by NICK MEYERS
With all the excitement over presidential debates, campaign rallies and whatever came out of Donald Trump’s mouth this week, it can be difficult to remember that we have local elections this year.
Pima County voters will head to the voting booths on Nov. 3 to vote in our local elections, which is arguably much more important than selecting our future president. However, due to the media monopolization of the presidential race, local elections often get over looked.
This year, Tucson has the opportunity to approve or deny more than $800 million infrastructure and economic stimulus packages. Nearly a billion dollars could be spent improving our roads, parks, neighborhoods and businesses, but only if voters approve.
Members of the Pima County community have spent the last nine years developing seven distinct proposals worth nearly $100 million apiece to be paid for with general obligation bonds.
A 25-member committee has held more than 100 hearings to gather public insight as to what specific projects comprise each bond and these seven propositions are the culmination of nearly a decade of debate and compromise.
Bonds are similar to loans from private investors, except these loans are payed for by taxpayers. Over the next 15 years, property taxes will increase to fund these projects.
But worry not, for the average property owner tax will increase by a mere $17.54 per year while the highest valued properties ($250,000 or more for 13 percent of primary residences) will increase by $28.75 per year.
While it seems the vast majority of the public supports these propositions, there are some who disagree with the justification of spending $800 million of taxpayers’ money. One group, Taxpayers Against Pima Bonds, has even created a website (that belongs in 1996) to persuade voters against voting for the bonds.
The main argument against the bonds is that businesses will experience a much higher tax increase than homeowners. This is partially due to the fact that average commercial property is valued at roughly six times that of residential property. The average business owner can expect a tax increase of about $200 per year.
As compelling an argument as it may be, the life of a business depends on the lives of its customers and these packages not only stimulate economic development and tourism, but transportation and public health as well; all of which are beneficial to businesses as well as citizens.
Additionally, Pima County has an exemplary history with bonds and currently holds a AA credit rating, the second highest possible. Since 1974, Pima County voters have passed 54 bonds worth $2.03 billion in 12 elections. Only four have ever been denied.
The decision is ultimately left to the voter. So to help you decide here is a brief summary of each of the seven propositions. For more information, head to pima.gov/bonds2015.
Proposition 425: Road and Highway Improvements
Total: $200 million
This is the largest proposal this cycle with the majority of the spending designated to road repair and pavement preservation to be completed over the next 12 years. It’s no secret that Tucson’s roads are in desperate need of repair and in tandem with Prop 431 for flood control and drainage, this $200 million will go further than funds for repairs in the past.
Proposition 426: Economic Development, Libraries and Workforce Training
Total: $91.4 million
What else does Tucson need? Business! This package is aimed at helping the unemployed prepare for and land a job as well as help out existing businesses. The largest parts of the package are the $20 million going to the University of Arizona Tech Park for a new building; $18 million for the new Southern Arizona Regional Orientation Center, a tourist resource for learning more about the Southwest; and $15 million for the Oro Valley Business Accelerator, a center for industry and academia to collaborate on research.
Proposition 427: Tourism Promotion
Total: $98.6 million
While the proposition sounds like it’s aimed towards tourists, much of this package goes towards places Tucsonans love to visit as well. The Music Hall and Leo Rich theaters are the big winners of this proposition, as both are slated to receive renovations. The rest of the funding will go towards many of Tucson’s museums and the zoo.
Proposition 428: Parks and Recreation Facilities
Total: $191.5 million
The second largest proposal on the ballot, Proposition 428 will funnel money into several of Tucson’s parks for renovations and expansions. Kino Sports Complex would receive $25 million for a new indoor sports complex and new fields and $3.5 million for a velodrome.
About $77 million will go towards various recreational facilities like YMCA, municipal golf courses and swimming pools and the remaining $85 million will be spent improving more than 20 parks in Pima County.
Proposition 429: Public Health, Welfare, Safety, Neighborhoods and Housing
Total: $105 million
Nearly a quarter of this package will go towards improvements in Pima County’s most “stressed” neighborhoods for improvements such as street lamps, sidewalks, parks and community in the interest of reducing many negative societal impacts such as crime and drug abuse.
Other funding will go towards the Pima County Affordable Housing Program ($20 million), Pima County Medical Examiner ($15 million) and the Sahuarita Food Bank ($300,000).
Proposition 430: Natural Area Conservation and Historic Preservation
Total: $112 million
This one is interesting as nearly the entire proposition aims to spend $95 million on a land acquisitions. The proposal would allow the county to purchase up to 450,000 acres of private and state land in order to maintain and facilitate wildlife and environmental preservation.
Though the county may not necessarily purchase all the eligible land, the land it does purchase becomes public and open to hiking, biking and horseback riding. The county will place new trails and trailheads that will be open to the public.
Proposition 431: Flood Control and Drainage
Total: $16.9 million
This one is sure to be a favorite among voters, as it aims to better prepare Tucson’s rivers for the monsoon season. Almost half of the bond ($7 million) will be spent to reinforce the banks of the Santa Cruz and Rillito rivers and Canada del Oro, connecting river parks, bike paths and trails along both banks.
Other parts of the proposition will go to the Tohono O’odham San Xavier District ($2 million) for drainage improvements and acquiring flood-prone land for the county ($5 million) to relocate residents who may be at risk.