The Buck Stops Here…updated

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.

Update 8/14/2012…
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

Upcoming Events
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


18 thoughts on “The Buck Stops Here…updated

  1. Maybe we could contact those alturist people who voluntarily sent in the $10 and see if they would like to make in an ongoing donation. I’m all in favor of voluntary. It’s government force i object to!

  2. “it’s the cumulative affect of all these “small” expenses that add up”–keep hammering that home because everyone who sent in that $10 check and their ilk aren’t going to let up either.

    1. The Aqua Plex recoups about 60-65% of its operating expenses through user fees which unfortunately is what it was designed to do and approved by the voters when bonded. That doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t find ways to try and get the cost recovery higher. Suggestions?

      1. Sell it, and other properties to gird against a worsening economy. I realize it is what the voters wanted but we/they didn’t have the benefit of foresight and appropriate fiscal constraint. I know it creates another sunk cost dilemma but a 65% return is not sustainable going forward. My question was actually about the work that is currently being performed at the aquaplex. The time spent and equipment on site, for whatever it is they are doing, looks costly. Since it is more than a few years old I don’t guess it is covered under the contractor’s warranty but seems too early for a major renovation project. Is this more endemic profligacy that has to be reigned in or a structural problem at the facility? Either way, sell it, or even give it to the owners of the Flagstaff Athletic clubs.

      2. They are installing solar panels on the building. And the city will pay a premium over the cost of the usual APS source for the power generated from the panels.

  3. I think it is absurd that the city is entering contracts for solar power and locking in the rates at a 20% premimum over the cost of other forms of electrical power. Same with powering big empty buses with bio-diesel. Some city departments should be completely de-funded.

  4. Solar power is smart investing for our pocketbook and our world if the city cashes in the rebates. Hopefully every major building, business, and household in Flagstaff takes advantage of the rebates before 2016. Energy through coal in Arizona is not smart. The bus is one of the greatest things going on in the city. Increase the weekend hours Bigger bike lanes 15 years ago may have encouraged more bike use? Make bikes lanes bigger any chance you get. I really appreciate the Urban Trails!

  5. Thanks for all the comments!

    Rob is correct, APS is installing solar panels on the roof. It’s my understanding that APS pays for the system and installation at APS expense plus the help of federal rebates and APS handles the ongoing maintenance for 20 years. Flagstaff buys the electricity at a locked in rate for the 20 year period, which in the end should be lower than the going rate. This arrangement was recently implemented at the Wild Cat Treatment plant and will be implemented at City Hall soon.

    1. I didn’t think it is APS the city entered the contract with.
      From the AZDaily Sun “The agreement with Ameresco that allowed the city to install the solar panels with no up-front costs and no requirements to maintain the system over time comes at a price: The city has to buy the energy at a fixed price that is roughly 20 percent more expensive than the current market rate.”

      I think in a few years it will be realized as a costly mistake. Look at the front of city hall now,
      weren’t there solar panels there years ago?

      1. You are correct on who did it at Wild Cat, what I was trying to say is the deal is similar, my understanding is its a similar deal as the AquaPlex and City Hall and off the top of my head I think the AquaPlex and City Hall are with APS but I’ll have to confirm that. These deals were before my time on Council.

      2. Just an update, according to the AZ Republic, the City of Chandler voted to add solar to some of their facilities. But they are locking in the rates at today’s price.
        Why is Flagstaff paying a 20% premium? No down payment? No maintenance?
        The panels in Chandler will pay for themselves in 14 years if the city doesn’t have to provide maintenance.

  6. Jeff, Thanks for your excellent reports and timely information. It is truly refreshing to have someone on City Councill demanding fiscal responsibility from City Hall.

    Keep up the good work and the reports.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s