Mayor Ginny Dickey, along with council members Dennis Brown and Alan Magazine, capped off the year with a final Town Talk session on Tuesday, June 25. A new fiscal year began July 1.
The session was also the last public gathering of council members until August, as they break for a summer hiatus during July.
Most of the discussion focused on issues the council has been dealing with during the past year and through the budget process. Brown and Magazine brought a balance to the discussion with Brown talking about all of the positive goings-on in the community, while Magazine brought his perspective of the challenges still facing the town.
Brown said he believes the Community Garden is as good as any in the country. He also cited the designation as an International Dark Sky Community and the potential offshoot of the Arizona Dark Sky Discovery Center.
Brown also talked about progress being made in pavement management and traffic and pedestrian safety programs. He also commended citizens on El Lago Boulevard for bringing their traffic concerns to the council to open discussions for resolution.
He went on to praise the Adero Canyon Trailhead, growth of EVIT in town and he said he is a true supporter of a roundabout at Avenue of the Fountains and La Montana Drive.
“We still have tough decisions to make regarding a public safety fee,” Brown said. “I think that is critical for the Town of Fountain Hills. The council is responsible for protecting the citizens and this [fee] will allow us to maintain our services. I am encouraged by the support I have heard.”
Magazine, on the other hand, noted what he described as “serious challenges” facing the town. He said that for several years the town has been operating with revenues that do not measure up to expenses.
“By law, we have to balance the budget,” Magazine said. “So like a household budget you either cut expenses or get another job, or both.”
He said facilities maintenance is not keeping up with needs and work is being deferred until there is no longer an option.
“Things happen that we cannot anticipate, like the flooding at Golden Eagle Park that caused $700,000 in damages,” Magazine said. “Town staff was able to manage finances to get around that.”
Magazine noted that street maintenance and public safety are the town’s highest priorities.
“Our state shared revenues are going to be in decline because it is based on population,” he said. “Other communities in the state are growing faster than Fountain Hills and are going to be receiving a larger share of the state revenues.”
Magazine said that when there is another recession it will impact sales tax, which the town relies on heavily for revenue. He said a proposal for an increase may help offset that.
In response to a question regarding economic development, Town Manager Grady Miller said the town’s new economic development director, James Smith, is still learning about the town. However, Smith is also bringing a fresh perspective and asking about ideas that staff might have overlooked.
Another question was asked about grants to help offset costs. Dickey said they are looking hard at available grant funding and a couple of volunteers are being trained to help out with that.
Officials were asked about the public safety pension deficit that is responsible for the increases in public safety cost and whether the state could take a role in funding that.
“This problem started with the legislature,” Magazine said. “I think, in fairness, the state should contribute.”
Miller, however, said the numbers are so large he questions whether the state could even contribute significantly.
He said some cities, like Chandler, have the reserves to buy down some of the pension deficit, but many others, such as Mesa, are really being hurt by the issue.
Dickey said she was pleased by the turnout at the event, about two dozen, particularly on a warm summer evening. She will be continuing the Town Talk sessions, but the next event is not scheduled at this time.
She reminded those attending that the council would be taking up a proposal to increase the sales tax, and a proposed $185 per year public safety fee when it meets in August.