The Maricopa City Council worked all day Friday to review the operating budgets for city departments and their specific requests for the upcoming fiscal year.

With the estimates from the Financial Services Department, the council went into the day with a projected operating deficit of $279,000. This number, however, is without finalized state revenue and included most of the departments’ separate requests for new personnel and operating expenses. The tentative budget adoption is set for May 17. After public hearings, the city council would then have until June 14 for final adoption.

New city manager Brenda Fischer presented her initial review of the city’s current personnel and department alignments.

“I’ve compared Maricopa to other cities with similar demographics, and we appear to be top heavy,” Fischer told council members. It was her opinion that two assistant city managers didn’t effectively suit the needs of the city. She suggested moving Patrick Melvin back to the position of police chief. Current chief of police, Kirk Fitch, would then become assistant chief. This would allow for a new administrative position strictly to support the mayor and council members. Council was receptive to the both the idea and the proposed changes in structure. 

“We are built out to what we were going to be, but we are not there,” said Fischer. All her proposed changes would be budget neutral, and she couldn’t make any true recommendations on potential personnel cuts or new employees.  It was noted and respected by the council that it was Fischer’s first week and that she was still in a review process with all the department heads. The council did not want to scrutinize each personnel request until Fischer had given her recommendations, which she believes she can provide before May 17.

To address the deficit, major cost savings could come from the employees’ health benefits package. Currently the city pays 100 percent of the benefits, but, potentially, it is looking to have employees make equal contributions, with complete acknowledgment that it cannot maintain the current system.  Karen Schaefer, director of human resources, has been courting different proposals from various insurance carriers. United Health Care is the city’s leading candidate to have “more bang for the buck.”

Even though the budget retreat was only to review the city’s operations costs, the transportation department included in its presentation costs for a Maricopa Municipal Airport. Representatives from the Arizona Department of Transportation attended and informed the council that, “Maricopa was number one on ADOT’s list for a new airport, with Superior being the second choice.”

For ADOT Kenneth Potts, airport planning and grants manager, and Holly Hawkins, state airport engineer, talked about the potentials in grant money, the preferences for the area, the timetable in which the process moved and the initial requirements from the city. Property would have to be purchased by the city and then approved by ADOT.

The presence of ADOT representatives upset council members Carl Diedrich, Alan Marchione and Marvin Brown, who did not see the relevance of discussing a potential airport or the required city funding for infrastructure. Mayor Anthony Smith looked at it from a long term economic perspective, saying, “It could create base jobs.” 

Since the bulk of the costs would have to come from the capital investments program, there would be only an administrative cost to maintain the project as ADOT’s top choice. In summarizing the discussion, Vice Mayor Edward Farrell told ADOT representatives, “It looks like Superior will be the new number one.”

The council also reviewed its membership in an organization called CAREDF, Central Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation. As part of the city’s economic development marketing strategies and budget, the membership to the organization costs the city a little over $60,000. However, the effectiveness of CAREDF was challenged as CEO Barry Albrecht was asked about bringing businesses or even leads for potential businesses to the city. He answered that CAREDF had produced “no leads for Maricopa.”

Diedrich noted that Dennis Jenkins, president of Central Arizona College, sits on CAREDF’s board of directors. Diedrich brought up the previous struggles between the college and the city, and questioned Albrecht on CAREDF’s role in the process, since Albrecht claimed the organization helped market and establish business relationships for the city. However, Albrecht said the organization had not been involved in the CAC deal.    

“Either we are not utilizing your services right, or we are getting nothing at all,” said Marchione.

Membership to CAREDF also came into question as it appeared that similar services are already provided by MEDA, Maricopa Economic Development Alliance. Smith asked Albrecht to come back to council with a more defined role, inferring a clarification was needed as to what the organization could do for the city. Council also asked for Albrecht to consider re-negotiating the membership cost.

At a little over $70,000, the city clerk’s office suggested an all-mail ballot election. City Clerk Vanessa Bueras cited previous low turnouts for city elections, including an estimated 11 percent voter turnout in the last election. Bueras had discussed the idea with other cities that utilize such a system and estimated the city could increase its turnout by “40 percent or more.” Some cities had an 80 percent return. Council was receptive to this proposal. 

In their proposed budgets most city departments included at least one new employee and used rising gasoline prices as part of increased operating costs. Department heads were conscious of the economic realities, staying close to their current budgets while also trying to improve on their abilities to service the community.

 Photo by John Stapleton 


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