In a pair of budget meetings last Wednesday and Thursday, town council members discussed staffing needs with department heads and a possible larger-than-planned raise for other town employees.

Town Manager David Andrews’ proposed fiscal 2009 budget, which council members likely will vote to approve later this month, includes a 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment for all town employees.

The budget also advises giving employees up to 4 percent merit raises, to be determined by supervisors, and fully funding the police step pay program.

For police, that would mean 3- to 5-percent raises for eligible workers. Officers who have topped out on step increases would not see pay hikes. According to town records, about 30 percent of police have reached a salary plateau.

Police representatives have been in talks with Andrews about increasing the cost-of-living raises an additional 1 percent, making the raises 2.5 percent.

If the council agrees to the added sum, the same pay increases would apply to all town employees, Andrews said.

But Andrews warned that funding the larger raises, which would add about $168,000 to the budget, would require implementing changes to other programs.

He proposed three scenarios for funding the raises that would involve slashing 2.5 percent from all town departments’ operating costs, extending the 2 percent tax on residents’ utility bills set to expire next April, or redirecting a portion of bed tax dollars to fund the raises.

Andrews seemed reluctant, however, to encourage such changes.

Of the three available options, Andrews offered tepid support for redistributing bed tax money.

“If you were to go the bed-tax route, it’s only a stop-gap measure,” Andrews told the council.

To fund the additional raises now, Andrews said, could present financial problems for the town in the near future — a foreshadowing echoed through municipal halls across the state.

“As tough as this budget year is, next year is going to be tougher,” Andrews said.

A statewide economic slowdown coupled with anticipated stagnant levels of state-shared revenue coming from the Arizona Legislature could signal tougher times ahead.

For the current fiscal year, the town received $14.6 million in state shared revenue. For fiscal 2009, Andrews estimates a $93,000 drop in state distributions.

The proposed budget also calls for hiring 5-1/2 new town employees. Planning and zoning would get two full-time employees and one part-time worker, human resources another full-time employee, courts would get a new clerk, and a water meter reader supervisor would work in the water department.

Total cost for the new positions is $456,136 for the year.

Andrews budget also identifies 10 positions in need of reclassification. All of the reclassifications come with pay-grade increases.

The cost of reclassification is roughly $29,000.

According to town human resources director Sandra Abbey, the town can’t add employees through reclassifications. Therefore, the reclassified employees’ former job must be eliminated.

The budget proposal also calls for market adjustments for three town positions. Town documents show that market adjustments are used when it is found that the mid-range on a pay scale for a given job lags more than 10 percent behind comparable positions in neighboring governments.

In 2005, for example, a study of town salaries showed that as many as 70 percent of town workers were paid less than their regional counterparts. In response, the council adopted a budget that gave raises to two-thirds of town employees.

Another town department, public works, is scheduled to undergo restructuring.

“As a result, one position was eliminated but we found another position for that person — but albeit in a lower position as before,” Andrews said.

The restructuring was the product of a pending management study of the department and what Andrews described as a need to look at future requirements.

Andrews said the department, which builds and repairs the town’s roads, needs to focus more on maintenance.

With the town approaching residential and commercial build out, Andrews said, the mandate of the department has changed.

Five new employees

Safety and risk manager: $97,622

Assistant planning and zoning director: $114,244

Planner: $78,879

Court clerk: $53,523

Water meter reader supervisor: $49,958

Planning and zoning office assistant (part time): $22,770

Total cost: $416,996

Note: Support-related costs add $39,140 to the total cost. Including the additional costs bring the total to $456,136.

Town may add meter boss

Oro Valley Water Utility Department officials have requested the town council approve a new full-time position, a water meter reader supervisor.

The new employee would, in part, oversee replacement of aged and failed water meters in the town.

Water department director Philip Saletta estimates that town workers have replaced about 500 meters in the past five years. He would like to have the capacity to replace 300 older and under-registering meters per year. There are roughly 18,000 meters in Oro Valley.

When the meters get too old, they

cease to measure water accurately.

The failure to measure water accurately means customers get undercharged.

Saletta estimates the department will undercharge by nearly 8 percent this year — possibly costing the town $500,000 in revenue.

“When you start getting into a 7- to 8-percent range, you need to start taking a serious look at your (water) system,” Saletta said.

For the water utility, the matter isn’t simply monetary, Saletta said, but an issue affecting conservation of resources. Not only does the water go unpaid for but it also goes unaccounted for, which increases water consumption.

The new position would pay close to $50,000 per year.

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