09/23/2010 Town Council Meeting Summary

A $774,452 (!) program promoting OCTOBER AS WALK TO SCHOOL MONTH.
Ok. when I say this is “federal funding,” you are supposed to breathe a big sigh of relief. Free money, right? This program was designed to identify safe routes to school and encourage children to walk or ride their bicycles, and is a joint community effort involving the schools, school districts, and other community organizations. There is no doubt that it is a nice program, but at a cost of three quarters of a million dollars?

Elizabeth Cress-Sweet and Gayle Disch, co-founders of the Global Village Festival, presented the Revenue and Expense report for last April’s highly successful event, and it showed that they made a profit of $6,682.68. That’s good news. These women work hard all year to obtain sponsors and vendors. Many businesses donate cash and in-kind donations.

In fact, I’m going to attend next year’s event and meet fellow Americans who immigrated here from around the world, and sample the great food.

There was one group of people that Elizabeth and Gayle forgot to thank: You! You pay the salary and benefits for the Gilbert staff who also helped plan the Global Village Festival. So, while the revenues were $33,554.58 and the expenses were $26,811.70, staff support was in the neighborhood of about $28,000 (not identified as an expense).

So, Gilbert taxpayers, a big THANK YOU.

This was discussed at the 9/20/2010 Study Session (see Summary on Gilbert Watch). The Council approved the new restructuring in which fewer people will report to the Town Manager. Many functions will report to Assistant Town Managers. Positions are being reclassified in order to consolidate engineering functions, allowing for cross training, closer working relationships, and better communications and traffic. It is designed to be strategic in the event of an economic downturn or if a key employee leaves. One position was dissolved, so that even though certain positions are now supervisory and require pay raises, there will be an overall $10k annual savings going forward.

This is a continuation of the discussion which began at the 9/20/2010 Study Session. At tonight’s meeting Marc Skocypec provided a summary of the SDF’s, and advised that current State Statute allows municipalities to charge fees for impacts that growth has on a community. They provide funds for police, fire, and other general development projects such as water and wastewater systems.

The concern is that the Arizona State Legislature might cancel Gilbert’s authority to collect the fees. What then? The shortfall will be huge. $500 – $600 million?

Dave Crozier stated that new citizens create a need for new facilities, which the Town must provide. We can’t stop growth. The Homebuilders Association has been lobbying the Legislature against SDF’s, because it has hurt their business.

Certainly, the taxes, fees, permits, etc., are a huge financial burden placed on builders. To build a $145,000 home, the builder pays not just a $20,000 impact fee, but also another $20,000 or so in permits and taxes. These fees and taxes have skyrocketed since 1989 and is one of the main reasons that 400 builders have gone out of business over the last 3 years. Add to this regulations, risk, and liability.

Also, the builder pays property taxes while the lot sits waiting for someone to build. Building a home creates about 35 jobs which puts money into the economy. The people who buy the home pay property taxes on the home, and they shop and generate more taxes.

In an economic downturn, it isn’t just the Town of Gilbert that is struggling with revenue shortfalls. The entire business and residential community is, too. We all must cut spending. When the community recovers, the Town will recover along with us.

This item was initially discussed at the 9/20/2010 Study Session. Tonight, the Council voted to approve it.

Judge Hudson explained that first time DUI offenders will still serve time in jail, and they are not eligible for this program. It is the repeat DUI offenders who will be eligible. They still must initially spend time in jail, but could be released to Home Detention and would have to wear an alcohol monitor. If the offender drinks alcohol, the authorities are electronically notified and the offender goes back to jail. The offender can drive to and from work, but if he/she has taken a drink of alcohol, the vehicle won’t start, and the offender goes to jail. It is the offender, not the taxpayer, who pays the program costs. The costs of reduced jail time will save Gilbert hundreds of thousands of dollars. Judge Hudson stated that this is not a soft-on-crime approach, it is just a different way to enforce punishment.

Prosecutor Arouh expressed concern that she did not feel that the Home Detention program would be enough of a deterrent, compared to being forced to serve jail time. She stated, however, that there is no data regarding the effectiveness or the rate of recidivism for Home Detention.

Judge Hudson will report back to the Council after the program has been implemented and sufficient data are collected to determine the program’s effectiveness.

The Council approved a reorganization of Town staff and management and the implementation of a Finance Department.

With the redesign of the Town of Gilbert website, there was concern that residents had difficulty identifying the location of sex offenders in their neighborhoods. Town staff made some adjustments to the website, and Chief Dorn pointed out how to access the information: 1) From the Home Page, select Services; 2) under Safety, select Police; 3) on the Left Column select Sex Offender Locator. From there, it’s self-explanatory.

What started out as a Council discussion on making changes to the current agenda items, putting everything under the category of Public Hearing, thus allowing citizens to always be confident they could speak out on an item, or keeping Administrative Items separate from Public Hearing, but allowing citizens to always be confident they could speak out on any item, or just leaving things the way they are, turned into an interesting philosophical argument between Council member Jenn Daniels and Vice Mayor Les Presmyk.

Mr. Presmyk took issue with Ms. Daniel’s calling the Town Council meetings “the people’s business.” She stated, “We wouldn’t be here without the people of the town.”

Mr. Presmyk stated, “This isn’t the public’s meeting. This is the town’s meeting, the town council’s meeting to conduct the business of the town. We welcome and encourage our residents to come and speak before us to provide their input and expertise." He thought this was found in a Statute or the Arizona Constitution. "Fundamentally, we are elected to conduct the business of the town.”

Well that explains a few things. So, if the Mayor and Council Members, the Town Manager, and over a thousand employees are "conducting the business of the Town," where does that leave the citizens? Who is down there speaking up for and on behalf of the citizenry? Who on the Council takes seriously his or her responsibility of being the steward of the public purse?

If SEIU represents the Town Staff, the Police Union represents the police officers, and the Fire Union represents the firefighters, who represents us? I think we should have a Citizens Union, and we will call our representatives the Mayor and Council members. Radical idea.

Perhaps this is why 5 of the 7 Council Members have been so cavalier with the citizens’ tax dollars. After all, "conducting the Town’s business" has resulted in $1.8 billion in spending.

The Council appointed Jim Torgeson to fill an unexpired term ending September 30, 2012; and Marc Barlow and Jay Thompson as regular members beginning October 1, 2010 and ending September 30, 2014.

Marc Skocypec and Jenn Daniels provided information on the Neighbor to Neighbor program through utility bills. So far $10,000 has been collected and donated to the Boys and Girls Club of Gilbert. Expansion of the program is expected as marketing efforts will begin soon. There will also be an opportunity to donate with online utility payments.

Jenn Daniels showed a video entitled "North Platte Canteen," which depicted a community’s valiant efforts to provide food and entertainment to GI’s during World War II. Ms. Daniels is launching a program to recognize returning military personnel. The program will involve recognition at a Council meeting, with posting of colors, playing the national anthem and presentation of a proclamation. It will involve scouts and veterans’ groups as well. Ms. Daniels advised there would be no financial impact except for use of the Town Hall facility.