05/25/2010 Town Council Meeting Summary

COMMUNICATIONS FROM CITIZENS. The two most compelling comments were from Bill Norton and Jim Torgeson.
Bill Norton addressed the Council with his concern that of the many organizations boycotting AZ, one of them was SEIU (Service Employees International Union). This is the union that represents our Non-Sworn/Supervisory Gilbert Town employees. Bill stated that this organization is pledging to boycott the very communities that our employees work for. SEIU is happy to take our money, but wants to boycott Arizona, and more specifically Gilbert. They’re teaming up with some organizations that are very controversial and divisive, such as La Raza (“The Race”). They are encouraging organizations such as professional baseball to not come to Arizona and to not purchase products from Arizona. Bill showed this statement on their blog: “In AZ, people of color and of diverse backgrounds are simply not welcome.” Bill stated that we can all agree that this is just not the case. We welcome people of all heritages and welcome our Latino citizens and recognize their great contributions. Bill strongly encouraged the Council to have a discussion with SEIU leaders to emphasize the importance of not issuing this boycott which can damage the very employees the Union claims to support.
Jim Torgeson spoke, referencing Article 5 of the 2009 Town Lease relating to the Municipal Public Facilities Municipal Corporation bonds. Per this contract, the bond trustee has been granted extraordinary powers to take over the General Fund, should the Town default on its bond payments. Thus, per Jim, until Public Safety gets a clause in their contract to fund public safety first, they never will be “funded first.”
This means they will always be the political ball that will be tossed around by everyone, including the Council, to justify tax increases, more spending, additional debts, whatever is politically expedient. “They should be treated at least as well as the bond holders, if not better,” stated Jim, “and Public Safety is much more important than any pet projects.”
CONSENT CALENDAR. Several contracts were approved by Council, with a few pulled for discussion.
The first of these was for Gilbert’s financial responsibility to maintain and pay for utilities for a bus shelter on San Angelo. Dave Crozier was concerned that Gilbert is helping fund a bus stop for Chandler. He asked about Gilbert ridership. Assistant Town Manager Tami Ryall advised that because of the Gilbert population near the stop, as well as proximity to industrial development, she guessed it would be used by Gilbert residents. Dave Crozier pressed for some data that supports Tami’s guess. Les Presmyk noted that this stop goes from Chandler to Sycamore Station, the light rail system going into Phoenix, and he for one uses that. Jenn Daniels asked if an “Adopt a Bus Stop” program had been considered, to offset the costs.
John Sentz asked that two proposed contracts be considered together: Neighborhood parks landscape maintenance in the amount of $294,668 provided by Somerset Landscape & Maintenance, and landscape maintenance for the central trails systems, basins and corridors and POLAR ICE in the amount of $143,639 provided by Grounds Control, Inc. John was concerned that the 2% price reduction wasn’t much, especially in this economy. Community Services Director Jim Norman advised that this was a voluntary reduction resulting from a letter sent by Staff. They couldn’t force a reduction since it was an existing contract. It would have to be rebid. In spite of much discussion, including comments from Susan Goodwin, John was unimpressed. Council voted to approve with John abstaining.
Jenn Daniels took issue with the need for 8 side-loader garbage trucks at a cost of $1,916,469.12. She asked if existing trucks could be modified for another year, in order to extend the life and perform the required function. Les Presmyk also spoke at length about his concerns with the short useful life of 4-6 years of these trucks. Both Solid Waste Management Superintendent Louis Andersen and Fleet Services Superintendent Faiette spoke to these issues. The Town has 28 trucks. Two of those trucks have cost the Town 100% of the truck purchase cost in maintenance. It’s better to replace them at 75% maintenance-to-capital ratio. Also, Louis advised that 2010 trucks will have to meet new federal emissions requirements, which will be more expensive to purchase and maintain. He also stated that the Town receives more money when they auction trucks than when they trade them in. They receive about $50k at auction, and this money goes into the Vehicle Replacement Fund. Also, money is usually set aside for this fund, to use to pay for new trucks.
My questions: 1) Who buys these trucks at auction? Is it cheaper for them to maintain them than for us? 2) Why are our maintenance costs so high? Parts? Labor? Benefits? Retirement? 3) Would it be cheaper for the taxpayer if the Town put this service out to bid?
CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT PLAN. William Cleaveland, a Mesa resident and attorney, spoke regarding this Public Hearing item. His concern is that over the years, capital expenses have increased while projected revenue sources are down. In the past the disparity between expenses and revenues has been handled through increased bonded debt service. He questioned the sustainability of this Capital and Infrastructure Improvement plan. Assistant Town Manager Marc Skocypec responded that the plan can be explained by when the bonds were sold. The proceeds are already in the fund and not accounted for in the plan. He stated that it was important to work on transparency in this regard.
Capital Projects Administrator Paul Mood presented information on the current status of projects, including the postponement of several into FY2011-12. He spoke of an improvement to Baseline and Higley Roads, and costs of various options to improve this area. Council Members expressed concern that this was important for the traffic that will occur when MD Anderson is completed in the Fall of 2011. Paul will come back with detailed information on recommendations for improvements to Higley and Baseline.
DEVELOPMENT SERVICES/”UNIFIED PERMITTING PROCESS.” Two people spoke to the Unified Permitting Process issue: Kathy Tilque of the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce, and Dow Rigler, Chairman of the Gilbert Small Business Alliance Free Enterprise Committee. Kathy was concerned that a group of stakeholders be formed to examine the Unified Permitting Process before it is implemented. Dow, too, was supportive of a stakeholders group. He also advised that his organization feels that fire inspections protect Gilbert’s small businesses and supports them.
Development Services Greg Tilque presented an overview of the current permitting process compared to the proposed process. He was also open to stakeholder’s concerns. Basically, the new permitting process would offer a streamlined, less costly “one stop shop” for Gilbert businesses, eliminating duplication, staggered timelines, providing consolidation of permits to one area, a discount for participating in the Unified Permitting Process, use of existing fire personnel which will give fire fighters an opportunity to see the businesses and meet the owners, and a new acceptance of credit card payments. He indicated that it would be of benefit not only to the businesses, but also to Staff whose interaction will be streamlined. He admitted that there were still some pricing issues which need to be addressed.
Linda Abbott advised she was concerned about the structure of the Stakeholders group, and also wanted to be sure there was full cost-recovery, per the recommendation of the Citizens Budget Committee. John Sentz thought all registered businesses should be available online so residents could patronize them. Ben Cooper expressed concern that home-based businesses would bear the brunt of the cost of the annual fee. John Sentz and Ben Cooper will work with Greg to structure the stakeholders group.
CHANGES IN COUNCIL MEETING SCHEDULE. In order to streamline processes, so Staff has time to prepare for upcoming Council meetings, beginning in August, regular meetings will occur on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays. There will be Study Sessions on the Mondays preceding that week’s regular Council meetings. The Council will do this on a trial basis and evaluate. All meetings will be televised, per Collin DeWitt.
BUDGET. Marc Skocypec gave an overview of the April 2010 budget numbers. Overall, revenues were down very slightly, but expenses were down in every category, leaving a surplus of $8.5 million. This surplus, which has accumulated over the last few months, was attributable to the efforts of Staff to reduce spending. System Development Fees were up by about $8 million than projected. In response to a question from Linda Abbott, Marc stated that anecdotal evidence seemed to point to tax credits given to first time home buyers, as the reason sales tax revenues were up. Jenn Daniels asked when the Town would be taking over 100% of the operational costs of the libraries. Marc advised that it would go from 80% to 100% as of 7/1/2010. Jenn asked if Gilbert will be keeping the fees that are collected too? Marc deferred to Jim Norman, but said that it’s a logical assumption.
Eddie Cook spoke regarding his study of comprehensive reports of the Town concerning bond ratings. Over 4 years, and in spite of doubling debt between 2008 and 2009, the rating has remained fairly static. He asked what strategy the Town is implementing to improve the bond rating over the long term.
Both Collin DeWitt and Marc Skocypec commented that this was absolutely true that the Town has maintained an excellent bond rating despite the fact that the Town’s debt has increased.
In a closing note, even though we are currently running a surplus, June will see some high dollar expenses especially in the debt service payment.