The Marana Town Council had a busy day on Feb. 10, conducting both special study session and a special meeting.
The study session centered on two items, the fiscal year 2015-1016 budget and minor amendments to the Town of Marana General Plan’s road network map.
Town Manager Gilbert Davidson and Town Finance Manager Erik Montague each spoke about the budget and specifically its role in the implementation of the Strategic Plan. After a brief introduction by Davidson, Montague got into more detailed discussions of the budget and town finances.
He started off by explaining that the town has $23.7 million in reserves.
“As a result of tough decisions we have been able to modestly add back to reserves,” explained Montague.
Montague added that the importance of the reserves are to give the town liquidity, flexibility and capacity, but added that the town does not “hoard resources” and they are “looking to deploy them for appropriate programs and projects.”
He said for the first half of the fiscal year 2014-2015, revenues were largely on target.
For fiscal year 2016, Montague said that revenues should be at about $36.3 million, up from the 2015 budget which was $35.4 million, though he stressed it may all change when individual departments submit their budgets.
The biggest change in revenues is expected to be sales taxes from retail, which his department is expecting to climb by 10.4 percent.
“We are anticipating the opening of the mall in October,” Montague explained for a large amount of the increased revenue.
The town was also projecting revenues from hotels to climb by 7.2 percent, restaurants by 4.8 percent and construction to climb by just 0.7 percent.
“These are preliminary estimates, and I think they are relatively conservative,” said Montague. “They will be refined as departments submit their budgets for those revenues they generate out of those departments, as additional information comes out of the state about shared state revenues and as we continue to refine the sales tax numbers, especially after we get the holiday sales tax numbers.”
Montague then discussed pressures on the budget. The biggest operating expense for the town was employee compensation. This is the first fiscal year where the town was self-insured and Montague said they are not only where they expected to be, but where they hoped to be.
Montague concluded by outlining some key dates for the budget with tentative dates for study sessions on March 10 and March 23. By the middle of April they hope to have the manager’s recommendation for a tentative budget and a final budget by June.
Davidson returned to address the council with hopes of having the council give direction on where to use the limited new revenue that is coming in. Davidson proposed spending approximately $350,000 to complete the Land Development Code update, explaining that the cost could be stretched over a two-year period. He also proposed the possibility of developing a marketing plan for economic development assets, writing a tourism master plan and putting aside money for community landscaping and clean up.
Gilbertson discussed the town’s continued desire to partner with Marana Unified School District and was hoping to have a line item in the budget of $3,000 to contribute to various projects. The line item would mean they would not have to bring each request to the council.
He turned to further branding the town and touched briefly on the ongoing struggle with the post office and a Marana zip code.
“This is not an easy issue and seems somewhat unsolvable with the post office,” Davidson explained.
He also mentioned the possibility of investing more in signage when entering town limits, including the possibility of electronic display boards that would not only brand the town but “boards to better inform residents about things going on in Marana.” Signs of that nature cost approximately $100,000 and the thought was to possibly purchase one and then get feedback from citizens.
He encouraged the council to look at bringing back staff training and development that was cut during the recession. The key would be to make it worthwhile for employees to continue their educations while also ensuring that they remain with the town, and not use the enhanced education to look for other employment operations.
Davidson also outlined the town’s plan to separate from Gladden Farm’s Fall Festival and create a completely new event known as the Cotton Festival.
The second portion of the meeting was minor amendments to the Town of Marana General Plan’s road network map.
A minor amendment requires a public hearing at the Planning Commission and the Council and requires a simple majority vote for passage.
“We want to get this done as soon as possible due to the development, which is moving forward in north Marana and at the Tangerine interchange,” explained Ryan Mahoney, the Town’s planning director.
Town Engineer Keith Brann then discussed the general plan road network where the proposed minor plan amendments to the road networks would occur: the Tangerine interchange, Marana interchange connectivity, the Tangerine Road right of way, the Marana Main Street right of way and the environmentally sensitive arterial right of way.
Of these the biggest plan would be to create a looping roadway network that is primarily Marana-centric as it will be important to maintain a connection to the Sandario business district.
“Marana currently lacks a heart or downtown in our community,” added Davidson, who suggested that this move could help do just that. “This council is at a historic crossroads to truly plant a seed to forever change this community for future generations by creating a Main Street from the ground up.”
This began a lengthy discussion of creating a downtown Marana and much was debated from how it would affect business owners on Sandario, the need for traffic circles—which several board members were not in favor of—and traffic flow on Marana Road and around I-10.
“It creates a sense of arrival and a true Main Street that ties in to the interchange and allows people to easily get around,” Davidson added. “In the previous version, it was completely disconnected from the main street.”
Brann added that, “In this year’s budget there was money to study Marana Road and Marana Street alignments, so we can start working on this now.”
Most of the other items needing minor amendments were fine-tuning some of the right of way widths from some of the arterials starting with Tangerine Road east of I-10. The current strategic plan had included the possible movement of the Tangerine interchange to accommodate the mall project, but with the mall project on hold for the immediate future, the new strategic plan will keep the interchange in its current location.
The council voted 6-0 to approved the staff to continue the minor amendment.
Earlier in the day the council held a special meeting, which was a closed executive session to discuss performance evaluation for Davidson. Davidson received professional credentials, which is required every five years.