Wednesday, March 22, 2023

One Word Sums Up Last Week's Town Council Capital Budget Study Session: "Laughable"

Last week, we reported on the latest staff recommendations on the Town of Oro Valley Ten Year Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The town council held a study session on the program last Wednesday. In our minds, the study session was laughable. The session left more questions than it answered.  Here are our takeaways:

Study session occurred too late at night
There’s really no way to have a productive study session late into the evening, especially after the Council has already discussed pressing matters. In addition, just before this study session, the Council had already sat through a study session on the Vistoso Trails Nature Preserve Master Plan.

The CIP study session was so late in the evening that, by the time Council Member Joyce Jones-Ivey was asked if she had any questions, she was literally giddy. After all, she had been in that room for almost six hours.  Jones-Ivey started laughing and couldn’t stop. We don’t blame her because having a session on something as important as capital spending so late at night is ridiculous. That topic requires a "clear, fresh mind."  In addition, Joyce pointed out that the tiny font used on the schedules that staff provided was way too small to be read by a human being! She is right!

A $3.2 million magistrate court project...
Next year, the Town will start remodeling the Magistrate Court.  The estimated cost for that is $1.5 million each of the next two years. We have no idea why staff proposes this project or why it is proposed for next year because...

...With no detail provided on that or on any proposed project
We cannot tell you more about the Magistrate Court Project, or any other project really, because the packet provided to the Council does not include a detailed description of the project, a description of exactly what is to be done, the reason or justification for doing that project, the return or benefit from doing the project and the basis for the estimated cost of the project. All of of this is best practice in capital budgeting. All of this is missing from the council packet. It is no wonder that Jones-Ivey was laughing because what the Council received last week was laughable.

Thus requiring Council to get "down in the weeds"
Town staff is budgeting replacing "circuit three" street lights in Sun City. Barrett wants that circuit replaced sooner rather than later. Winfield asked why the town should continue to provide street lights in Sun City. After all, Sun City is the only place in town that has street lights. He was informed by staff that the street lights are there for historical reasons. Owning and maintaining those lights was part of the agreement when the town annexed Sun City 45+ years ago. Winfield suggested that is is time to re-examine that situation.

Finding discrepancies accounting among funds
It is necessary for the Council to "get down in the weeds."  Some members of this Council, Tim Bohen in particular, are good at doing that. His tracking of fund transfers, for example, reveals confusing accounting between the Community Center Fund (CCF) and the CIP.

According to Town Finance Director Gephart: “The one that I will highlight is the elevator and the ADA improvements to the Community Center.” These are included in the CIP Fund at the moment. According to Vice Mayor Barrett, these costs are supposed to be in the Community Center Fund. Barrett noted that “The motion for the elevator said that the additional funding would come from the Community Center Fund, so what would happen if we end up paying for all that from the Capital Fund? Would there be a transfer from the Community Center Fund?”. Gephart responded: “Yes. There would be a transfer as long as funds are available.”

Then, there are capital costs related to the creation of the Vistoso Trails Nature Preserve. These are included in the CCF capital budget. They belong in the CIP budget.

No basis provided by staff to Council for prioritizing projects
The staff did not provide nor does the Council have a method for prioritizing projects. Having such is best practice of a capital budgeting process. Council Member Solomon noted that the Town Council needs to separate projects as to whether they are essential, “a must or need”, or something it would be nice to have, “A want”. Then, the Council should agree upon and then apply a "screen" for prioritizing projects within those categories.

Our conclusion
Staff had been requested by Council to hold this session. They conducted the session as if they had been requested to do something that they did not want to do. They were "going through the motion."
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