Notes from Town Council Mtg. Feb 9, 2010
By Anita Christy
The meeting was short, compared to others, and lasted about 3 hours. The brevity is because the Town attorney, Susan Godwin, had informed the Council that citizens may not use the Town’s resources to “influence an election.” So, the Council informed all of us at the meeting that they would not allow any comments from citizens, pro or con, regarding the Special Election relating to the tax increase. Each time a citizen began to ‘touch on’ this issue whenever they spoke, they were informed to refrain from speaking about it. Let me rephrase that. Citizens at the meeting were told, in essence, that we “do not have the right to speak….we do not have the right to petition the Government for redress of grievances.” Does this strike anyone but me as a violation of the First Amendment Right of the U.S. Constitution?
This summary focuses on issues of most concern to citizens who value responsible, principled government and careful spending of tax dollars.
The meeting opened with a Police Honor Guard to pay a respectful tribute to Lt. Eric Shuhandler, a Gilbert police officer who was recently shot and killed in the line of duty.
We were led in the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America.
The boy scouts were presented with a copy of the CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
COMMUNICATIONS FROM CITIZENS. (First, we were told we could NOT SPEAK about the tax issue.)
Our group included Eddie Cook (Secy-LD22), Shane Stapley, Deb Finelli, and Mickie Niland.
A gentleman representing the Gilbert Small Business Alliance spoke about the upcoming Gilbert Rising Event “A Sense of Health” which will be held from 10-3 pm on Feb. 20, at the SW corner of Val Vista & Williams Field. It’s open air, and will offer a Farmers market, beauty section, physical health, wellness, and sixth sense (alternative medicine). Also a mammography van, plus entertainment. “This Special Event is being put on with no town support.” (My ears perked up! This means GSBA is doing this using No Taxpayer dollars!) See, it can be done!
Eddie Cook spoke briefly to the Council regarding 2 budget cutting ideas that have the potential for $7.3 million in savings! I have attached his recommendations.
Shane Stapley spoke, stating his concerns about the plethora of recently approved liquor licenses to various Walgreens stores. He also drew the Council’s attention to the misleading statements made in the February issue of Your Town relating to the Founding Fathers role in creating the Census. He clarified that the Census was created in order to provide accurate representation in Congress, not to distribute tax dollars for programs. Shane also asked the Council how much of the Budget is devoted to Public Safety? “Are we in danger of not having Public Safety?” (The point he was making is that dedicating the ¼ cent sales tax to “public safety” makes it sound like the Council considers Public Safety to be an afterthought. We all know the truth: There is plenty of money for Public Safety. The Council uses this scare tactic to coax the public into voting for the tax increase coming up in the Special Election 5/18/2010. So, if there is money for Public Safety, what else are they paying for? Hint: If you go onto the Gilbert Home Page and check out the job openings, there are 9 open positions: 1 is for a police officer, and 5 are for “critical” Recreation staff.)
Jenn Daniels stated her concern that the Council continues to renew their leasing contract with Maricopa County for the care and feeding of Rodeo Park. This Park has limited value, having been built on the site of an old landfill, before proper techniques were used to preserve such sites. The contract is only $10 per year, but the cost to the taxpayers for the upkeep is thousands of dollars, and there is limited use. It’s sort of like somebody giving you an old junker of a car that runs…sort of, and you keep pouring money into it to keep it running, sort of. What are you going to do with it? (Abandoning it to the County sounded good to us!) The Council voted to renew the contract “one more year or until a new agreement is negotiated.”
There was some haggling about increased costs in the amount of $183,098 for an Arcadis construction project on Higley Rd. More discussion will occur on 2/23/10.
I’m skipping over other items on the CONSENT CALENDAR, and there was little discussion relating to PUBLIC HEARING items.
Marc Skocypec gave an overview of the Budget Report for December 2009. Overall, expenses were lower than budgeted, and revenues were higher. However, the most significant higher revenues were due to additional new home starts and the collection of the System Development Fees. This money does not go into the General Fund. Rather, it is restricted to the support of growth.
The Council decided to move two items to the February 23, 2010, Council Meeting: BUDGET – Discussion and direction regarding current vacant positions and direction on process of filling or eliminating vacant positions. BUDGET – Discussion and direction regarding Department Director recommendations for budget reductions. (I’m very hopeful that the Council will also not forget the following budget cutting ideas from: 1) The Council members, 2) Citizens Budget Committee (there ae still several ideas they have yet to consider), 3) Steering Committee recommendations, including from Jeff Niland and Jared Taylor, 4) Employee suggestions.)
The Council discussed various methods of notifying residents regarding early voting. There are 36,000 residents who are signed up for early voting, and a total of 108,000 registered voters. The Town Clerk clarified that residents can go to Gilbert’s home page for this information, and it is distributed in the mailed version of the utility bills. The Council voted to discontinue mailing cards in utility bills relating to early voting
In response to the Council’s request regarding the last date to cancel the election, Susan Godwin, (Town Attorney), advised the Council that February 17 is the last date for cancelling the 5/18/2010 election.
The Council discussed at length the options for moving to Fall elections. Both Jenn Daniels and John Lewis favored going to a Fall even year election, beginning November 2010. Their reasoning was that 1) there is an Arizona Statue that requires moving to the Fall, once the Town has reached 185,000 residents (I think that number is pretty accurate?), which it will surely reach when the Census is verified. Also, it is cheaper for the taxpayers since it would piggy back on State/Federal ballots. This would be a savings over many years, Jenn Daniels emphasized. To fog up the discussion, the Town Attorney advised what some surrounding cities were doing, advised that there “could be” legal issues with shortening a term (Jenn pointed out, wouldn’t there be the possibility of legal issues if you lengthen a term?). Anyway, Linda Abbott jumped on the “legal issues associated with shortening a term” and said it wouldn’t save the taxpayers any money if you went to Fall even and then got sued for doing it. Dave Crozier chimed in that they should follow the law precisely. Steve Urie proposed an idea that would coincidentally work very well with his plans to run for the State House, and would be cheaper personally for him. He said that the last election cost him $30k. He would prefer to keep to Spring until it is required by Statute to change (no need to do it right away). The change by law, according to Susan, would have to be no later than Fall 2013. Les moved to discuss it at the 2/23/2010 Council meeting.
In addition to being issued “duct tape” for our mouths, I was disappointed that the Council is moving slowly in reviewing the rest of the ideas relating to budget cuts. They have been much more concerned with getting the ¼ cent sales tax increase on the ballot. It will cost the taxpayers $87,000 for this privilege. Linda Abbott pointed out that had the State not decided to put their increased sales tax on the 5/18/2010 it would have cost the taxpayers $250k. This is quite a savings of taxpayer dollars.
According to this morning’s Tribune, “will they or won’t they go forward with the Special Election on 5/18/2010?”
We must begin NOW to notify all Gilbert residents to vote NO to the tax increases coming up on 5/18/10. Tell your family, friends, co-workers, enlist help from others, go door to door to your neighbors. Make sure people are registered. You can go online to the Gilbert Home page at www.ci.gilbert.az.us and look for the heading Special Election May 18, 2010. If you have any ideas you’d like to share for getting the word out, please send them to me!