Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Guest View: Mike Zinkin ~ The mayor’s Halloween “trick”

The Council meeting on September 19, 2018 included another amendment to the General Plan.
“Discussion and possible action regarding an amendment to the General Plan future Land Use Map from Commerce/Office Park (COP) to Medium Density Residential (MDR) for a 15-acre property located at the northwest corner of Rancho Vistoso Blvd. and Vistoso Commerce Loop."
It was six weeks before Halloween but the mayor was already wearing his disguise
During the discussions, Mayor Hiremath erroneously educated the members of the council that this was not an amendment, but, rather, an option that would add MDR to the current land use of COP.

Mayor Hiremath stated:
"I want to make it clear to this council that the General Plan Amendment request that's being asked today is NOT to put up residential but is to offer ANOTHER POTENTIAL USE...This gives the new council flexibility...It's going to be up to them whether they want to have that flexibility to choose residential…or to let it remain tech park...If the future council decides that they don't want to go residential, then too bad, it just has to remain tech park. However I think this council owes it to the next council to afford as much flexibility on all the available properties left."
A blatant misrepresentation on the part of the mayor
The facts were revealed in a follow-up communication between an Oro Valley resident and the Planning and Zoning Administrator who described exactly what the council voted to approve that night:
“Town Council formally changed the General Plan designation to Medium Density Residential…By code and state law, a rezoning must be in compliance with the General Plan designation. So a presumption to favor approval of a residential rezoning has been established.”
As you can see, this was not an option for a potential use. This was a land use designation change from COP to MDR. The only option for the incoming council to decide is what form of residential will be allowed on this property.

Mayor Hiremath was his usual disingenuous and deceitful self. He had no regard, as usual, for the People’s input into the General Plan and was likely communicating for the applicant and campaign donor, Rodger Ford of Anthem Equity Group, who donated a total of over $7,000 to the re-election campaigns of the incumbents and to YES on 454 in support of the Naranja Park Bond.

Councilmembers Rodman and Solomon were complicit

Solomon said:
"I want to confirm what the mayor had said...if we approve this tonight, all we'd be doing is allowing the option for residential? It could still have the current zoning placed on it? It basically gives us more flexibility on this parcel?"
Keep in mind that Solomon is a developer and fully knows what a General Plan amendment entails. Rodman is a former member of the Planning and Zoning Commission and also knows the ramifications of a General Plan Amendment. Yet neither of these individuals attempted to correct Hiremath’s explanation. Hiremath has been mayor for 8 years. He also knows how a General Plan Amendment works. None of them are ignorant on this issue which makes it highly suspect that this was done deliberately.

The Town Attorney and the Town Staff also never corrected the mayor. Perhaps this was because the mayor had already torn into the Planning Director and the Economic Director for recommending that the council deny the land use change.

Snider and Pina voted against it (the first time that Snider has voted against the mayor in her 8 years in office and the first time that Pina has voted against the mayor in her 2 years in office). Therefore, if Solomon and Rodman had been honest and not acquiesced to Hiremath’s deception, the amendment would not have passed. They (along with Hornat and Waters) knew exactly what this was but they went along with the mayor’s disguise.

Hiremath, Hornat, and Waters will soon be gone, but Solomon and Rodman have another two years left on their terms. Let’s hope that the new mayor and three new councilmembers who were elected to provide a new direction, will steer these two individuals in a direction that is pro-citizen rather than pro-developer.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Oro Valley Town Manager Received Significant Compensation Bump After Election

The defeated majority on town council and current carry-over members, Solomon, Rodman, and Pina, significantly enriched the compensation package of town manager, Mary Jacobs. On September 5, a week after the council majority lost the election, they awarded Jacobs:
  • An annual compensation increase of 12.5%, to an annual salary of $180,000
  • A 100%, $5,000 increase in the town's contribution to her retirement plan 
  • An increase of 5 vacation days to 27 vacation days per year
  • A grant of 7 months severance pay if she is terminated for other than cause
Town manager's is Southern Arizona receive compensation similar to Jacobs: 
  • Siera Vista:   $138,000
  • Sahuarita:     $181,000
  • Marana:        $200,000
  • Tucson:         $210,000

We believe that these changes in compensation are based on the council's assessment of Jacob's job performance. Generally, a change in compensation at this level would indicate that her job performance was superior.

Jacob's compensation increase embeds more spending in Oro Valley's budget. This, at a time when the reliability of ongoing sales tax revenues, the town's mainstay source of operating revenue, is suspect.

According to her contract, the council was obligated to make a reasonable effort to evaluate Ms. Jacobs within 30 days of her one year anniversary, which was September 5, 2017. We do no know if they could have deferred a final decision on her compensation to the incoming council.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Empty Storefronts, More To Come Means Bad News For Oro Valley

Stores closed=lost sales tax revenue
The Hallmark Store in Rooney Ranch closed. The for-profit Oro Valley Senior Center in the same mall closed. Dick's Sporting Goods in the Oro Valley Marketplace closed.  And lets' not forget the long shuttered Radio Shack store in Rooney Ranch. These are destination stores. They draw customers specifically to go to their stores. Other retailers in the area benefit from the traffic flow. Now such destination stores are gone. And with them, the sales tax revenue they directly and indirectly generate.

More store closings to come=future lost sales tax revenues
Mattress Firm has filed for bankruptcy. It plans to close several hundred stores. There four Mattress Firms stores close together in Oro Valley. According to the company, stores that are close together eat their sales of their other stores.  Thus, they are closing stores. Certainly, at least 2 of these stores will close.

Oro Valley lives off sales tax revenues
Empty storefronts mean lost sales tax revenue.  Sales tax revenues are the town's most significant revenue source.  Sales tax revenues are 50% of total Town Of Oro Valley general fund revenues.These funds pay for most of the town's administration cost, for most of the cost of Oro Valley's police, for some public works and parks and recreation costs. A loss of sales tax revenues is a big deal.

Reflect on 2010's budget crisis, when spending outpaced revenue
We saw what a decrease in sales tax revenues can do to a community that depends on sales tax revenues but is unprepared for the potential consequences of less, and not more revenue.

This is what happened in Oro Valley in 2008-2010.

The town council could not bring themselves to reduce spending to balance the budget, a budget deficiency caused by what was laughingly called a 'depression.' The council was replaced by the voters in 2010.

The spending challenge today is more complex than in 2010
Oro Valley's spending has ballooned to $143 million from $92 million in just 8 years. Spending has far outpaced population growth. Today, online shopping plays a major role in reducing store traffic. People now use "point and click" shopping for purchasing all kinds of merchandise, including groceries. Fortunately for Oro Valley, online sales are taxed and the revenues are supposed to come to the town (information request on this is pending with the town). This use is rapidly accelerating.  This was not happening in 2010.

The train of Oro Valley spending has a huge head of steam. And, it's rolling down the tracks. 
The potential of decreasing sales tax revenues presents a huge challenge to our council when they face the 2019-2020 budget process, which starts in February.

The council challenge will be to slow the train of spending down a bit; to prepare the town for whatever sales tax revenue scenarios might emerge; and to steer the train of spending in the right direction.

This will be hard to do.

Some of the spending is embedded in the "community center."

Some of the spending is embedded in the way the town operates. Entitlement has crept into Oro Valley's administration with automatic pay increases, free health services, and self-insurance programs. Separate pay negotiations and agreements exist between a major element of town services and the town.

It's complicated.

It will be up to the new council to simplify the complicated.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Bring Back That Small Town Feeling

We need a kinder, more gentle town, a town in which town staff acts as though they are our neighbor and not our enemy
A traffic light with no studied justification
Former council member and LOVE "Bulldog" Mike Zinkin has angst about the traffic light at the intersection of the "Community Center" and La Canada.  He has angst because the light inconveniences thousands of travelers who use La Canada daily; and because the traffic light was put there without any required study on the part of the town.

A traffic study ("traffic warrant analysis") is required to justify if a light is needed. The town did no such study. Instead, town staff decided to spend $500,000 (of RTA Funds) to put in this giant inconvenience.

Town staff's justification for not doing the study is that the traffic light mitigates...
"...a serious safety issue caused by the deficient line of sight for vehicles turning northbound left. As previously explained, the present safety issue supersedes the traditional warrant analysis. Hence the necessity of the installation of the vehicular traffic signal." (Source: Email from Town Employee Jessica Hynd to Zinkin: 10/2/18)
The town's response is laughable. The country club has been in this location forever without a traffic light. The entrance to the country club is used less now than it was during its heyday. Yet, earlier this year, town staff decided there was a serious traffic safety issue, an issue so serious that they bypassed standard procedure for traffic light approval.  It does not matter to them that their "solution" inconveniences the 21,000 daily vehicle trips passing that light daily. Or that they spent $100,000 on it.

An herbicide spray with no sign
Several weeks ago we wrote about the town spraying a Roundup type product on the grass at Kreigh Park. The spray cause a great deal of angst for those who use the park since they didn't know what was. A sign to tell them what product was would've been helpful. One of our readers asked the Town why a caution sign was not posted after the spraying. Below is the response the reader received.
"The Town uses products that contain glyphosate to control weeds in our right-a-ways and parks. Our community’s safety is important and we continue to stay up to date with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations and any updates or changes that may occur. We will continue our current process for spraying until such updates are passed along by the EPA."
In other words, the town needs to have the EPA tell it when it should post a notice to let people know that something potentially hazardous to children and pets was on the grass. Apparently, town staff needs federal approval to use common sense.

Fill out a form at your peril
This is not the story of the responses of one town employee. Those responses are merely an example of how the town views its real customer, the town resident.

There is no more clear an example of demonstrated indifference of town staff to the residents of the community than the 2015 community center vote petition. The petition was rejected by the town clerk on technical grounds. The town clerk stood by and allowed thousands of signatures to be gathered and then ignored, by not telling the petitioner what number needed to be on the back of the petition. The clerk said it wasn't her job to tell people how to properly fill out the form.

Whose job is it? Gee. What else does the clerk do all day?

The Oro Valley "Iron Curtain of Silence"
We saw an enormous change  in the approach of town staff to the residents during the years the Majority-4 was in power. Then town manager Greg Caton built an "Iron Curtain of Silence" between the residents and the town. He built barriers of communication so that residents are stuck getting answers from one person who, in our opinion, does not understand the questions and often gives flippant or incomplete answers.  Town Manager Jacobs has maintained the barrier.

The "Iron Curtain" is so strong that the town employees fear talking with residents.

Want an example?

One resident asked one of the people who works at Kreigh Park what the substance was that was sprayed on the grass. The response: "We're not allowed to discuss this."

In other words, if you are an employee of the Town Of Oro Valley: "Keep your mouth shut. Keep your head down. Don't worry about what the community you serve thinks. Just worry about you and keeping your job."
We do hope that the incoming council takes a look at the relationship between the people who work for the community and the residents of the community. The attitude of the people who work for the community needs to be resident-centric and not a "cover my butt" attitude. Bring back that small town feeling.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Update: No Oro Valley Park Open For Residents This Weekend

Kreigh Park is closed until next spring (maybe). Don't bother going there. It's really dirty.  Now, the town is closing Narjanja Park this weekend to host the Oro Valley Music Festival. Riverfront Park is being reseeded.

"We understand this is a temporary inconvenience for our park users, and we greatly appreciate your patience and flexibility. Per the Naranja Park Master Plan, the park serves as a special event venue as well as a sporting and recreation venue. Special events, such as the July 4th Celebration and the Oro Valley Music Festival, allow residents to come together and enjoy live entertainment right in their own community."

Good news: It's gonna rain!

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Watchdog Report: Community Center Fund Ends July 2018 Over $200,000 In The Red

The July 2018 Community Center/Golf numbers are posted and Hiremath and his three departing minions are not leaving a favorable legacy.

The Community Center Fund (CCF), the fund set up to pay for everything including capital improvements, lost $165,632 in July 2018. Add this loss to the fact that the fund started the fiscal year on July 1st already $74,010 in the hole, and this leaves the CCF at $239,642 in the red.

These deficient numbers include $179,538 in sales tax revenues for July and $55,466 in membership contributions.

Golf Memberships, Revenues, and Expenses
July membership was 223 which is three less than in June. The high was 249 in January, but still not even close to the 319 memberships that Troon desired by December 2015.

While July 2018 revenues were $5,552 higher than July 2017, the expenses were $116,507 higher. The higher expenses can be contributed to higher equipment leases and O & M (e.g. we have increased the number of golf carts we now lease).

The Overlook lost more in July 2018 than in July 2017
Did you notice the quarter page ad for the Overlook Restaurant in a recent edition of the Explorer? Why is the Overlook still open? The Overlook lost $11,345 in July 2018. This is $779 more than it lost in July 2017.

Will the Hiremath council bite the bullet and close this drain, or is he going leave it as part of his horrible legacy? We still need to see the numbers for August – October 2018 before we can close out the Hiremath-Hornat-Snider-Waters disaster.


Mike Zinkin has a Bachelor’s degree in history and government from the University of Arizona and a Master’s degree in Social and Philosophical Foundations of Education from California State University, Northridge. He was a commissioned ensign in the United States Navy Reserve. He was an Air Traffic Controller for 30 years. He and his wife moved to Oro Valley in 1998. Mike served on the Oro Valley Development Review Board from 2005-2009 and the Board of Adjustment from 2011-2012. He served on the Town Council from 2012-2016 during which time he was named a Fellow for the National League of Cities University, he was a member of the National League of Cities Steering Committee for Community and Economic Development, and a member of the Arizona League of Cities Budget and Economic Development Committee.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

2018 Election Five Key Factors: #1 Worthy Challengers

This is the last of our postings on the five factors that played out in the 2018 Oro Valley election.
We asked Mayor-elect Joe Winfield what surprised him regarding Oro Valley elections. He is surprised that there are not more candidates; that there aren't more people ready to step up and help their community.
Joe is right. There aren't enough candidates. Thus, Oro Valley elections are decided in the primary.

This time, four residents decided it was their time to run for Mayor and council.

They ran with great energy and forethought.

They talked to Oro Valley's residents. They went door-to-door from February through August. They collected many of their own petition signatures. They attended forums. They extended a hand at every chance they got. They made their case.

When the attacks came against them, they turned away, choosing not to be involved in the ugly part of politics.  Rather, they turned to the "facts" to support their position. 

Joe Winfield,  Melanie Barrett, Joyce Jones-Ivey and Josh Nicolson put in the effort to get the job done. And they did.

You will learn more about Oro Valley's incoming Mayor and Council Members with our exclusive interview with each, which we will publish later this month.