During their final discussions on next year’s budget, the Oro Valley Town Council unanimously agreed to put nearly a million dollars toward installing an elevator at the community center.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor’s Office awarded the town $5.3 million in CARES Act funding, which paid for public safety personnel. The town had previously budgeted for that expenses, leaving an extra $5.3 million in the General Fund now freed up for other opportunities.
Roughly $750,000 will be set aside for the elevator, which council member Bill Rodman brought up as a key aspect of making the community center ADA accessible.
“We have had the challenge of an elevator plus some other ADA requirements at our community center since we obtained ownership,” Rodman said at the July 1 budget meeting. “To me, the ADA requirements, and more specifically the elevator, is something that we simply need to do. This is the opportunity for it.”
Council member Steve Solomon said a concept plan for renovating the community center was created a couple years ago, including the elevator, but was put on hold because of the 2018 election results. He asked Town Engineer Paul Keesler if that plan is still usable, and what kind of expenses are related to it.
Keesler said the expenses depend on what renovations the council wants to take on. He urged the council to create a holistic plan for the community center’s future.
“We have a new operator, that new operator has visions and thoughts, and we need to work with that operator and we need to come up with a comprehensive plan that also works with a comprehensive parks and recreation plan,” Keesler said.
Rodman said if the council continues to push this discussion down the road, it will become a larger problem. He said an elevator in the community center is an important issue to a lot of residents, and the council should set aside the money for it as long as something “untoward” doesn’t happen to the town’s finances because of COVID-19 or another reason.
Meanwhile, council member Rhonda Piña was concerned about maintaining town staff salaries. She said staff compensation is important and was put on the back burner in light of COVID-19.
“There are some compelling reasons I believe staff need to look at those compensation levels, because we know they weren’t quite competitive last year,” Piña said. “We need to make sure we do right by the employees.”
Council member Melanie Barrett had concerns about the budget, saying there is an expected six month recession at least, and Arizona is currently a hot spot for the virus. On Monday, June 29 Gov. Doug Ducey shut down bars, gyms and other businesses, and she said that will affect the town. School closures may continue as well.
“I feel like we’re in a real state of uncertainty regarding where we’re going to be moving forward and where our revenues are,” Barrett said. “I think that we will be able to accomplish the budget that has been presented to us, but I feel like there are portions of it that aren’t things that must be done right now in a pandemic.”
Barrett suggested they hold off on spending anything extraneous and wait six months, then have staff provide a financial update, and at that time consider funding the elevator and other capital projects if the economic outlook is positive.
She also named parks trails, batting cages, the garage renovation at Steam Pump Ranch, tennis court renovations and more as outside of the town’s “core services” and things they could evaluate at the six-month mark.
Rodman reiterated that the elevator was a very important subject to him. He said one of his best friends who became a quadripleglic in a ski accident came to visit Oro Valley and he couldn’t take her to the community center.
“I wasn’t going to put her back through the dumpsters and push her up that ramp,” Rodman said. “I just wasn’t going to do it. I didn’t want her to feel like she was a third-class citizen.”
“This is a moral issue the council needs to commit to,” Solomon said. “We need to tell our community that we’re tired of kicking the ball down the road. This is important, it should have been dealt with years ago.”
Mayor Joe Winfield said he supports the American Disabilities Act and having an elevator at the community center. He believes it’s critical that the council passes a comprehensive plan for the community center renovations so that these investments are made with “full understanding of what the finished product is going to look like.”
Town Manager Mary Jacobs reassured the council that they will have enough money to complete the project and will not have to dip into their reserve funds. She said the budget has flexibility built into it.
“It is a reasonable expectation on the part of council to request and expect that this team is going to manage the budget, and we’re very committed to that,” Jacobs said. “I don’t want to dip into contingency at all.”
On Wednesday, July 15 the council will vote to finalize the budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year.