By TOM SCANLON
CAVE CREEK – Happy New Year!
Cave Creek celebrated a new fiscal year (which started July 1) by passing a budget exceeding $30 million.
Pop the champagne cork if you like spending, as the $30,397,132 budget represents a tipsy 42 percent increase over last year’s $21,452,589.
This year is far from a record, as 2009 and 2013 budgets topped $40 million.
Even so, the newly minted budget races past spending over the last six years, which averaged around $20 million. As the document itself states, the higher spending limit “is mostly due to increases in the amount budgeted for capital expenditures compared to the previous year’s budget,” according to page 5 of the Town of Cave Creek FY 2020 Budget.
A tentative budget was approved in mid-June, with the budget formally passing 5-1 last week. The lone town council member to cast a dissenting vote: Robert Morris.
Over the last month, some raised concerns not only over the size of the budget, but also seeming secrecy. Unlike past years, there were no budget workshops, which troubled even a few councilors who voted for the budget.
“Many of us citizens have always enjoyed the input we had with the budget process,” said Eileen Wright, a former council member speaking out at last week’s meeting. “This year, there was none.”
At last week’s meeting, even a few council members felt “left in the dark” on the budget.
Councilor Susan Clancy agreed with Wright: “you’re absolutely right. This year’s process was flawed … It’s a big budget, it needed to be fully understood.”
“It kind of leaves your there thinking, ‘Gee, I’d like to pull $10 million out of it and see how it does,’” Clancy said.
She said she didn’t have questions answered by the town regarding the budget.
“I agree transparency is key,” said councilor Kathryn Royer. “And we need to do a better job about having workshops next year.”
Morris echoed the troubling lack of public input, and seconded Clancy’s eyebrow-raising comments.
“As a councilman, I did not get my (budget) questions answered … I felt the process this year having a subcommittee working on it was flawed.”
Morris was the only one to take a stand on the budget by voting no.
“I’m an advocate of efficiency and cost control,” Morris said.
Though he said he supported much of the budget, he disagreed with increasing staff size “without analytics, without process.”
The other five council members – Royer, Clancy, Paul Diefenderfer, Thomas McGuire, David Smith and Mayor Ernie Bunch – approved the budget, likely swayed by Robert Russell Weddigen’s assessment.
Cave Creek just ended “one of the best year’s the town has had,” said the finance director, noting revenues came in above projections for 2018-19.
In an email, Bunch doubled down on that.
“Cave Creek ended the last fiscal year with $20 million in the bank. Partly because of the successes of our businesses and partly because we have been ‘gun shy’ from the previous economic downturn,” Bunch wrote.
The Foothills Focus emailed several other councilors about the budget.
Royer replied that her vote reflects “the primary concern of my constituents is ensuring a safe, secure, reliable and plentiful water supply which protects the future of our families, the value of our homes, and the economic stability of our state.”
Clancy expanded on her public comments:
“When I had an opportunity to sit with only the town financial officer and town manager we had three hours and many of our questions could not be answered effectively. My expectations were there would be a public hearing with staff available.”
This did not happen, and she felt rushed to approve the budget, she said.
Bunch concluded that the bottom line was Cave Creek has money to spend, and things to do:
“There are so many maintenance and equipment things we really need to catch up on.”