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During State of the Town event, Mayor Winfield says Oro Valley has 'weathered this storm'
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During State of the Town event, Mayor Winfield says Oro Valley has 'weathered this storm'

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Traffic moves north along La Cholla Boulevard north of Lambert Lane in Oro Valley in August. Paul Keesler, director of public works, says the department met its goal to complete the La Cholla Boulevard Improvement Project on time and on budget.

Despite a challenging year, Oro Valley Mayor Joe Winfield said he believes his town is holding strong despite facing unexpected financial costs during the pandemic.

“We have weathered this storm remarkably well,” he said. “The council and town staff are optimistic and hopeful that the hardest parts of this storm are behind us.”

Winfield, who is in his second year as mayor, touched on that and more during the 19th annual “State of the Town” event recently, in perhaps the town’s most unique yet.

Unlike at 2019’s sold-out event, this year’s crowd consisted of about 50 socially distanced guests at the El Conquistador Tucson, while hundreds more tuned in to the livestream, as a result of the pandemic.

Winfield highlighted the town’s response to the pandemic, saying while there were unexpected financial costs incurred as a result of COVID-19, the town staff has minimized the impact. He estimated an increase of $1.8 million to the general fund balance, though audited numbers were not yet available.

“The town is in solid financial shape,” Winfield said. “Our priorities — public safety, public works, water utility, and parks and recreation — are all in good hands.”

Winfield also recapped several of the town’s 58 Strategic Plan objectives for 2019-2020. They have met 17 of these objectives, with 34 in progress and the remaining seven still on the radar, he said.

Among those objectives include increasing the towns’ economic vitality. These include the soon-to-be-completed University of Arizona Center for Innovation at Oro Valley as well as the new UA College of Veterinary Medicine, which opened its doors this fall.

“I believe that bringing scientists, educators and entrepreneurs together in Oro Valley will help spark an era of innovation that will connect Oro Valley to the next generation,” Winfield said.

Earlier this fall, the town council also approved zoning code amendments to create additional “shovel ready” pre-graded sites in hopes of attracting outside companies. These sites can be landscaped again if not developed after five years.

Tohono Chul Park, 7366 Paseo del Norte, is now open everyday for those willing to socially distance and wear a mask. Get tickets online only at TohonoChul.org

The event also included pre-recorded interview-style conversations, where Winfield spoke with officials in several priority areas, including representatives from the police and public works departments and the water utility commission.

Police Chief Kara Riley, who took office this year, said the department modified officers’ call response process to reduce their exposure to the virus, which include asking more detailed questions on emergency calls, encouraging phone reports when possible and adding protective gear such as neck gaiters.

In addition, town officials were able to apportion an additional $500,000 toward a public safety retirement system pension, thanks to CARES Act funding.

In May, Oro Valley received a $5.3 million CARES Act grant to help finance public safety and public health during the pandemic. This freed up money from the town’s general fund to put toward supporting operational costs, cushioning contingency funds and financing an initiative to assist local businesses, Winfield said.

The OV Safe Steps program was launched in September and reallocated $1 million of the newly available general fund money for local businesses. Winfield announced they have increased grant amounts for personal protective equipment and marketing to $1,500 each, up from $500 each. Businesses can still receive $500 for professional services as well.

Paul Keesler, director of public works and town engineer, provided updates on public works projects. He stated the department had met its goal to complete updates to North La Cholla Boulevard on time and on budget. North Oracle Road improvements may be on the horizon as well, he said.

“This is a critical corridor for us, and for it to be in the condition that it’s in, it needs to be fixed,” Keesler said. “The ADOT board heard us, and they subsequently put the money toward it.”

Later, Winfield said annual rainfall was among the lowest Oro Valley has seen in years and spoke with Water Utility Director Peter Abraham about the town’s efforts to promote water conservation and other related endeavors.

Abraham said they are focused on building a new 18-foot-tall enclosed steel reservoir, rehabilitating groundwater wells and partnering with outside water service providers to bring up to 4,000-acre feet of additional Colorado River water annually.

Mandy Loader is a journalism graduate student at the University of Arizona who is currently an apprentice for the Arizona Daily Star.


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