Oro Valley voters will choose between two established community leaders when they vote for mayor next month.
At stake in this election are civility, integrity and teamwork, challenger Patrick Straney said in a campaign statement.
“We can choose to remain mired in dissent and discord — aptly characterized by the current personal attacks and disruptive exclusionary control of discussions regarding the Town of Oro Valley business — or we can demand a leadership that is respectful of all citizen input, and an elected governance that thoughtfully considers differences of opinion.”
Incumbent Satish Hiremath disagrees that the Town Council is divided.
He said 4-3 split council votes happened only 15 percent of the time in the past two years and the town has made “remarkable progress.”
“Trying to always look for that happy medium and trying to find the balance has really been key,” Hiremath said.
He said he has tried to make logical decisions even when he’s facing political attacks. “You’ve got to stand strong,” he said, “until the time when you can say, ‘See? This is why we did it.’”
The Star asked the candidates to spend an hour showing us the town. Here are their stories.
SATISH HIREMATH, INCUMBENT
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.
PATRICK STRANEY, CHALLENGER
If there were a mayor of Rancho Vistoso, it would likely be Patrick Straney.
That group of neighborhoods includes about a quarter of the residents of Oro Valley. Straney has been president of the Rancho Vistoso Homeowners Association for six years and decided to run for Oro Valley mayor based on a lot of community input.
“I’m really excited about the opportunity to be mayor and be part of something that I perceive as a wonderful situation — a great community and taking it to further greatness and building for the sustainability of everything we like,” he said.
Under his leadership, the Rancho Vistoso association recently has provided input to developers on new housing, installed new streetlights that will pay for themselves in three years through savings, landscaped several miles of medians with lush desert landscaping, cut the water bill by a third by installing efficient irrigation systems, and upgraded neighborhood signs for a consistent look.
And they did it without raising fees or reducing reserves, he said.
Decisions come to the association council through volunteer committees, and Straney said he’d create similar groups if he was mayor.
Further, he said he’d make people feel welcome to voice varying opinions because vigorous discussions help bring out the best solutions to problems.
He would work hard up front to get a consensus on a vision for the town. “We’d make decisions based on that” and without finger pointing, “which unfortunately is somewhat prevalent right now,” Straney said.
He said the Town Council needs discipline, consistency and cohesiveness.
“I’ve been to a lot of meetings and it seems to me that there’s a little too much influence on the decision making and how we interpret general-plan rules by headline issues, the loudest voice, the biggest number of people,” Straney said. “Those are important, but they aren’t the basis on which to make decisions.”
Straney said he would put his experience as an engineer and executive at General Motors to work for the town. For instance, he asked the town’s water director for a briefing by saying, “Pretend I want to buy your business. Tell me why I should.”
And he said he would make sure the town is getting the best value for its money and spending in accordance with its vision.
He said the town should protect its large rainy-day fund because of the huge reliance on sales tax, which can drop in an economic downturn.
He would have supported the utility tax hike as a last resort and with more taxpayer input, he said. Cuts in spending don’t always have to bring cuts in service, and taxes should never be increased without exhausting other options, Straney said.
The aquatic center was a good investment because it attracts tourists and brings notoriety to the town. “We have to have a reason for people to come to Oro Valley,” he said.
Steampump Ranch could become another reason, he said, but it needs a better vision.
“It’s in its rough state so it’s hard to see the gem, but it truly is something that is unique to Oro Valley,” Straney said. “I would like to see it developed along that line, as something where you can actually learn something about your town.”