Michael Collins at helm of Town of Paradise Valley

Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins (File photo)

Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins (File photo)

Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins says his main priorities for his first term are to help continue to encourage reasonable resort development, continue the technological overhaul at the police department and maintain long-term financial security.

Voters elected Mayor Collins, Jerry Bien-Willner, Paul Dembow, David Sherf, Mark Stanton and Maria Syms to serve on Paradise Valley Town Council at the August 2014 primary election.

Mayor Collins, who ran unopposed, will serve as mayor for two years.

“Taking the helm as mayor reminds me of serving as Officer of the Deck on a Navy combat ship. The captain of the ship is counting on you to maneuver the ship in the right direction and not run it aground,” he explained. “With PV residents as our ship’s captain, I feel a similar responsibility now on my shoulders.”

Mayor Collins says the police department is on pace with its upgrade objectives.

“I am pleased with the pace of implementation of recently approved technologies in the police department,” he said.
“Director (Larry) Ratcliff and Lt. (Mike) Cole are working hard to move from the installation and training phase into full operation and I plan to ask them to provide a full update to council and residents at our first meeting in March.”

Since last year, the Paradise Valley Police Department has purchased and implemented state-of-the art records management programs and overhauled the department’s computer-aided dispatch system. In-car computers and new photo radar technology have also come online.

The Paradise Valley Police Department recently has adopted Smart911, which allows residents to fill out personal information on a secure website. If they ever needed to call 9-1-1, that information would be seen by the dispatcher so they could dispatch help accordingly, according to Paradise Valley Community Resource Officer Kevin Albert.

Paradise Valley Town Council has approved a police department spending limit of just over $6.5 million this fiscal year with a large amount of capital dollars going toward technological and communication upgrades.

An internal council work group will be created to keep town council and residents informed of police department progress, Mayor Collins says.

“I intend to ask Councilwoman Maria Syms to help me lead in the areas of public safety and judiciary,” he pointed out. “Her recent appointment as policy advisor to the Attorney General’s Office will give us valuable perspective and great exposure to statewide resources.”

Although town finances are in excellent order, Mayor Collins says serious financial hurdles lie ahead.

“I intend to ask this council to address our long-term liabilities head on,” he said.  “While short-term reserve fund balance is strong, the five-year budget forecast shows a structural deficit from increased pension and insurance costs and no available funding for necessary capital improvement projects. There will be no kicking the can down the road for this council if I have anything to do with it.”

The Town of Paradise Valley has 33 retired police officers collecting a pension totaling, on average, about $45,000 annually.

However, there are only 23 active members contributing to the pension plan along with taxpayer dollars.
Paradise Valley, because of the Public Safety Pension Retirement System formula, is paying 62 percent of a police officer’s salary toward his or her state pension plan, which carries an estimated annual total financial obligation of $1.5 million.

In fiscal year 2014-15 police pension obligations are expected to account for about 9 percent of the municipality’s operating revenues, which is about $18 million according to Scott McCarty, Paradise Valley finance director.
Mayor Collins says he has a plan of action — and town leaders have been made aware of his mission.

“I have a presented list of priorities that I am committed to address over my next two years in office,” he said of providing town leaders a specific list of objectives. “Our council will have a lot to work on and I hope that together with the town manager we make good progress on priorities that matter to town residents.”

New leadership

Initial comments continue to be positive about Mayor Collins — something his colleagues say is due more to his track record than kind conversation.

“I have always been impressed with his leadership style and skills,” said Paradise Valley Councilwoman Mary Hamway, who was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Dan Schweiker’s council retirement.

“He is inclusive, he knows what he wants,” she explained. “He has set a very ambitious agenda. The one thing that I am going to be working on is stormwater issues. I am very excited for this opportunity.”’

Paradise Valley faces a unique geographical challenge mitigating and controlling floodwaters due to the topography of the area. Within Paradise Valley town limits there is Mummy Mountain, the Phoenix Mountain Preserve and the north side of Camelback Mountain. Over the last two years the Town of Paradise Valley has seen damage to structures and roadways due to flooding created by the limited underground storm drainage system.

Councilwoman Hamway says she likes the approach of getting things out into the open.

“If you don’t talk about these things then you can’t make improvements,” she said. “Whether or not you were effected by storms it does impact everyone in Paradise valley. If you don’t talk about it and you don’t really look at what your options and then you can’t move forward.”

Paradise Valley Councilwoman Maria Syms calls Mayor Collins “methodical” in his approach to problem solving.

“Mayor Collins and I have known and worked together for many years,” she said. “I have always known him to be diligent in his efforts to improve the quality of life in Paradise Valley.”
Councilwoman Syms says she is up to the task of leading a council work group focused on maintaining progress at the Paradise Valley Police Department.

“He has asked me to be the lead in the area of public safety and I look forward to working with him, my fellow councilmembers and the community over the next two years as we implement new technology and procedures to provide our residents with security and peace of mind,” she said.
Councilwoman Syms says Mayor Collins is making strides early to increase local government transparency.

“While we have made strides in these areas, there is more work to be done,” she said.

“Mayor Collins’s outline of his priorities for the coming two years, demonstrates the commitment to more open government and public debate. I look forward to working with the mayor and council to make Paradise Valley a shining example of transparent and accessible government in the state of Arizona.”

Mayor Collins says a major part of what he wants to accomplish is to improve and grow community engagement with local government.

“Policy decisions at the council level are only improved with greater public participation. This means more frequent and direct communication on town events and policy discussions through a greater use of social media, news outlets, and direct mail publications like the Town Reporter,” he said.  “It means providing advance notice of policy discussions and a broader advertisement of future council meeting agenda topics. It means being transparent and providing a process that allows community input. As mayor I will continually push for these and other opportunities to improve community engagement and involvement in our wonderful town government.”

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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