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Oro Valley must decide how to spend $5.4 million in COVID money

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Oro Valley must decide how to spend $5.4 million in COVID money

Marana town manager contract full of question marks; Plus more in local gov't meetings

  • Oro Valley has millions of federal dollars to spend by the end of the calendar year. The town just has to figure out where the money goes.
    Philip Taylor PT/FlickrOro Valley has millions of federal dollars to spend by the end of the calendar year. The town just has to figure out where the money goes.

Oro Valley's Town Council has some decisions to make involving how to spend its remaining $5.4 million in coronavirus relief money.

This final tranche of American Rescue Plan money comes with more strings than the $10 million previously spent under the "revenue replacement" heading.

Oro Valley town staff have identified capital improvements regarding tourism, storm, reclaimed and potable water as ways to spend the cash. They're looking at their capital needs for opportunities to spend the federal dollars.

Under tourism, the town is considering using the COVID money to pay for some of the $6 million in anticipated spending at Steam Pump Ranch. It's also identified $442,000 in golf needs (seriously?) identified in the long-term capital plan.

Improvements to the Sierra Wash and corresponding culverts could be eligible for COVID cash and there are $1.2 million in needs there.

Then there's the Northwest Recovery and Recharge Delivery System (a joint water venture with the town of Marana), which could benefit from the money needing to be spent. It needs $5.5 million in investments, officials said.

The town also has an unfunded $3.3 million fiber project it had hoped to paid for with a grant that didn't come through. One problem: COVID relief money rules are pretty insistent that broadband money be awarded to underserved communities.

I'm trying to figure out what in Oro Valley would be considered an "underserved community." Would it be, like, left-handed golfers forced to use right-handed rentals?

The town staff isn't sure the fiber project qualifies but is looking into it.

All this is money coming from Washington that would pay for Oro Valley projects so locals won't have to. 

For all the talk about the $1.9 trillion COVID package causing inflation, I don't see a lot of towns in Republican regions giving the money back. I'm not saying they should.

But COVID money has been buying all sorts of stuff for taxpayers all over the Tucson area and there's been no organized opposition to any of it.

Contractual obligations

Marana Town Manager Terry Rozema is up for a new contract to be approved this week by the Town Council.

Whether it's a one-year deal or multi-year deal remains up in the air. Rozema's salary is literally a blank line in a resolution prepared for the elected officials to fill in.

I have a problem here. 

The reason for Arizona's open meeting law is to provide the people with at least 24-hour advance notice on what actions government might take.

I admit. I'm a purist on this stuff. 

Telling the public "we're going to approve a contract" is one thing. Saying "we're going to approve a contract but the length and cost of it, are TBD" is not really giving the people an advanced notice on the contract.

It's not a contract without the price or the term. It's a rough idea.

Every other contract local government approves defines both the cost and the time frame. 

Now, Marana is not the only or worst offender when it comes to messing with the public's right to know about the deals worked out with top executives. It happens allll the time.

I want to be clear: I think chief executive pay is largely not a scandal, even if it seems high. Rozema makes $200,000 a year to run Marana's operation. That's probably a little over three times the average professional. Also, a good town manager will figure out how to save that much money from the budget pretty easily.

It's not the compensation that bothers me. When it comes to the top dog in local government, staff and elected leaders get squeamish about providing a number. It's public information, dudes. The pay of lowest-wage worker for the smallest government in Pima County is up for public inspection.

Also, if there were a dollar amount attached to a recommended budget, elected leaders are free to change the amount of compensation from the recommendation. Leaving it blank accomplishes nothing.

I just think the deal should be finalized, posted for public review for the required amount of time and then voted on. A few cranks might care but most won't. I know I won't. 

Don't just say "We're going to vote on a contract, and we'll figure out the specifics come zero hour."

Marana also has two big rezonings on the agenda. If approved, they would combine for more than 1,500 homes.

One is slated for the Marana and Grier roads area and would build 750 homes on what has long been farm land.

The other would build up to 777 homes on 164 acres near Interstate 10 and Adonis Road. 

It's part of a larger Stonegate Master Plan, which would develop a more expansive community.

It's surrounded by farmland and what urban planners call a "transportation corridor."

This is exactly where we should want new growth to take place: On flat land that's already environmentally screwed. We don't want to grade hillsides or blade sensitive and riparian lands.

In a global sense, losing agricultural land isn't wonderful but Marana and Tucson are going to grow somewhere and this beats climbing up the Catalinas or developing braided washes.

Block grants

The city of South Tucson will vote on a number of contracts during a meeting Tuesday.

One of them would authorize Pima County to administer its Community Development Block Grant program.

Known as CDBG, these are federal grants given to local governments to spend money on a variety of actions. The idea is to give local governments flexibility to tailor federal funds for ground-level needs, rather than force Washington to divine from a distance what neighborhoods need.

Easy, right?

Wrong. They can come through the state, be passed to the Pima Association of Governments and all require specific planning and needs. The county is set up with the expertise to handle these block grants.

People have groused for years that South Tucson outsources a lot of programs that would typically be handled by its own staff to other governments. I think that's lame considering wealthier and — dare I say, whiter — communities incorporate to get more state tax revenues returned and brag about how they can strike deals with counties to handle a bunch of their services.

I'm thinking Queen Creek and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, as an example.

Also, the county wants urban populations to seek urban services from urban governments. Helping to get federal money for South Tucson serves the county's purposes, in a weird way. Pima County likes to throw weight around because of its big unincorporated population but its leaders also know damned well they aren't legally set up to deliver to those communities.

Continuity in Santa Cruz

If Pima County were to act like a county is designed in statutes to act, it would resemble Santa Cruz County.

There the board of supervisors deal with mostly minor issues except when it comes to the jail, health services or a mine setting up for business way out in the middle of nowhere.

The biggest thing on their agenda reads like this: 

Discussion/possible action to approve the Lease-Purchase Agreement No. 1000149293 with JP Morgan Chase Bank NA for computer hardware, IT security equipment, vehicles and other equipment in the amount of $2,000,000 and allow the Administrative Services Director to sign any additional documents

Don't know what that is? Exactly. Boring as hell.

During an emergency, the county is supposed to guarantee it will remain operationally up and running. So it needs to buy $2 million in computers, vehicles and communications equipment. So it's come up with a lease-to-own deal with JP Morgan Chase to finance the deal.

Santa Cruz County is not trying to provide universal daycare or solve income inequality.

The county is also seeking approval to hire a deputy county manager and a chief deputy sheriff.

Guess what they did? They included an estimated salary for both positions. It's $96,000 for the deputy county manager and $85,000 for the chief deputy.

 The Flowing Wells Unified School District will hold a light meeting with a rather heavy purpose.

They have a scheduled vote on firing an unspecified employee for reasons the board will specify during the meeting Wednesday.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 25 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.

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