Paradise Valley Town Council on June 11 voted 6-1 to approve its fiscal year 2015-16 budget.
While the municipality is expected to spend up to $40.8 million this fiscal year, the General Fund — what is used for day-to-day operations — stands at $24.7 million, which is in line with the expenditure limitation set by the Arizona Legislature.
The new fiscal year starts Wednesday, July 1.
Paradise Valley Councilwoman Maria Syms offered a series of amendments and strike-through measures to eliminate some expenses she felt were not in line with the municipality’s limited government charge.
She proposed a reduced budget with changes to the municipality’s debt, pension and public safety obligations, according to the budget hearing discussion.
The proposed budget reductions totaled $700,390 from the operating budget. She also proposed that an $8.5 million loan meant for infrastructure investment in the form of bike path studies, visual corridor and flood control studies and local asphalt improvements be taken out of the budget.
“That will cost us close to $400,000 or maybe more in interest until it’s paid back out of our reserves a year later. That should be reconsidered,” she said. “If that is the only option — which I’m not sure that it is — it should focus on critical town needs and public safety.”
Councilwoman Syms says she is not against all projects but rather, the timing of them.
“Again, I’m not saying that these projects or these expenses in the operating budget are something that I wouldn’t consider in the future,” she pointed out. “I just don’t think they should be considered now, given that we have not fulfilled our public safety obligations and debt. You don’t spend the money until it’s in the bank,” she said.
A difference of opinion
The alternate budget proposal offered by Councilwoman Syms did not gain traction on the local dais.
“I did bring up these issues, many of these issues, during the course of the budget discussions. Many did not agree with me, and that’s fine,” she explained. “We may just have a difference of opinion and I respect your opinion, I respect my fellow council members. It’s just, like I said, a difference of opinion.”
Councilwoman Mary Hamway said the original budget reflected the priorities of the council — so she could not fully support Ms. Syms’s amendment.
“As far as the debt obligation, in order for us to do some capital improvement, we have to issue that debt, so that we fall under our expenditure limitations, which is a complicated issue, and maybe a first-time council member doesn’t understand that, so I kind of have trouble with the timing and lack of process, and I won’t be supporting your amendment,” she said.
Councilman Jerry Bien-Willner said making cuts to certain parts of the budget is not the answer.
“These issues are far more nuanced than simply deleting and adjusting items in the budget,” he told the crowd. “I’d also like to state the budget is a ceiling, not the floor. So this is the maximum amount that can be spent.”
Vice Mayor Paul Dembow said the original budget, which passed, was the right one.
“We put a lot of effort into this,” he said. “What we currently have is as good a budget as we can get.”
By the numbers
The largest piece of the budget, 43.6 percent, funds the police department, which is budgeted at $8.9 million, the numbers show.
The public safety line item represents about a $2 million increase from fiscal year 2014-15, mainly due to a $1.1 million addition to the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System.
Town Manager Kevin Burke says the $1.1 million increase is part of an effort to pay off the police pension fund sooner.
“The town council would like to pay it off faster than they are required to,” Mr. Burke said in a June 11 phone interview.
The minimum required payment is part of a 22-year plan, but the plan the town council has could pay it off in 11 years or better.
Between fiscal year 2013-14 and the proposed fiscal year 2014-15, the police department has added seven authorized positions: Four patrol police officers, one police lieutenant, one community resource officer and one general investigations bureau officer.
The four patrol officers were added to the 2015-16 budget, upping the total number of patrol officers from 16 to 20. Mr. Burke says the addition of new officers did not have as much of an impact on the budget increase as the PSPRS payments did.
The budget also calls for less revenue from the public works highway user revenue fund, which is budgeted at $2.8 million — about $100,000 less than last year’s budget.
HURF funds come from gas taxes, vehicle-license taxes, motor vehicle registration fees and other miscellaneous fees, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Next fiscal year’s software maintenance is about $240,000 higher than the previous fiscal year.
Mr. Burke says the maintenance refers to the annual maintenance fees required to the “whole slew of technology” purchased over the last fiscal year.
Some of the technological upgrades included on-board computers and license plate readers for the police department.