Having checked off everything on his to-do list in his four years as Oro Valley mayor, Satish Hiremath thought he could hand the job over to someone else.
Then the phone started ringing.
“I had said ‘no’ for two week straight. ‘I’m not running again.’ And everybody called,” he said.
He said the mayors of other towns, some county supervisors and tribal leaders encouraged him to run again because of the good working relationship among the region’s leaders.
As mayor, Hiremath has served on the Regional Council of the Pima Association of governments, the Regional Transportation Authority board, Tucson Regional Economic Opportunity committees and the Arizona Bioscience Roadmap steering committee.
Being the leader of a town with few problems to speak of, Hiremath said he looks forward to helping solve regional problems of unemployment and poverty.
He said his leadership style is what makes him well respected.
When he inherited a $3 million operating deficit, he mandated half of the dollarsbe found in cuts and half from raising new revenue.
“I think the mistake most elected officials make is they feel like they have to choose one side or the other,” he said. His goal is balance.
The cuts came from staff attrition and by not increasing wages. The revenue came from raising the utility tax to 4 percent from 2 percent, in line with other local governments’ rates.
“We started that year with a balanced budget,” Hiremath said with pride.
“Now some will say, well, you didn’t make anybody happy.” But Hiremath says he respected all residents’ wishes.
Hiremath is fond of saying he doesn’t think about how he can save a nickel, rather he thinks about how wisely he can spend a nickel.
The town invested in parks, police, preventative street maintenance and burying utility lines to preserve view sheds — and it still has a 31 percent rainy day fund, Hiremath said.
Not everyone sees the long-term benefits of the spending, he said, but he tries not to let that bother him.
“Leadership is nothing more than making logical decisions, which may be unpopular due to emotion, but you’ve got to withstand the criticism until such time as success is achieved,” he said.
One thing that makes Hiremath nervous is the town’s unstable revenue structure, which relies heavily on sales tax.
Investments in the town’s aquatics center and archery ranges are paying off, he said, drawing state and national competitions and visitors that boost sales tax and bed tax revenue, he said.
He calls the Naranja Park site “the feather in my cap” and says the park could become another regional attraction.
After 18 years of idling, the town is finally breaking ground on two multipurpose fields and two dog parks at the park, along with infrastructure that will support future phases.
Hiremath said the town should continue to make improvements to recreation offerings and strategic annexations to bring sales tax revenue from visitors up from about a third of the town’s income up to about half.