The Town of Marana is "gearing up" for its fiscal 2010-'11 budgeting process, with a schedule beginning in January to craft a spending plan in June that likely uses fewer dollars, Town Manager Gilbert Davidson said.

On Jan. 29, the town council is hosting a "leadership summit," with representatives of boards and commissions, citizens groups and partners invited to talk about the town's budget, its priorities and goals.

"We anticipate a number of different public study sessions with the council, and a public outreach component," Davidson said. He wants to use public meetings, and to work with groups such as homeowners associations, for both "feedback and dialogue."

Town staff outlines the budget process, offers a preliminary revenue projection and models revenue options for the council at a Feb. 9 meeting. Davidson and finance director Erik Montague plan to "lay out the framework and goals" in approaching the budget.

The council gets a second-quarter financial update for the current 2009-'10 budget at a Feb. 15 meeting. Citizen outreach occurs during February as well.

Council budget study sessions are scheduled for March 9, April 13 and May 11. Budget topics are planned for council agendas May 18 and June 1, with final adoption of a spending plan June 15.

Crafting the fiscal 2009-'10 budget was difficult.

The current year's overall spending limit is $195.36 million, down from $211.50 million in the previous fiscal year. Its general fund spending plan is $30.47 million, down more than $7 million, or just under 19 percent, from the previous year's $37.57 million.

Through attrition, voluntary severance and other methods, the town reduced its work force by 20 full-time equivalent positions.

In the new year, "the challenges are not necessarily the same," Davidson said.

"Last year was the first in many that our staff, elected officials and citizens had to make some of those choices," Davidson said. "We broke the ice, if you will.

"Now, everyone knows the financial situation we face as a nation, and as a state," he continued. "What are the critical things a community provides? More sacrifices will be made by all of us. How do we make sure we position our community for the long run? You can cut anything, but it may hurt you in the long run."

He wants Marana to move "in a smart way" that maintains the "opportunity for growth."

In the current fiscal year, Marana has budgeted use of $1.5 million in reserves, with $500,000 toward one-time expenditures, and $1 million to provide "a reliable cushion" if state government cuts into Marana's anticipated revenue, Montague said in June.

Continued uncertainty from state government is a disadvantage, Davidson believes. "I know what we're doing locally, I know our revenues, our sales tax, our fee collection." Yet a full 25 percent of Marana's budget comes from the state of Arizona, "and they're completely up in the air," Davidson said. "It's very concerning."

In November, Davidson attended the Arizona Town Hall summit that focused upon government revenues.

"It was an eye-opener as to how severe our state's budget crisis is," Davidson said. More detailed examination of Arizona's financial "mechanics … definitely makes you even more aware of the severity, and the difficulty of the choices" ahead.

He is fearful state government will push the delivery of services and related costs onto local governments, which would be "devastating."

As an example, the town manager said that if Arizona were to reduce its funding for the Department of Public Safety, Marana "may have to bear a greater share of the burden of I-10 patrol, responding to an accident" if DPS is not staffed at its current level.

"That's an expense we're not prepared to assume," Davidson said. "If we take a hit on it, it's going hurt. We would have to make major changes and modifications to our current budget."

Marana is "to the bone" with its existing spending, he said. "There's not much more to cut than actual services and programs" at this point.

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