OV Candidates

Joe Winfield and Satish Hiremath

Oro Valley’s mayor will openly admit he’s a little behind on the times when it comes to using social media, but he’s starting his Facebook career with a strong message aimed at his challenging candidates: stop being so disingenuous.

In a post on the evening of June 8 via the “Hiremath for Mayor” Facebook page, Mayor Satish Hiremath accuses challenging mayoral candidate Joseph Winfield and challenging council candidates Melanie Barrett, Joyce Jones-Ivey and Josh Nicolson of “spreading falsehoods” during a recent debate hosted by The Oro Valley Republican Women’s Club at Oro Valley Country Club.

“Some of the examples I will talk about will sound a bit nitpicky, but if they are willing to spread falsehoods to you about ‘simple things,” then you have to ask yourself what will they be willing to tell you on serious matters if elected?” the post read.

While the mayor does mention each challenging candidate by name, he takes particular interest in Winfield. Hiremath said the post was a result of his being frustrated with “individuals who are challenging us that will conveniently leave out certain information” on the campaign trail.

Chief among the mayor’s complaints regarding Winfield is the latter’s declaration that the town has lost millions of dollars because of its golf courses. Winfield, via his own campaign, stated on May 31 that the town “has lost $6.9 [million] to date” on its golf courses. Hiremath said his opponent is failing to account for the half-cent sales tax the council dedicated to the fund. When you include those revenues, there’s a different financial story. 

After its first full year in operation in 2015/16, the Community Center Fund—which draws its revenue from a dedicated half-cent sales tax and dollars generated from community center-related programming—operated at a roughly $860,000 deficit. At the close of the previous fiscal year, the fund operated at a $259,000 deficit. Through March (the most recently released figures) the fund is operating at a $225,421 surplus, and is expected to close the year with a $36,000 operating surplus. Last June, council approved $350,000 from a year-end general fund surplus to shore up a then-estimated $285,000 deficit in the community center fund, and to facilitate a $120,000 loan repayment back into the general fund for the acquisition costs of the property.

Catching up with Tucson Local Media before Monday’s deadline, Winfield admitted that while the golf operations were incurring significant losses, the fund itself was not experiencing millions in losses.

“The fund isn’t losing millions; the golf course is losing millions,” he said. “The only way you can say the golf course is breaking even is to include the half-cent sales tax, or a tax subsidy. It’s not anywhere close to breaking even. If you remove the tax subsidy, you have a significant loss.”

Winfield said the burden of disingenuousness falls not on him and his fellow challengers, but on the sitting council. According to Winfield, the betrayal of public trust comes in council’s plan to use the dedicated sales tax revenue to fund capital improvements. In operating year ’15/’16 the town invested roughly 45 percent of planned capital outlay, and roughly 13 percent last fiscal year. 

Including the $1 million to purchase the property and its amenities, the town has spent more than $2.7 million in capital funding, which includes updating the restaurant and conference room space, replacing a pump station on the golf courses, an energy-efficiency overhaul and other work.

Council’s recently passed budget includes a recommendation from Town Manager Mary Jacobs and Chief Financial Officer Stacey Lemos for council to pursue a $14 million bond to pay for a variety of projects in the town, including $6 million in improvements and redevelopment at the community and recreation center and golf courses.

While the issue of bonds was suggested to council by town staff, Winfield said that council is using the bonds to circumvent the public to fulfill a need for additional revenue to “prop up this poor decision that they made.”

Winfield said he wants to stop the clock on planned renovations and return to the National Golf Foundation Study commissioned by the town “to begin a dialogue with the community” about what to do with the courses. Winfield said that the recent downtrend in the golf industry, and future prospects for the sport, coupled with local oversaturation of courses, doesn’t bode well for the town. 

“The fact that the town has entered into this market and is subsidizing it with taxpayer money, they’re adding to the pressure to private courses who can’t continue operating with $2.5 million losses a year without tax subsidies,” Winfield said. “We’re adding that pressure.”

Winfield said that he strongly values the opinion of town residents on the matter of the golf course, but said that as far as he was concerned, the town “shouldn’t be in the golf business.” While he didn’t mention outright closure, Winfield did say he would like to see the courses brought down to, at most, 18 holes.

If elected, Winfield said he would like to “daylight” the town’s financial figures, explain the town’s legal obligations, reduce holes and reconfigure further. Winfield said the fairways where golf holes would be removed would transition to linear park space, “returning back to more indigenous vegetation,” with a “rich trail system” to connect with others in the area.

Winfield said concerns about the removal of golf courses negatively affecting property values are unfounded, as long as the courses are replaced with an amenity that is supported by the community and the residents.

To fund potential reconfigurations of the golf courses, Winfield said he would turn to other sources of revenue within the town budget to aid cash flow from the dedicated sales tax revenue.

“My belief is that there is room in the budget to cut back in other areas to help,” Winfield said.

While much time was spent between both mayoral candidates discussing the community center and the value of its amenities to the Oro Valley community, Hiremath said the challengers face a greater problem: He said they don’t have a real plan.

“What is their vision?” Hiremath said. “It’s just criticism, and it’s three very concrete things: They’re going to close the golf courses down, they’re going to put a moratorium on development and they want to put a playground structure in Naranja Park—which is in next year’s budget.”

Hiremath said that while he can empathize with residents feeling uncomfortable with development in the community, he said that the town must also consider its financial future.

Concerning growth in the community, the mayor said the strategy of he and his fellow incumbents has been to develop strong relationships with developers, retailers, business and other organizations which could bring economic prosperity. 

Through impact and construction fees, the town has generated over $60 million since 2010. Hiremath said that’s tax burden off the back of residents.

“That means that residents didn’t have to pay $60 million for the services that they enjoy now, whether that be public safety, road maintenance, development of the Naranja Park site—government exists to provide services,” he said. “Without revenue, how do you provide that service? If you stop development, what happens? There are not enough rooftops to support retail, so retail moves out. Pretty soon, residents are left with really picking up the lion’s share of the financial burden if they want to continue to experience the same level of services…It’s a very tangled web.”

Winfield said that while the mayor and fellow incumbents have sat on the dais over the last eight years, they have lost sight of residents’ interests—which Winfield said is of chief importance. Winfield said he has spent as much time as he can canvassing the community and meeting with anyone he can outside of community events he and other challengers are attending. He said Hiremath should follow his example.

“I think to a certain extent the mayor probably wouldn’t agree with this, but he’s just become out of touch with his community,” Winfield said. “I’d invite him to go knock on some doors, he’ll learn a lot.”

Editor's Note: The print version of this article incorrectly identified Amanda Jacobs as the Oro Valley Town Manager.

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