The Oro Valley Town Council has approved a $111 million spending cap for next fiscal year’s budget, but questions over what initiatives will receive funding, and how, still remain.
All seven council members agreed to fund the salaries and related costs for four new police officers at the May 15 council meeting. Town Manager Mary Jacobs has laid out the total cost for the decision at $466,353 of ongoing annual costs and $285,600 in one-time equipment expenses.
There is a growing list of potential options for where that money could come from.
Oro Valley Police Department Chief Daniel Sharp had requested three regular officers and one sergeant at the beginning of this budget season. In order to keep up with an increasing population, the same will be requested of the town the following year.
Jacobs did not include funding for this personnel request in her recommended budget. The town manager said the expected economic recession and revenue projections for next year didn’t show a “long term sustainment of costs.” Some members of council have also expressed a strong desire to address the town’s growing unfunded liability within the Public Safety Pension Retirement System.
Two weeks ago, Mayor Joe Winfield and Vice Mayor Melanie Barrett wanted the budget to include $178,000 for a full-time town attorney to replace the current contracted town attorney. Last week they nixed that request in order to free up more money to pay for new police officers.
Over the course of a few days, Jacobs identified a few areas where money could be moved around to pay for the officers and presented them to council in a memo. The first was $750,000 in sales tax revenue from the Oro Valley Marketplace, which comes from an expiration of a sharing agreement with the developer, Vestar.
Jacobs wrote that $500,000 could be used toward paying down the $22.8 million unfunded liability, and the other $250,000 could be used toward paying for police personnel. The latter was originally earmarked for capital improvements and maintenance on town-owned buildings.
At the meeting, councilmember Bill Rodman said that because the town already pays $2 million toward the unfunded liability each year, they don’t even need to use additional funds for that purpose, and could instead use that money to help pay for police personnel.
The second option Jacobs outlined is a reduction of various ongoing costs in the general fund such as partnerships with community organizations, special event sponsorships, community engagement initiatives and more.
Using the town’s $930,000 in excess contingency funds is also an option for the council, but it’s not a guaranteed funding source and can fluctuate from year to year.
Jacobs said these are all preliminary suggestions, since the town’s leadership staff needs more time to create a funding plan that would minimize impacts on the town’s Strategic Leadership Plan.
“I know our department directors will rally together and we will be bringing back to council a revised budget that will accommodate officers and equipment within the total general fund budget,” Jacobs said.
Her memo also pointed out that adding new police officers has a “commensurate effect” on other related operations in the town, such as legal services. The town anticipates an additional prosecutor would be needed in the next two years to handle the growing workload demands, which would cost about $100,000 per year.
More details for funding the additional police officers with input from other departments will be presented at the final budget hearing on Wednesday, June 5.
Jacobs’ recommended budget, which was released in April, had intended to collapse the Community Center Fund into the general fund, along with the half-cent sales tax. However, staff told council at the meeting that it will remain a separate fund.
“Our association, along with several entities, have been in discussions with Mary Jacobs and others from the town exploring options to reduce the tax support needed for the golf course along with the impact on the town,” said Steve Jones, Vice President of the Cañada Hills Community Association, in an email to Tucson Local Media.
Those discussions have created a possibility for private investment to offset the costs of 36 holes of town-owned golf. The investment would not cover the operations of the Pusch 9 facility located adjacent the HSL-owned Hilton resort. With this in mind, Jacobs said the golf course and community center are better off as a separate fund so it can be audited independently.
The idea of contributing private funds from the surrounding HOAs is just one of the possible solutions the association has discussed with town staff, according to Jones. He said it is still too early in the discussion to predict any definitive outcomes.
The Cañada Hills association has already commissioned a property appraisal for the potential devaluation of homes along the golf course, should any portion of it be closed down. Jones expects the appraisal to be made publicly available soon.
“Our main frustration is that we do not know what the various town officials reference to repurposing, restructuring, or closure plans mean,” he said. “We would like to be part of the discussion and solution.”