A $195.36 million budget for fiscal 2009-'10 has been adopted by the Marana Town Council, but not before one final conversation about tuition reimbursements for town employees who take college courses.

Tuition reimbursement was a $30,000 line item in the current year's budget. In an effort to save money, Marana had decided to eliminate tuition reimbursement in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Dianne VanHorn, crime prevention specialist in the Marana Police Department, told the council on June 23 she has earned 20 hours of college credit with the help of tuition reimbursement. "I appreciate it, and thank you for making it available," Van Horn said.

She urged its continuation.

"As a council, you've demonstrated you understand the importance of this," Van Horn said. Employee tuition is reimbursed to a capped amount, and the town is specific about the classes it is willing to support. "It's really related to what we do here. It's an investment in your employees, and in the town's future."

"We cannot lose this benefit," said Councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler, who asked the council to consider the funding one more time. "We're willing to spend $75,000 for a fireworks display, and I understand that's for the whole community, but it's not the job of the town to entertain its citizens. Personally, to me, it's more important to have an education.

"We're always saying our employees are our best asset," Ziegler said. "We're talking about it, but not showing it. I can't believe we can't pull from someplace else to do this."

Deb Thalasitis, assistant town manager, said staff made a change in the tuition reimbursement line item between the adoption of the tentative budget June 2 and the final budget consideration June 23.

"Based very much on some of the concerns you expressed," Thalasitis told Ziegler, $12,000 was restored to the budget for employee tuition reimbursement. Staff believes further education may be needed for employees who transfer from one position to another under Marana's worker recession assignment plan, in which people can move to newly vacated positions in an effort to reduce force.

"We talked about a tuition reimbursement if employees needed further training" for newly assumed positions, Thalasitis said, and funds were restored to address the tuition reimbursement needs of those workers.

Ziegler cast the lone vote against the budget, citing the reduced tuition commitment.

The budget includes a reduction in staff of 20 full-time equivalents, from 367 FTEs to 347 FTEs in the new fiscal year that begins July 1.

Council fills committee seat, but wonders about the timing

Town studying its process for appointment; utility board had a vacancy and needed a quorum

Laura Trostman was appointed to the Marana Water Utility Advisory Committee last Tuesday, and David Wostenberg was named an alternate to the panel.

Such appointments are often so perfunctory they wind up on the Marana Town Council's consent agenda, with no discussion.

Not this time, and the talk had nothing to do with the candidates. At issue was Marana's process of appointing people to town boards and commissions. That procedure is being examined by a task force of elected officials and town staff, and it's not completed.

"Why are they bringing a person to us when we haven't finished that process yet?" asked councilwoman Patti Comerford.

It's coming up, councilwoman Roxanne Ziegler responded, because the utility advisory committee has had difficulty achieving quorum of late. "It could be another two, three, four months before we get through this process," Ziegler said, but a vacancy is immediate. Ziegler asked for the appointment so a quorum can be assembled.

Town attorney Frank Cassidy took responsibility for bringing the appointment forward before the task force finishes its work.

"Has the process" of seeking committee members been "transparent, and open to everyone available?" Comerford asked. "This is not anything to do with who's applying and whether they're qualified or not. This has to do with due process."

"I'm not sure why we're struggling so much," Ziegler said. "I understand the need to have due process. I'm not sure why we're trying to fix the world right now."

In the end, Ziegler moved for the appointments. The vote in favor was 3-2, with Ziegler, Vice Mayor Herb Kai and Mayor Ed Honea in favor. Voting against were Comerford and Russell Clanagan. Carol McGorray abstained; Jon Post was away on an excused absence.

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