Cave Creek budget focuses on water, wastewater systems

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Foothills Focus Executive Editor

Cave Creek Mayor Ernie Bunch recently outlined the town’s budget in a letter to constituents.

The budget, which the town council unanimously approved, caps expenditures at $37,748,705.

“This cap means the town cannot exceed this amount, but it may not spend it all if time and human resources do not permit,” he said.

The FY 2020-21 budget primarily focuses on capital improvements and modifications to the water and wastewater systems. Along with that, it includes funding for road maintenance and construction and other essential projects.

“Just because it is budgeted does not mean the expenditure will occur,” he said. “But the projects must be in the budget for them to be purchased or constructed.”

Profile of Cave Creek

Cave Creek’s population is 5,838, with 52.2% of the residents female and 47.8% male; 10.8% are under 18 years old, and 34.8% are 65 and older.

The median income is $85,529. There are 2.13 persons per household; 53.5% have a bachelor’s degree or higher. The median value of owner-occupied housing is $485,400, and there are 2,615 housing units in Cave Creek.

Budget assumptions
and trends

In terms of revenue, the continued economic growth in Arizona and the town are contingent upon the extent and long-term effects of COVID-19. Given the increase in real estate and construction activity over the previous years and higher-income households, Cave Creek council and staff are in a good position but are being cautious.

Budget highlights

Administration: The town manager’s FY 2020-21 budget is $322,250, down from $372,850 in FY 2019-20. The town is not increasing its number of employees; however, it has been and continues to reorganize department functions to better utilize the existing positions to be more effective and efficient. Medical benefit costs are expected to increase by 10%, and retirement benefit costs are also expected to increase as determined by the state.

Legal services: $650,000, up from $588,000 in FY 2019-20, primarily due to the condemnation proceeding by the town of Carefree.

Planning, Zoning and Economic Development: $501,700, down from $755,300, as the expenditures related to updating the general plan come to an end. The town will start surveying and mapping rights of way and expanding the town’s mapping database to include trails and pathways.

Building and Fire Safety, including town facilities and fleet, parks and the rodeo grounds: The FY 2020-21 budget is $1,284,960, down from $1,875,400 in FY 2019-20. This year, the major project tentatively budgeted for is the rodeo grounds’ restroom; however, the project is contingent upon how the local economy is affected by COVID-19. Mayor and council will decide if the project moves forward based on how revenues come in and a presentation of the project cost proposal.

Finance: $604,550, as compared with $606,550 in FY 2019-20. Notable costs have not changed from prior year. They include professional services, software maintenance agreements and bank service fees.

Town council: FY 2020-21 budget includes, for the first time, a budget estimate of $300,000 to cover the costs of fighting two wildfires—the Ocotillo Fire and the East Desert Fire.

“It is important to note that the costs could have been in the millions had it not been for assistance from federal, state and local jurisdictions in fighting these wildfires,” Bunch said. “In addition, council continues to develop unified mission, vision and values for the town and a strategic goal-setting process, which provides a foundation for future budgets.”

Contingency fund: Each year, council sets aside a contingency fund, which is not expected to be spent but is available in case of emergencies. This year, the contingency is $739,000, down from $769,700 in FY 2019-20.

Public Works and Engineering: $2,139,129, down from $2,807,936 in FY 2019-20. The primary focus of this division is maintaining and improving town roads and rights of way.

Water and wastewater: Funding for Cave Creek’s ongoing water infrastructure capital projects is $7,354,918 to construct and maintain the transmission, treatment and distribution systems within the Cave Creek water system. Ongoing multiyear projects include design for waterline interconnection with Phoenix ($375,000), water treatment plant pall membrane filters ($2,422,000), a SCADA system to remotely monitor and control utility sites ($300,000) and construction of new CAP pump stations ($4,540,000).

Desert Hills Water System Capital Project includes a SCADA system to remotely monitor and control utility sites ($40,000), master plan improvements ($50,000) and repair of storage reservoirs ($50,000).

The Cave Creek Wastewater System budget includes a manhole rehabilitation program ($60,000), completions of upgrades to the Rancho Manana Lift Station ($50,000), completion of a new bypass connection at Chuparosa Lift Station ($150,000) and evaluations and repairs of the wastewater system ($150,000).