Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Message from Town Council Candidate, Melanie Barrett

It has been a pleasure over the course of this campaign to meet so many of you. Oro Valley has so many wonderful people. I look forward to continuing to build relationships with the citizens and to serve the people of our Town.

I am running with a team of wonderful people; Joe Winfield for Mayor, and Joyce Jones-Ivey and Josh Nicolson for Town Council. We are a diverse group of men and women of various ages, races, backgrounds, and even political ideologies, but we are like-minded when it comes to the moral obligation of government to serve the people.

We have a positive vision of Oro Valley as a place where citizens are respected and placed at the forefront of the government.

Special interests and Development
In the past few years the mayor and current council have accepted over $150,000 in campaign financing, all from 5 donors, all of whom are developers. They later vote on these developers’ projects (and buy and maintain money losing golf courses from them). This results in many 7-0 decisions in favor of developers, even when a large number of citizens object to these rezonings. Many people leave Town meetings feeling it was a "done-deal." Since the 2016 election, the council has approved all 14 rezonings that have come before them.

We would prefer moderate growth that is respectful of the community and the environment. Our beautiful natural desert and scarce water resources need to be carefully considered.

We are committed to putting the citizens back at the top of the Oro Valley Organizational Chart, and bringing back respect and transparency, as well as operating without ties to special interests. Our financing comes from ourselves, our families and friends, and the community.

My time on the Planning and Zoning Commission
I began my first year gaining my footing and trusting what I was told by town planners and other commission members who made strong arguments for the proposed developments. Over time, my perspective broadened and I began to realize that things were not as they appeared, and that residents’ voices were not being given enough consideration.

While on P&Z, I fought for parks, for view sheds, for the preservation of plants, and for lanes to be added for schools. I lobbied the planners and the council, fought to protect the “small town feeling” language in the General Plan, and added language about parks and recreation that met the needs of citizens of all ages.

I did vote in favor of many re-zonings that I knew would ultimately be approved by Council no matter what P&Z recommended. I did so in order to add conditions to improve the plan. One of the planners told me I had taken upon myself the role of “chief skeptic.”

In my last year as a P&Z Commissioner, I witnessed the following:

• Town Council ignoring the recommendations of the P&Z Commission if they recommended denial of a rezoning application

• Town Council eliminating the 4-year maximum term limit for P&Z commissioners in order to maintain pro-development votes

• Some of my concerns not being included in staff reports to Council

• Town Council removing conditions that I fought to have included in development proposals

This is when I realized that the only way to change the system was to change the Town Council itself.

Taxes and Fiscal responsibility
In the 8 years of Mayor Hiremath and council's tenure, the budget has grown 59%, though population growth has been around 8% and inflation around 12%. This growth rate is 5 times the rate of inflation.

Taxes have been raised significantly, with the sales tax being increased by 25% and the utility tax doubled. The current Town Council even supported a property tax which was voted down by the citizens. Too much taxpayer money is being funneled into the community center and golf, larger government, and the associated personnel.

The most recent FY 18/19 budget that the council passed in June included a $14M bond, paid over 20 years. The mayor and council claim to have a $1.3M budget surplus. I don’t know about you, but I don’t put $1,400 on my credit card, then look at my account with $130 left and say that I have a $130 surplus. This is akin to what is happening with the Town finances.

We would like to employ disciplined fiscal responsibility with our taxpayer dollars with an eye towards the long-term benefit of our community's future, keeping in mind what we are leaving for our children.

Parks and Recreation
Many of you know that the Town commissioned a statistically valid Parks and Recreation Survey in 2014 regarding amenities residents desired. Far at the top were Playgrounds, Ramadas, and Walking Paths. Out of 34 items, golf came in at 33 and with negative favorability (with 63% of respondents rating golf as “Not important.”)

Six months later, the Town Council voted to purchase a golf course in a deal with their biggest campaign donor, and since then have doubled down on that purchase, throwing good money after bad. We believe that parks and recreation should meet the needs of the greatest number of people and be truly designed for the citizens.

To me, the golf losses are about the opportunity lost. What could we have done with that money instead? To put the scale of losses into perspective, we have lost enough money on Golf to have constructed 57 new playgrounds, or 6 large splash pads (like the one in Marana), or any number of ball fields, but in 8 years the Town Council has not built any of these things.

The FY 2018/19 budget includes a 6 million dollar bond for golf and the community center improvements paid over 20 years, but no money or plans for Naranja Park or any playgrounds or ball fields. My children will be nearly my age before the Town is finished paying for this bond.

The Town Council now says it is “breaking even.” What they mean by this is that the Town has projected that the sales tax revenues will now be enough to cover the losses. This does not account for any capital improvement or the upcoming bond. This is not the definition that was given of breaking even when the purchase was proposed, and the courses are still costing $2.5M per year of your tax dollars, no matter how you manipulate the math.

We want to employ sensible, community driven strategies to stem the golf losses and direct the parks and recreation dollars where they can benefit all our residents.

I am running for Council because I love my Town and I want to make it a better place. It is a challenge – however, I feel deeply about doing what I can to make Oro Valley (and the world) a better place and about being the change I want to see in the world.

The Town Council election is held in the Primary on August 28th.

Read more about Melanie’s campaign issues HERE