Thursday, January 10, 2019

Town Council Brings Citizen Finance Commission Back To Oro Valley

Citizen-Centric spending oversight returns to Oro Valley
Last night, Oro Valley Town Council voted 7-0 to create a five-person citizen manned Finance Commission. The commission was approved with the proviso that it "sunset" in 2 years.

The "sunset" was added as a compromise because Council Members Solomon and Rodman were concerned that there was not sufficient definition of the role of the committee.

Council Member Solomon was concerned that the commission not be one that interferes with the work of town staff; that it not be within the commission's purview to be involved in the details of the budget's creation. All Council Member's agreed that town staff does a fine job and that such detail commission involvement would not be appropriate.

Hiremath in 2010: Board members just aren't experienced enough
On August 31, 2010, the 5-person commission was abolished by newly elected Mayor Satish Hiremath and his then town council. (You can read LOVE's report on this here. You can read the minutes on this discussion and watch the video here.)

According to the information packet included with last night's agenda: "This Committee was dissolved by the Town Council in 2010 with the consideration that in lieu of a standing committee, a separate ad hoc, citizen-based task force(s) could be formed as needed in the future to evaluate budget and finance-related topics and provide recommendations to the Town Council."(Source)

According the Hiremath speaking at the time: "The bottom line is this... We have no systems that are repeatable to assure success." This was his conclusion after being in office for all of three months. His corollary to this: Our boards lack sufficient experience to be proper advisers. Let's not train them. Eliminate them.

The decision eliminated citizen input. This elimination gave Hiremath absolute power over Oro Valley's spending.  The result has been an unprecedented growth in spending.

As we have previously posted, in just the past 8 years in which there was no finance commission, the town has experienced a rise in Oro Valley spending of almost 53%, $50 million from 2012 to 2019. Oro Valley's growth in spending far outpaced Oro Valley population growth. Thus, spending per capita rose from $2,214 to  $3.176. (source)

Winfield is no Hiremath
Major Joe Winfield has a different attitude that Hiremath. Winfield and Oro Valley's new council members spent thousands of hours canvassing neighborhoods, seeking and getting resident input. They know what residents want. Control of Oro Valley spending is one of these desires. Greater citizen input into town government is another.

Harmonizing town employee goals with those of the residents
One of the things that a Finance Commission may do is to reduce the ability of Oro Valley government to grow itself with no control other than the amount of funds they can garner. This is called the "Agency Problem", of which we wrote recently.

By reviewing town budgets, the finance commission can advise council on ways to harmonize town employee goals with those of the residents. Town spending can be focused toward resident priorities. Make work projects, like "Main Streets", will be identified. The question of whether a project is something residents want will be heard.

Promises made. Promises kept.
Mayor Winfield, Vice Mayor Barrett and Council Members Joyce-Ivey and Nicolson said during their campaign that they would take a hard look at Oro Valley's spending; and that they would instill citizen input into Oro Valley's governance. Establishing this finance commission is a strong first step in keeping both of these promises.