Parks and Recreation
Parks provide intrinsic environmental, aesthetic, and recreation benefits to our cities, and enhance property values, increase municipal revenue, bring in home buyers and workers, and attract retirees.
Did You Know?... Parks and Recreation Supported by Public Safety
Oro Valley has a long history of public safety support and promotion of parks and recreation programs. This started long before there was the dedicated parks and recreation department that we know and appreciate today. In the later 80’s, the Police department saw the development of homes on the horizon, that was sure to bring younger families to town with children who needed recreational opportunities. As development continued through the 90’s, the family homes -especially in Canada Hills- led the police department to advocate for the development of parks, with a focus on youth activities. This was done to make sure appropriate areas were developed for youth activities. It was an outreach that was part of a problem-oriented policing strategy, which included crime prevention through environmental design reviews and approvals.
As public safety moved into the new century, the police department became focused on developing an all-inclusive community policing philosophy, that was the continuation of the problem-oriented policing strategy. As it pertained to parks and recreation, there was now a parks and recreation department to partner with. The police department located funding to further the DARE program, by purchasing a Rec and Roll trailer, to take youth recreation programs to different locations throughout the town. During the summer months, School Resource Officers were assigned alongside parks and recreation members to support the programs.
Today the Parks and Recreation opportunities in Oro Valley are wide ranging and inclusive of all age groups and interests. This is a result of tremendous cooperation throughout the Town Departments with the community's support. It is our hope that this will continue long into the future to provide the safety and quality of life that the community expects.
Your Voice Our Future
The Oro Valley 2016 Ten Year Plan document, Your Voice Our Future, states in the COMPLETE COMMUNITY FOCUS section that “A complete community is one that serves the needs of residents on a day-to-day basis and gives people a sense of connection. It also provides opportunities for community involvement, healthy lifestyles, and lifelong learning. Oro Valley’s parks and trails systems are an important part of the Town.”
The amenities that comprise the Oro Valley Parks and Recreation system include: multiple parks, biking and walking trails, sports fields, the Aquatic Center and the municipal golf courses and Community Center which were both acquired by the Town in 2015. In addition to golf, tennis and pickleball courts, the Community Center provides a fitness center and a wide variety of health, fitness and cultural classes and programs for Town residents and visitors.
Together, all of the amenities that are a part of the Parks and Recreation system provide citizens with opportunities to: gather, play, learn, enjoy the natural beauty of our stunning environment, and improve their physical wellbeing. In addition, visitors to the area are attracted to our community, partially as a result of the existence of these amenities. This provides a benefit to local businesses, and in many cases, results in people becoming new Oro Valley residents. Some Town amenities explicitly attract significant numbers of outside visitors such as, the Aquatic Center, which plays host to a number of competitions that involve non-Oro Valley participants, as does the tennis facility at the Community Center, and the municipal golf courses. (An analysis in 2019 revealed that 14,880 tee times were made at the municipal golf courses from zip codes outside the Tucson-Marana metropolitan areas). All of this contributes to Oro Valley’s fiscal health and sustainability.
All Oro Valley Parks and Recreation amenities require some level of tax support to exist, some more than others, since none of them generate enough user fees to be self-sufficient. Oro Valley Together recognizes the necessity for providing this support to all of the Parks and Recreation amenities. Not doing so would be detrimental to the focus stated in the Ten Year Plan document, the well-being of our citizens, and the fiscal health and sustainability of our Town.
Tax Support for Parks and Recreation Amenities
As stated in the Overview, all of the Oro Valley Parks and Recreation amenities require some level of tax support to exist, some more than others, since none of them generate enough user fees to be self-sufficient. Similarly, the Police Department does not generate sufficient revenue via fines and fees, it requires significant tax support to exist. Based upon the debate during the Council process to determine the fate of the Town-owned golf courses that took place in the summer and fall of 2019, this fact seemed to escape many people. An analysis reveals, however, that, while all the Parks and Recreation amenities require tax support to exist, some are much more reliant than others.
In the fall of 2019 the overall tax support required for all Parks and Recreation Department amenities (excluding golf and the Community Center) was just under seventy-five percent (75%) of its total expenses. In other words, the Parks and Recreation Department generated revenues amounting to just over twenty-five percent (25%) of that required for it to be self-sufficient.
Further, the Aquatic Center required tax support of just over fifty-one percent (51%) of its total expenses. The Aquatic Center generated revenue at forty-nine percent (49%) of what was required to pay for its overall expenses.
In contrast, the Town-owned golf courses generated revenues of just under sixty-three percent (63%) to pay for its overall expenses, and required tax support of thirty-seven percent (37%) to pay for its overall expenses.
Given the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic since March of 2020 continuing to today in Arizona, it would be unfair to do the analysis described above for the current situation in Oro Valley. Many Parks and Recreation programs have been severally curtailed due to the pandemic, including the Aquatic Center. As a result, generated revenues for these programs have been dramatically reduced. On the other hand, due to decisions made regarding the pandemic across the country and in Arizona regarding golf operations, revenue in that industry have actually continued to exist, if not thrive. That is, in fact, the case for the Town-owned golf courses. Consequently, any similar analysis as that provided above using current data would result in a distorted outcome.
Oro Valley Together, again, believes that supporting Parks and Recreation amenities through the use of taxes is not only appropriate, but necessary for the well-being of all of our citizens and the fiscal health and sustainability of our Town. Across the country, such practices are required and accepted as valued.
The Status of the Town-owned Golf Courses
From the debate that ensued in 2015 regarding the Town purchase of the property that encompasses the forty-five holes of golf and what is now the Community Center, up until the decision made by the Mayor and Town Council on November 20, 2019, ownership by the Town of the golf courses has been questioned. Some citizens argued that establishing the half-cent sales tax to support the Community Center Fund, including golf, was inappropriate. Some citizens contended that the golf courses would never be financially viable.
On November 20, 2019, after months of debate, citizen-packed Council study sessions and public meetings, the Mayor and Council voted to continue all thirty-six (36) holes of golf at the Community Center as a public golf facility with a membership component and fund, on a pay-as-you-go basis, replacement of the irrigation systems, first on the Conquistador Course, and then on the Canada Course, as well as other infrastructure improvements. As part of that decision, the Mayor established a goal of having at least 275 full-time Members by the end of June 2021, and to expand non-Member golf tee times to generate additional revenue. A threshold of $750,000 per fiscal year in tax support from the half-cent sales tax was also established, following completion of the irrigation replacement. To support this approach, the Canada Hills and The Villages Homeowners Associations entered into an Agreement with the Town to pay to the Town to support the golf operation an aggregate of $125,000 each year for a five (5) year period, with a provision to extend the Agreement for another five (5) years.
Those associated with the facility firmly believed that once a final decision to retain the golf courses was made, the uncertainty that had plagued the facility for years would be removed. And, as capital improvements to the courses were accomplished, the quality of the golfing experience would be significantly enhanced. They believed that under those circumstances the number of Members and outside play, including winter visitors, would significantly increase. That belief was based upon the fact that there is no comparable golf facility, together with the amenities that exist at the Community and Recreation Center, in Oro Valley, especially with the closure of the Vistoso Course. (It must be noted that in the immediate Oro Valley area, Stone Canyon and Oro Valley Country Club are both strictly private facilities, and The Views Golf Course has extremely limited tee time availability. This makes the Town-owned El Conquistador facility the only courses reasonably available for public play in the immediate area.)
The current information, through the end of the 2021 fiscal year (notwithstanding the COVID pandemic situation), illustrates that the predictions of a number of people were correct that once the “black cloud of uncertainty about the golf courses” was removed, the facility would be successful. As of October 1, 2021, there were 303 full-time and 2 short-term golf Memberships, representing 435 individuals at the Town-owned El Conquistador facility. That Membership number well exceeds the Mayor’s goal of achieving 275 Members by June 31, 2022. In addition, golf rounds played during the 2020 – 2021 fiscal year were 86,706, compared to 60,802 for the previous fiscal year. That’s an increase of forty-three percent (43%). The year-end budget resulted in requiring only $256,612 in tax support after the HOA contribution of $125,000 and $83,076 in local sales taxes generated from golf-related operations had been applied. This is well over $1 million better than the actual 2019-2020 budget, and significantly exceeds the Mayor’s 2019 stated goal of requiring not more than $750,000 in tax support by June 31, 2022.
The final chapter to ensuring the Town-owned golf courses at the Community Center are sustainable into the future came on November 3, 2021. At that evening’s Town Council meeting, action was finally taken by the Council to fully fund replacement of the thirty-year old irrigation systems on both the Conquistador and Canada Courses. Of course, that action did not come without some drama and consequences.
Earlier in the Fall, the Council had adopted a $25 million bond to fund the irrigation systems on both golf courses, reconfigure the parking lot at the Community Center, and fund other Parks and Recreation projects. Part of the motion establishing the bond required that at least 50% of the bond be dedicated to projects at Naranja Park.
Following this action, the Town went out for bids to accomplish the irrigation replacement work on both golf courses. The resulting two bids for this work both exceeded the established budget for the projects. In fact, the bids were equivalent to almost $1 million more for both courses than the request for bids for the work on just one course the prior year, which had caused the Town to delay implementation of the project on Conquistador.
As a result of this outcome, the Town Manager and Parks Department Director placed before the Council for the November 3, 2021, meeting three options to address the higher than anticipated project costs. The first option was to move forward with the lowest bid received, using $4.5 million from the bond and the balance of the costs from “Town reserves.” The second option was to move forward with the work on one of the courses and rebid the work on the second course in a year. The third option was to only do a partial replacement on the most critical elements of the two irrigation systems. Adopting either the second or third option would have required beginning an entirely new “Request for Proposal” process and further delay the work.
At the November 3 Council meeting, after considerable discussion and debate, Mayor Winfield moved to adopt the first option, which was seconded by Councilmember Nicolson. Councilmember Solomon was recognized and objected to the motion on the basis that he believed all of the funding for the irrigation replacement should come out of the previously approved $25 million bond. The Councilmember then made a substitute motion to that end which was seconded at the last minute by Councilmember Greene. The debate regarding the substitute motion consumed approximately twenty more minutes of the meeting.
In the end, Councilmember Solomon withdrew his motion, as did the second, and the vote approving the original motion passed 6 to 1, with Councilmember Bohen in opposition.
Several days after this Council meeting, Town Manager Mary Jacobs executed the contract for the irrigation work on both courses with the lowest bidding Contractor. Preliminary discussions were also begun with the Contractor regarding implementation of the project on the Conquistador Course for late spring of 2022. Virtually nothing can now derail this work, which means the El Conquistador Golf Courses will remain an asset for the community well into the future.
It must be noted, however, that in 2018 the former Town Council had approved a $3.8 million bond to replace the thirty-year-old, 36-hole golf irrigation system. In 2019 the newly elected Council Majority (Mayor Winfield, Vice Mayor Barrett, and Council Members Nicolson and Jones-Ivey) refused to support the irrigation replacement bond and, instead, adopted a “pay-as-you-go” approach to funding capital projects at the golf courses at the November 20. 2019
Council meeting when they voted to continue operating all 36 holes of golf at the Community Center. They voted to move away from that approach at the May 5, 2021, Council meeting when they changed the Ordinance governing the half-cent sales tax from being dedicated to the Community Center Fund for use to support other Parks and Recreation amenities and allowed for bonding Community Center projects, including at the golf courses. Given this history, it is very clear that the procrastination associated with addressing replacement of the irrigation systems on the Town-owned golf courses has cost taxpayers nearly $4 million.