explained that other larger cities and towns lost much more in the investment pool.

Because of the loss, the League of Arizona Cities and Towns in 2003 called a meeting of investors and decided to file a class action lawsuit against all companies involved in the investment, in which Oro Valley was involved. The larger cities, who stand to get back the most money, took on the cost of the lawyers pursuing the case. So far, one company, Deloitte and Touche, has agreed to a partial settlement of $4.2 million.

Oro Valley's cut is about $30,000 from Deloitte and Touche, an auditor involved in the investment. Garrahan said that, while this does not seem like much, this is "only part one" in what may be a series of settlements from all the companies involved.

In advising the council to take the settlement, Garrahan said, "It's one practical approach the town has in getting any money back at all."

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