Paradise Valley Councilwoman Julie Pace says competing needs and a newfound financial vulnerability courtesy of the Arizona Legislature has her seeking to better understand the municipality’s capital improvement priorities.
At the end of Paradise Valley Town Council’s Dec. 7 meeting, Councilwoman Pace called for a formal discussion on both the budgeting process and project criteria followed by the municipality.
The Town of Paradise Valley is anticipating $50,481,100 in total capital improvements costs through fiscal year 2022-23.
“I am concerned about council approving a contract for engineering services when council has not yet approved the specific capital improvement project for which the engineering and design plans would be used,” she said in a Dec. 13 statement to the Independent of her catalyst to seek the formal discussion.
“I also want to understand the criteria used to select an expensive CIP project that was planned to commence before a number of other smaller CIP projects.”
Paradise Valley Town Council did not approve any capital improvement projects that night, but Councilman Scott Moore --- who seconded the motion --- says certain street improvement contracts already in the pipeline should have come before the governing body as an action item.
“I thought the process was a little clunky --- it’s just to have more information to know what this contract really means,” he says of projects like the planned street improvement along Doubletree Ranch Road between 64th Street and Scottsdale Road.
“We will approve something for the budget and in that there are several CIP projects and that was one of them. When they brought up the contract, I would have rather had a little bit more clarity on how this process moves forward.”
Councilman Moore explains the Doubletree Ranch project will come at a cost $3 million, which he says ought to justify further clarification of where the dollars go.
“I just wanted to be clear on what we are going to be spending the money on,” he explained. “What is it that we are trying to improve with these roadway improvements.”
Councilwoman Pace is looking to maximize every public dollar spent.
“It would be good to discuss context and reasoning if a project that is focused more on aesthetics is chosen over projects that are focused more on stormwater/drainage or infrastructure improvements based on expiration of useful life,” she explained.
“Our town has a lot of drainage issues that might require attention over other projects. I believe we need to discuss this further as a Council when prioritizing CIP projects. We have a great Council who work well together to implement items for the best interests of all of our town residents.”
Councilwoman Pace is looking to establish firm criteria thresholds for how projects are decided and funded.
“Criteria considerations from my perspective include safety, security, renewal and replacement of infrastructure, stormwater and drainage solutions, expiration of useful life of roads or other infrastructure, repairs, geotechnical needs, opportunity to leverage and complete work in area where another project is already occurring (e.g. Ritz), minimize disruption to residents, enhance resident experiences, cost savings, efficiency, aesthetics, or other factors,” she outlined.
“Based on multiple projects, the town makes a decision on CIP projects by weighing the various criteria and also comparing to overall town goals of preserving the mountains and open space, maintaining low density, and fostering quality of life.”
Embedded within municipal code are seven specific capital budget policies upheld by Paradise Valley Town Council.
Those include cost thresholds, how projects will be funded and one specific caveat requiring when construction sales tax remits exceed $500,000 those dollars will be transferred into a fund designated for capital improvements.
Councilwoman Pace is eyeing the creation of evaluation criteria to be developed at Town Hall.
“I think it is important to evaluate projects and rank them in order of impact, security, safety, cost savings, and benefits to our residents,” she explained.
“We have a lot of roads and infrastructure that are past their useful life and we need to get those completed and in queue in the CIP process and make sure we have a good solid maintenance and replacement program. We had a lot of deferred maintenance during the recession and many items were postponed because of the financial crisis during that time period especially in a town that has no property tax.”
Councilman Moore echoes a similar sentiment.
“I think we should be having that discussion. I think the council and our staff all need to be on the same page as to what those priorities are and why we are doing it. I think that is the reason for me jumping in and saying this warrants further discussion.”
Without a dedicated local property tax --- and Councilwoman Pace says she is not advocating for one --- the Town of Paradise Valley needs to be one step ahead of the economic curve.
“We need to be cognizant of and plan for the highs and lows that occur with the economy, particularly because part of our revenues are derived from the amount of building activity, which is cyclical,” she pointed out.
Councilwoman Pace is looking for a more succinct set of marching orders when it comes to how the municipality evaluates its five-year capital improvement plan.
“Town council is responsible to identify policy objectives and adopt a five-year plan,” she said.
“The CIP Plan is adopted as part of budget resolution and the plan is to identify and prioritize town’s anticipated capital needs over five years. Town staff currently recommends projects greater than $100,000 ... the town’s CIP committee consists of public works director/town engineer, community development director and finance director and the committee recommends CIP projects to council for funding.”
Councilman Moore says all capital improvements need to have a formal process for prioritizing the order of projects that may go beyond the annual fiscal year budget approval.
“I think all of these things need to be looked at when you are prioritizing a CIP for any particular part of town,” he said. “I think this is something our residents want us to be looking at all times in terms of capital projects.”
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