The Oro Valley Town Council has voted to retain current fees charged to real estate firms for open house signs, despite pleas for relief at the Jan. 6 council meeting.

"We're hampering the sale of these houses," said Councilman Al Kunisch, who supported a change. K.C. Carter and Mayor Paul Loomis joined him in voting against the current fee structure. Council members Bill Garner, Barry Gillaspie, Salette Latas and Pat Spoerl voted to keep the structure in place.

Currently, the town charges each real estate broker a $1,000 annual fee to put open house signs in the public right-of-way, areas such as street corners and medians. Town estimates say the cost of enforcing the rules is about $31,000 per year.

The council considered various options for change based on a sliding scale depending on the number of agents working under each broker. Numerous real estate agents were at the meeting, asking the council to adopt fee changes that would ease the burden on smaller offices. But the council declined, noting problems the change would create in tracking how many agents work for each brokerage.

"I think it's a perfectly fair and perfectly reasonable cost of doing business," Latas said. Latas also noted other jurisdictions in the region do not allow such signs to be placed in public rights-of-way. Town staffers noted the levels of enforcement in other jurisdictions are minimal.

Garner agreed. In a later interview, he noted the difficulty of using sliding scales.

"I couldn't find anything that we collect that's on a sliding scale," Garner said.

He also noted that in 2003, a previous council voted to change the fees from $20 per year to the current levels. The problem has been that the town stopped collecting any fees after the changes were made.

"It was our error," he said.

The fee issue could be revisited later in the year, when the council undertakes a comprehensive review of the entire sign code.

Management study gets go ahead

The council also approved a plan to dip into cash reserves to pay for a pair of management studies focusing on the police and parks and recreation departments.

Kunisch and Carter opposed the plan. Mayor Loomis and council members Garner, Gillaspie, Latas and Spoerl voted for moving ahead with the management studies.

Estimates for the cost of the studies vary from $50,000 to $80,000 for the police, and $40,000 to $75,000 for parks and recreation.

Council policy for several years has been to conduct a study of each town department. To date, four town departments have been evaluated, including legal, building safety, library and public works.

Carter noted what he saw as problems with a study done on the town's legal department, a study that he requested.

"I really got burned on that legal decision," Carter said. He also described the final analysis as "poorly written."

With the council decision to move forward on the studies, a request for proposals from qualified firms should be ready by March. The money to pay for the studies would come out of this year's budget.

New member sworn

The council welcomed interim Councilwoman Pat Spoerl on Jan. 6.

Spoerl was selected to replace former member Paula Abbott, who resigned in November. Spoerl will fulfill the remainder of Abbott's term, which expires in June.

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