Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Guest View: Mike Zinkin ~ Oro Valley Government lies to the citizens

Those who saw the movie, "The Post" learned that the "Pentagon Papers" were a classified government document that showed that every presidential administration from Eisenhower to Nixon lied to the American people about what was going on with the Vietnam War. Although not of the same scope, something very similar is happening in Oro Valley.

Town Staff Controls the Message
When one attends the Newly Elected Training Session (for new councilmembers) presented by the Arizona League of Cities and Towns, one learns (among other things) about the Open Meeting Laws, how to work with the media, and that Town staff controls the message.

Governing boards, whether they be City Councils, School Boards, Boards of Supervisors, etc., are made up of ordinary people. They are not Planners or Civil Engineers or Public Safety experts. They are laymen that are interested in their communities and have a desire to help establish policies. As a result, they depend on the information provided to them by their staff.

Staff works for the Town Manager, who works for the majority of Council. During my four years as an Oro Valley Town Council Member, I was told on many occasions by former Town Manager, Greg Caton, that, "I do not work for any individual Councilmember, I work for the Council majority."

Why is this the case? Because if the Town Manager does not please the Council majority, the Town Manager will lose his/her job. As a result, the message that the Town Manager gives to the 7-member Town Council is manipulated to please the 4-member Council majority. It’s in the Town Manager’s best interest to tell them what they want to hear.

This happens all the time, but on December 17, 2014, the night the Council voted to purchase the HSL property (the Community Center plus Golf and Tennis), the staff controlled the message to show that the purchase was desirable for the Town because that’s what the mayor and his Majority-4 cohorts wanted to hear.

The Message was a Lie
Now that we have almost three years of financial data as evidence, we can see that the message was a lie.

The message was that all expenditures, including the needed capital improvements, would be covered by the dedicated increased sales tax plus the revenues derived from the facility and that no money would be taken out of any other Town funds to supplement Community Center/Golf expenses (other than for the initial transfer of $1.2 million from the General Fund to the Community Center Fund which would be paid back at $120,000 per year for 10 years.)

The Power Point presentation provided to the Council shows that in the area of capital improvements for both the facility and golf, they would spend the following:

$810,000 in FY 2014/15      (including $50,000 for golf improvements)
$1,860,500 in FY 2015/16   (including $1,310,500 for golf improvements)
$1,772,500 in FY 2016/17   (including $1,282,500 for golf improvements)
$596,000 in FY 2017/18      (including $130,000 for golf improvements)

And between 2015-2018, they were going to spend:

$1,037,000 for "ADA and Code Compliance Life Safety Issues"
$522,000 in "Facility Restoration"

These two slides show what they were planning to spend on golf improvements, ADA compliance, and facility restoration in each fiscal year. [Click to enlarge]

With this information, the Council majority (Mayor Hiremath, Vice Mayor Waters, Councilmembers Hornat and Snider) voted to purchase the property. However, it now appears that the staff lied in order to please the Majority-4 Councilmembers.

The Budget was a Lie

In fact, after the purchase was made, staff only budgeted the following:

$1,115,000 in FY 2015/16    (NOT the $1,860,500 that was promised)
$527,200 in FY 2016/17       (NOT the $1,772,500 that was promised)
$94,250 in FY 2017/18         (NOT the $596,000 that was promised)

How much did they actually spend?

The real story lies in what they promised vs. what they budgeted vs. what they spent.

In FY 2014/15, they spent only $37,873 of the $810,000 they promised. I’ll give them a pass on this due to the 2015 referendum which delayed the purchase until May 2015; however, the promised capital improvements were not carried over to the next fiscal year.

In FY 2015/16 the total capital outlay was only $499,744 of the $1,860,500 they promised.

In FY 2016/17 the actual capital outlay was only $72,414 of the $1,772,500 they promised.

Half-way into FY 2017/18, the capital outlay is only $29,464 which is a far cry from the $596,000 they promised.

The promise that no money would be taken from any other Town funds was a Lie
Remember that all this money was going to come from the sales tax increase and revenues from the golf and community center. There was not going to be any more money taken from the General Fund (other than the $1.2 million to start the Community Center Fund).

Here’s what actually happened. In June 2017, the Town Council voted to transfer an additional $350,000 from the General Fund to the Community Center Fund. Later in 2017, the staff took $21,323 from the Bed Tax fund (hotel room tax) to cover the overage from tennis court improvements.

Now the Town Manager and Council are discussing the potential of bonding (incurring a debt service) for the continued improvements required for the Community Center facility and Golf courses.

They lied. It’s clear that there was no way the needed capital improvements and the required Operations and Maintenance for the purchase would be covered by the sales tax increase. They didn't even budget for the promised improvements in the subsequent budgets. They promised there would be no debt service (bonding) but now they’re discussing bonding to pay for Community Center expenses. They lied.

You think this is bad? Part 2 will discuss Troon’s lies.

[Slides provided in this article are from the December 17, 2014 Power Point presentation]

Part 2 will be published on Thursday.