The jobs of more than 30 government workers were spared last week.

The Oro Valley Town Council narrowly rejected a move to lay off 26 town employees on Wednesday, March 4.

Council members Paula Abbott, K.C. Carter, Al Kunisch and Mayor Paul Loomis voted against the layoffs, while Bill Garner, Barry Gillaspie and Salette Latas voted in favor.

As part of the ongoing effort to make ends meet, Town Manager David Andrews recommended the cost-cutting measures.

Even though the council delayed approval of the firings, the financial problems the town faces continue to mount — and Andrews wants the council to address them soon.

“Any decision, I would like to have by the end of the fiscal year,” Andrews said.

The proposed job cuts were intended to help stave off a projected $5.2-million budget gap the town faces in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The layoffs alone would have saved $1.5 million in fiscal 2010.

At least 200 people attended the meeting, filling town hall to capacity. Many of them were town employees.

Scores were forced to listen to the meeting from outside council chambers. 

Police employees formed a vocal section of the meeting, lobbying for six officers who could lose their jobs by June 30.

The officers’ salaries and benefits are covered entirely by a federal grant.

The police jobs would cost the town more than $300,000 a year, if their salaries came out of the general fund.

Police officials intend to pursue the grants again in fiscal 2010.

At least 20 people — including many town employees — made emotional speeches urging town leaders to not cut jobs. 

Police union leaders want the town to dip into its so-called “rainy day fund” to pay salaries instead of resorting to layoffs.

“If it’s not raining now, when is it?” asked officer Kevin Mattocks, who also represents the police union during salary negotiations.

Town leaders, however, are hesitant to dip into the Oro Valley’s $14.5-million reserve.

“If we use our cash reserves, I would ask: For how much and for how long?” Andrews responded. 

Councilman Barry Gillaspie also appeared unwilling to raid the town’s savings, saying the town needs the money for liabilities.

Gillaspie said a solid police presence isn’t the only factor in making Oro Valley an attractive community to residents.

“But for me, it’s also one that has parks and has libraries and has a town staff that delivers services to citizens,” Gillaspie said, adding, “Because I don’t want just a police state.”

The councilman then questioned the accuracy of the department’s crime statistics and whether officers could maintain the same level of service if their department budget gets cut.

“We’re always lectured and we’re always scared about crime, but no one gives us the actual facts about what our crime rate is,” Gillaspie said.

Despite strong words from council members, none seemed eager to vote on Andrews’ layoff proposal.

Mayor Paul Loomis suggested that the council postpone the matter until Andrews proposes a fiscal 2010 budget in April.

“Unfortunately, I think this is just going to delay some of the inevitable,” Loomis said.

Carter, Garner, Gillapsie and Latas opposed the mayor’s idea.

As debate wore on, council members called on Andrews to explain how he concluded job cuts were necessary to close the projected budget gap.

Personnel expenses, Andrews explained, make up at least 75 percent of the town’s operations and maintenance costs.

A third of the town’s 380 employees work in the police department, Andrews noted. The department accounts for nearly half ($11 million) of the town’s $26.1 million in fiscal 2009 personnel costs.

In addition to proposed personnel cuts, Andrews said other steps have been taken to reduce expenses, such as enacting a hiring freeze, increasing employee insurance deductibles and postponing capital projects.

Still, non-personnel cuts alone won’t close the projected $5.2-million fiscal 2010 deficit, Andrews said.

The town also has to contend with diminished state support, which traditionally has accounted for nearly 70 percent of its revenue.

Declining state income tax receipts could cost Oro Valley $700,000 next year.

The town also could miss out on $300,000 from the state’s sales tax-sharing program.

“We have so many demands that are coming at us, and we have a population that does not like taxes,” Andrews said. “If it was just as simple as raising revenues, we would have done that.”

In the end, Andrews’ proposal failed, sparing employees for now.

Town officials will present the council with a new budget plan next month.

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