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Citizens group enters final stretch

Public input sought at upcoming meetings

Derek Jordan 3-31-2015  SIERRA VISTA HERALD

SIERRA VISTA — The daunting task facing members of the Citizens Advisory Commission became soberingly clear during Monday’s meeting as the cost of the city’s many priorities the group had identified, far exceeded the revenue and money-saving options they were initially prepared to consider.  (while commendable for these volunteers to put their time into this effort, it is the responsibility of the City Staff and the Council to determine what the City can and cannot do according to law.  They have the institutional knowledge of how and what the City should do with their short falls.)

Issues previously identified as high priorities, like increasing funds for road maintenance and repair, hiring additional employees for city code enforcement and administrative services, and rotating in new vehicles, were slashed from the budget or done away with entirely as the seven-member commission worked through its first attempt to balance its priorities with revenue and cost-saving options. 

The initial list of acceptable cost-saving measures and increases to revenue generation included sweeping capital improvement funds into the general funds, freeing that money to be spent on areas other than facility maintenance. Other revenue options and cost cutting options include increases to retail sales tax, bar and restaurant taxes, and reductions in operations at the library and the Cove.  (where are the cuts?)

The board also recommended an across-the-board increase to various user fees, to the sum of $100,000, to be determined by the council. These include things like raising the cost to adopt a dog from the Nancy J. Brua Animal Care Center, to the cost of requesting a copy of a police report, to increasing the city’s ambulance transport fee to match that of the Fry Fire District. ($1,000 per transport??)

The commission has been tasked with coming up with several recommendations to balance the budget and to present these to the city council in mid-April. Members have been meeting regularly for the last eight weeks with city staff to learn about the various needs and financial challenges facing each department. (does this mean that going through the budget process is now unnecessary since the CAC has done all this work and made these decisions so the Council can pick and choose what works?)

“It seems to me that we’re leaving a little bit of cash on the table if we don’t look at everything that is considered (Transaction Privilege Tax),” said Gregory Thomas, during the first half of Monday’s meeting, when each CAC member expressed their thoughts on how best to raise additional funds and cut costs.

Many areas saw broad agreement among the commission members, such as a slight increase to the sales tax, while others, like increasing certain service fees, resulted in a more divided opinion. (that was predictable!)

“I think that’s something the city can take care of at the local level, the department heads can support those efforts. … I think it’s the big picture items that we should be funding,” said Commission Member Ken Cecil, listing the Cove as one such large project that must be considered. (how about the out of control Vista Transit??)

The indoor aquatic center regularly recoups less than half of the approximately $500,000 annual operating costs. (generally, when the costs exceed the income one of two things happen-- you balance the costs to the income or you close the business... but this is a city "service".  Perhaps they should have left the pool outside....)

Sandra Kenny agreed with Cecil, before adding her own thoughts on another possible increase in revenue.

“One thing no one has talked about is raising the property tax,” Kenny said. (remember every year when Tom Crosby would suggest the City drop the City Property Tax because it didn't actually add much revenue and he was always shot down in the vote. In fact couldn't get a second on his motion??? this is why!!! so the city always had an ace in the hole.)

While limited as to how much it could raise the property tax rate without voter approval, were the city to max out the rate, it would bring the average property tax bill to $20 a year.

“It would only generate $151,000, but that’s still $151,000 that could possibly pay for two new jobs or even some maintenance,” she said. “It would show that we also are willing to take some of the burden and try to provide more services in the city.”

Commission Chair Liz York defended the idea of small increases to a number of service fees across different departments. The revenue generated from these increase, while small, could be beneficial to these areas.

“They could do something with that amount of money,” York said. “That’s a part time person.”

The Citizens Advisory Commission has two more meetings to hash out its recommendations to the city council. The next meeting is set for Wednesday, April 1. The commission will present its recommendations to the council on Thursday, April 16, at a special council work session.

Public has chance to weigh in

The Citizens Advisory Commission and city staff will hear what the community at large has to say about what city services should be prioritized ahead of formulating the budget at two special public meetings this week.

please Attend one of these meetings  or they will raise taxes across the board.

The first meeting will be held Fire Station 363, located at 675 Giulio Cesare Ave., Thursday, April 2 at 6 p.m. The second meeting is set for Saturday, April 4, at 10 a.m. at the Sierra Vista Public Library’s Mona Bishop Room, located at 2600 E. Tacoma St.

Please make comments to these 2 locations beginning today. members of the public can also share their thoughts online, as daily questions will be posted to [1] 
and [2].

Comments from the public meetings and online will be considered by CAC members during their final meeting next week.

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