Police hug

The Oro Valley Town Council OK’d a plan to use sales tax revenue and funding from other departments to fund  the hiring and training of new police officers.

The Town of Oro Valley’s budget for the next fiscal year has been set in stone, but not without some sacrifices made. After the town council decided last month to fund the addition of four new police officers, staff was tasked with finding other areas to pull money from, which they did.

The town will fund four new police officers next year with $444,000. The money will come from the Oro Valley Marketplace sales tax agreement ($250,000), savings from retaining a contracted town attorney instead of creating a new full-time position ($115,000), a reduction in the Information Technology software budget ($15,000), a reduction in the Human Resources training budget ($14,000), a reduction in Parks and Recreation “special event line items” ($10,000) and a reduction in Community and Economic Development outside professional services ($5,000). 

Another $35,000 will come from cuts in the town’s administrative budget. These include a reduction in funding for a hazardous waste event ($2,000), a reduction in sports tourism sponsorships ($5,000), a reduction in funding and outreach for the 2020 Census count ($2,000), a reduction in capacity for waste disposal fees ($1,000), a reduction in funding for special events ($5,000) and the removal of the town’s capacity to conduct community engagement initiatives ($20,000).

The funding that was dedicated to these areas is classified as on-going revenues for the town, which is why staff decided to pull them for a new on-going expense of funding police. While the list of cuts is long, Town Manager Mary Jacobs said the town’s various departments worked together during the budget process to ensure that no particular area suffered significantly.

“Nothing is not going to get done as a result of these minor adjustments that we’re making in the budget to shuffle things around,” Jacobs said at the May 5 council meeting.

The town council unanimously approved the budget, but some councilmembers left the meeting without getting specific things they wanted.

Councilmembers Bill Rodman and Rhonda Piña were concerned about the decision to use $500,000 from the Oro Valley sales tax agreement to make a lump sum payment toward the town’s Public Safety Personnel Retirement System unfunded liability, rather than make use of the town’s $930,000 in excess contingency reserves for that purpose.

“I would just like to logically understand why we would apply operating revenues to a long-term debt that has variables in it that are really out of our control and can change, so we need to be able to adapt to that if we need to in any given year,” Piña said.

She wanted to amend the budget to reserve the $500,000 and wait until the end of the year to reassess the decision. Rodman and fellow Councilmember Steve Solomon voted in favor of that idea, while Mayor Joe Winfield, Vice Mayor Melanie Barrett and Councilmembers Josh Nicolson and Joyce Jones-Ivey voted against it.

“I would like us to wait until much later in the year to be certain that we aren’t going to need that money for something else that we have to do, not something that we choose to do,” Rodman said of the $500,000. “If we pay for it at the beginning of the year, it’s gone.”

Winfield said he appreciated the “proactive nature” of staff for using the money to address the $22.8 million PSPRS unfunded liability. The council is expected to set a financial policy for paying the debt in early July.

Solomon wanted to amend the budget to remove the $1 million in funding for a new playground at Naranja Park until after the Parks and Recreation department’s community-wide needs assessment is completed. Piña voted in favor of that, while the rest voted against it.

“We may find that we need a playground of a different type and a different location, or we may find that there’s a tremendous need in another area, and if we’ve already started spending money on a playground that’s not necessarily needed, then what’s that, the bridge to nowhere?” Solomon said.

The council’s $32.9 million capital improvement program fund for the next fiscal year includes $425,000 in impact fees for the Naranja Park playground, with the rest being covered by money in the general fund. At a previous council meeting, Jacobs said the cost for the playground tops $1 million, compared to $163,500 that was identified in 2017, because the site needs improvements before a playground, resilient surfacing and shade canopy structure can be installed there.

The capital improvement program also includes $50,000 for improvements at Steam Pump Ranch, which has seen increased recreational use by Oro Valley residents. According to Jacobs, town staff will re-review the master plan for the ranch this upcoming year and “reprioritize our expenditures.”

The capital plan also sets aside money for improvements at James D. Kriegh Park ($200,000), road pavement preservation ($1.45 million), improvements to the center’s tennis courts ($90,000), police vehicle replacement ($1.1 million), bond capacity for general improvements to the community center ($3 million), and much more. 

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