Updated at bottom…
It’s no secret that I’m probably the most fiscally conservative member of the Flagstaff City Council. I was taught a long time ago that no one handles your money better than you. If you leave money in the hands of others it is often times wasted. It’s always easy to spend someone else’s money. You know the sayings.
I’m the kind of guy that will pick up that penny in a parking lot that so many step over. As the old saying goes, “ penny saved is a penny earned.” So when I see someone not ‘picking up that penny’ or even worse ‘tossing that penny’ in the parking lot, I get frustrated.
Over the past several weeks myself and Mayor Nabours have been on tours of various City Departments. While I am happy to report that many Departments have at least recognized our expectation of fiscal responsibility, there is still much work to be done. For example, providing tax payer funded food for the Council Retreats at City Hall for Council and a select few City employees and then giving the cold leftovers to the rest of the City employees is in my opinion poor taste and bad judgement. I also question our spending priorities with a $5,000 remodel of the customer counter in Community Development. Spending $20,000 on signage for an East Side park that the vast majority of residents and tourists will never go to also seems like a questionable use of tax dollars. Meanwhile our roads need about $50,000,000 to get up to standard and our sewer and water lines grow older and older. There is much room for improvement and re-prioritization. I applaud those departments that are striving for and even achieving fiscal responsibility and hope these departments will be a role model for others.
Perhaps the most frustrating use of tax dollars I’ve seen in my two months on Council so far has got to be the Economic Vitality Department’s $67.99 van rental. Let me explain. Last week Mayor Nabours and I went on a tour with the Economic Vitality Department. One of the first things we were told was that there had been a van rented to take us around. I was shocked that we needed a van when the City owns plenty of 5 passenger vehicles. It turns out that 4 staffers were touring with the Mayor and I. I found this strange considering every other department we had toured with drove the Mayor and I around with 1 or 2 staffers accompanying. Come to think of it, every other department even stressed to us how their department is being fiscally responsible and trying to be more efficient going forward. That’s what I like to hear.
So starting a tour with a rented van with double the staff of any other department set me off in a bad mood. A couple days after the tour I asked staff, ”Why did Economic Vitality rent a van for the tour Mayor Nabours and I took and what was the cost of that rental and the source of those funds?”. I received a response of, “The Division has access to a Prius, which can only accommodate five people, and we knew at least six would be participating in the tour”. Therein lies my first issue, why did four staffers even need to be present when every other department provided a tour with one or two?
The report goes on to state, “As a result, a vehicle was rented from Budget, which has an agreement with the City, for a price of $67.99. Given this price, and the fact that there is no fleet vehicle to accommodate six or more passengers, renting a van was the most economical and efficient way to provide the tour to Mayor Nabours and Councilmember Oravits”. The report fails to mention the cost of staff time, in this case two extra employees accompanying us, surely adding a couple hundred more dollars to this tour. The attitude that it’s just $67.99 (“given this price”) is not an attitude I appreciate. That’s $67.99 of some tax payer’s hard earned money for an expense that was not needed. No wonder why the City needs to charge $216 for a permit for a business owner to put a sign up on their own property. And to those who say, it’s only $67.99, remember, it’s the cumulative effect of all these “small” expenses that add up. $67.99 van rental, $5,000 remodel, $20,000 for signs, hundreds for tax payer funded meals and on and on. At the end of the day it all adds up. And who pays for it? You do. Remember these expenses next time City Council passes a property tax increase as they did by a vote of 4-3 in June. You’ll remember I fought hard to leave the tax rate unchanged. That would have meant a savings of $270,000 to the tax payers. Would you believe that some residents actually sent in $10 checks as their contribution to the City because they wanted to pay their “fair share” and they wanted to make sure we have a well funded City. Little did they know that their $10 was going towards pizza and car rentals.
I demand better. I demand fiscal responsibility. I demand accountability. Let it be known from this day forward, if our City unwisely spends hard earned Tax dollars, I’ll make sure everyone knows about it. Let’s do a better job and lets be more fiscally responsible. Our economic future depends on it.
Today six of us took a tour with Community Development. Two City Employees, myself, the Mayor and Councilors Barotz & Woodson. I’m pleased to report that Community Development did this tour utilizing a van from Parks & Rec. It was a very informative tour and best of all it was done in a fiscally responsible way.
Councilman Jeff Oravits
August 18, 12:30-2:30PM. Meet the Candidates. Jonathan Paton (Congress), Chester Crandell (State Senate), Brenda Barton (State House), Bob Thorpe (State House). 1889 N Rain Tree Rd, Flagstaff. Spread the word!
August 20, 6:00PM-8:00PM. Q&A with Mayor Nabours and Councilman Oravits. Radisson Hotel, Flagstaff
August 23, 5:30PM. Q&A with Councilman Jeff Oravits. Flagstaff Liberty Alliance. Weatherford Hotel