There are important issues facing our community, and elevating the political discourse is imperative to addressing these challenges. I believe the majority of our citizens crave robust, honest and constructive dialogue that seeks to advance our collective public interest.
A few months ago, I was standing on the sidelines of a lacrosse game at Naranja Park talking with parents watching their sons play. These were good people, but they lamented their retreat from open conversations about local politics because of the all too often toxic reaction by others that left them feeling violated, threatened and shutdown.
I believe there’s a better way. My vision of civic engagement for the Town of Oro Valley is effective citizen involvement that can cultivate a greater sense of community, engender trust, and enhance creative problem solving. This involvement will increase resident confidence to support financial investments in Town services, programs and facilities.
The town’s general plan, “Your Voice, Our Future,” coupled with the council’s approved “FY 19/20 – FY 20/21 Strategic Leadership Plan,” provides the foundation for the town’s budget process currently underway.
The hard work of preparing the budget starts in January, and is approved in June. The town finance department looks ahead at expected revenues while the other departments build their budgets based on current approved programs and strategic initiatives approved by council.
The budget process includes several public discussions at town council meetings and council study sessions. This started at the April 17 council meeting with Town Manager Jacob’s budget presentation. Now in early May, we are midway through the public hearing process with a council study session this week on May 7 followed by two more public presentations in late May and June.
Let me share with you a few things I have learned during this process. We have enjoyed the longest economic expansion in history and a future downturn is inevitable and could translate into less local sales and construction tax revenue for the town.
Residential building permits are forecast to continue near 300, something staff referred to as the “new normal” about 12 months ago. Commercial building is forecast to decrease. Fortunately, the growing state economy increases our state shared revenues and helps maintain town revenues steady at this year’s level.
The town’s finance department provides a five year forecast of trends in revenues and town costs. The five year forecast presented in the budget study session April 24 was conservative, assuming an economic slowdown and a slowing of residential construction in the last two years as the town approaches build out.
The forecast shows town revenues growing 11 percent from $46.4 to $51.5 million over five years, an average of just over 2 percent a year. Expenditures are forecast to match revenues each year except next year and fiscal year 20/21. The plan assumes the town will borrow $6 million to improve the Community Center and either upgrade the current golf operation or restructure it.
Town Manager Jacobs has wisely recommended a flat budget in fiscal year 19/20. To accomplish this, in part, she provides for salary increases while reducing capital spending below fiscal year 18/19 levels, which included Regional Transportation Authority and town funding for the La Cholla road project ($13 million) and the new police department substation and evidence facility ($4.6 million).
How can you learn more about town finances and the budget? You can attend or watch online the upcoming budget study session May 7 then the two regular council sessions where Town Manager Jacobs presents her recommended budget to council for discussion and approval. You can review the recommended budget at your leisure at the town’s website and email your recommendations to the town manager and council.You can attend the Budget and Finance Commission Meeting scheduled for May 14 in the Hopi Room at 4 p.m.
In closing, I strongly encourage residents to become involved and better understand the town’s budget process which translates town strategic plans into funded programs that provide the amenities and services we all want.
Joe Winfield is the Mayor of Oro Valley.