The Oro Valley Town Council's approval of the fiscal 2010-'11 budget last week has raised concerns among some council members who voted against the spending plan.
"There was a lot of things done that evening that weren't done in good faith," Councilman Bill Garner said.
Garner and Barry Gillaspie voted against the final approval. Council members Joe Hornat, Mary Snider, Steve Solomon and Lou Waters joined Mayor Satish Hiremath in voting in favor of the spending plan.
The $116 million budget closely mirrors the proposed spending plan, with a $35.8 million general fund, the area of the budget that funds most governmental operations.
Garner and Gillaspie opposed a cluster of amendments Hornat offered, which allowed the council to shift nearly $1 million to other budget areas.
Among the changes was the elimination of more than $400,000 in funding for ongoing restoration efforts at the town historical property, Steam Pump Ranch. The move leaves $500,000 in the budget for planned restoration projects at the historic ranch.
"I thought there was a better use for the money," Hornat said. Specifically, he preferred that a portion of the money be used to augment lost state funding for town transit operations.
Movement of funds from Steam Pump Ranch could impact efforts to acquire federal funding for the long-term restoration efforts and defer short-term plans to shore up dilapidated structures on the property before the monsoon, Garner said.
"Essentially, you might as well take a bulldozer and blade everything over," Garner said, adding the town has an obligation to continue with the multi-phased restoration plan approved in 2008.
Hornat said the changes don't mean the town has abandoned Steam Pump Ranch.
"We're not dismissing Steam Pump, at least I'm not," Hornat said.
Gillaspie also opposed taking money from the Steam Pump Ranch fund, saying it would be problematic to the town.
"We had contracts pretty much lined up to do basic restorations," Gillaspie said. "I was kind of caught by surprise."
The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in September.
Another significant change to the budget was the elimination of a pair of planned departmental studies to be conducted by outside firms.
The police and parks and recreation departments were scheduled for the external analyses, with budgeted expenditures of $118,500. The money allocated for the studies will remain in the general fund.
"The police department seems to be working pretty well," Hornat said. He also noted that parks and recreation is currently undergoing reorganization.
Gillaspie said he anticipated the new council was opposed to the studies, despite the fact the town had committed to conducting such evaluations of departments several years earlier. To date, only the town attorney and engineer's office have been evaluated.
"My position has always been that it's fiscally responsible," Gillaspie said. "We need to have a relative baseline."
Garner, who has pushed for the studies since last year's budget discussions, opposed their elimination, saying the town needs to have them done to find more efficient ways to operate.
"There's always efficiencies you can bore out of a management study," Garner said.
He connected the items to what he sees as ulterior motives by the new council members, saying the police department appeared poised to benefit from the changes.
"It's interesting that the $400,000 figure is just about as much money you need to fund raises and step increases," Garner said.
Police union representatives and town officials have agreed to consider cost-of-living adjustments and other pay increases at the midpoint of the fiscal year.
A 2.5 percent cost of living increase for police would cost an estimated $200,000, according to town documents. The cost of annual step-pay increases is estimated at $199,000.
"My personal opinion is that there's some kind of agenda at play here," Garner said.
Hornat said the decision to strip funding from Steam Pump Ranch had nothing to do with the police agreement.
"There wasn't any intention on my part to reserve any funds for that," Hornat said.
Also included in the amended budget was abandonment of plans to hire an outside firm to conduct a nationwide search for a new town manager. The budget had included nearly $30,000 for the search effort.
Interim Town Manager Jerene Watson has served in the top town employee position since September, when former manager David Andrews resigned. Watson notified the council earlier this year of her intention to apply for the manager's job on a permanent basis.
Hornat said it was unnecessary to contract with an outside agency to conduct a search because the town human resources director was qualified to do the work internally.
He said the decision was not a precursor to offering the job to Watson.
"We've got to get some experience with her before we say she's the one," Hornat said.
Other changes to the budget eliminated a $25,000 one-time spending item for a community survey. In total, the changes freed up roughly $642,500 in the budget.
Garner questioned the need for the last-minute changes.
"This budget was balanced months ago," Garner said. "This should have been taken care of by the previous council."
Budget at a glance
$116.21 million total adopted budget
$35.88 million general fund
$41.95 million capital projects funds
$42.21 million reserve funds
$11.54 million police department
$3.89 million parks, recreation, library and cultural resources
$2.75 million development and infrastructure services*
*Note: Planning and zoning, engineering, building safety and public works were consolidated in the FY 2011 budget to form this department.
Source: Town of Oro Valley