QC Council signs off on new spending plan

Queen Creek's spending in the fiscal year beginning July 1 will largely be focused on infrastructure. (Town of Queen Creek)

With no comment from the public, Town Council put its final stamp of approval on Queen Creek’s record budget for the coming fiscal year.

The $867.1 million spending plan approved May 17 is the largest in town history.

“This is arguably the largest and single most important policy decision that we do as a governing body and legally the one thing that we are required to do,” Mayor Julia Wheatley said. “We are saying ‘this is what we are focusing on and these are our priorities for this year.’

“The budget continues to prioritize public safety and infrastructure, which is so important for our growing town. It also invests in quality of life through the Recreation & Aquatic Center, parks, and trails,” she continued.

A fifth of the budget, or $168-million, is earmarked to purchase water rights as the town continues to grow.

Queen Creek’s total budget last year was just over $730 million and of the $137 million increase in the coming year’s budget, $108 million is earmarked to buy water rights.

A whopping $214.3-million is slated for infrastructure, which includes roads, bridges, and buildings essential to supporting the town’s rapid expansion.

Finance Director Scott McCarty said the spending plan but also looks well down the road, based on current revenue and expense projections.

“A lot of what we are doing here is strategic planning for the future,” he said.

As part of what it calls a prudent financial strategy, Queen Creek takes 25% of the revenue it generates “off the top” and saves it. McCarty has said the town’s revenue is projected to grow by 57% in 2023-24 over this year.

The town is planning to add 65 full time staff to its payroll next fiscal year, almost a third of which is for the 18-month-old Police Department.

The department also will be getting software, hardware and equipment for the new staff and $35.3 million for critical facilities identified in the recently adopted Police Master Plan.

The budget also allocates $17.7 million for the fire/medical portion of the soon-to-be renovated Public Safety Complex.

The budget includes funding to complete Mansel Carter Oasis Park, and build the new 85-acre Frontier Family Park, which will be home to a new Recreation and Aquatic Center. Work on the rec and aquatic centers broke ground last week.

The budget also includes $2.1 million for 15 new positions responsible for operating and maintaining the new park facilities, which are scheduled to open at the end of 2024.

Council has also budgeted a 5% salary increase for town employees.

“The budget also includes additional increases to fund a newly proposed compensation policy for police sworn staff that is designed to stay competitive with our recruitment and retention efforts for law enforcement personnel,” budget materials said, meaning those officers could get an additional pay raise when the town revisits their performance and salaries during the year.

While there was general support for the spending plan itself, council members Leah Martineau and Travis Padilla voted against it.

Two weeks ago, the pair also voted no on a $27.7-million increase in the town’s parks and recreation budget over the $157 million originally discussed earlier this month.

“I do support most of what’s in this budget,” Martineau said. “Unfortunately, there’s just a couple of things I can’t get behind and can’t get to that ceiling level.”

Padilla had vowed to vote no during a May 3 discussion as well, stating, “There are things in here that do not support fiscal responsibility that are outside of the purview of what I believe the town should be involved in.”

Padilla said while there is “a lot right about this budget,” there are certain line items, such as the parks, that he can’t get behind.

Wheatley contended, ““Voting as a no vote for the items you don’t agree with is a no vote for the items you don’t agree with, but it also is a no vote for the items I believe we all do agree with. Public safety, fire, police, ambulance services, transportation, acquiring new water resources, etc.”

Wheatley said local governments are unique in that each line item in the budget will come before town council to be discussed separately, so members can vote on ones they oppose.

Councilman Bryan McClure said, “A lot of work has been put into this. It started a long time ago. No budget is perfect, but we have put something together that is for the betterment of the community and I am in full support.”

The budget also includes a recommendation to lower the primary property tax rate from $1.83 to $1.72 per $100 of assessed value.

Last November, Council approved a policy that freezes the primary property tax for existing taxpayers for five years. The primary property tax rate will be voted on at the June 7 council meeting.

Council also approved forming a collaboration with the Queen Creek Chamber of Commerce to coordinate a community alliance of nonprofits, businesses, faith-based organizations and schools.

The alliance would work to create a community events calendar, a community resource guide and promote partnerships.

“In Queen Creek, tenets like these are important to sustain the sense of community and to make each leader, organization and the town as a whole that much stronger,” said the Volunteer Coordinator Kim Nishihara.

“By combining resources via the partnership, the goal is to generate traction within the alliance so that work for the community is conducted year-round and participants are able to share information, resources and ideas,” town documents said.

Council also approved the final plat for Phase 2 of the Ellsworth Ranch development, giving the go ahead for a 127-lot single-family residential subdivision situated on approximately 65.2 acres at the northwest corner of Ellsworth and Chandler Heights roads.

The total number of lots proposed for Ellsworth Ranch at buildout of both planned phases is 452 lots.