Huckelberry resurrects idea of tax hike to fix streets

2013-11-25T00:00:00Z 2013-11-25T14:46:12Z Huckelberry resurrects idea of tax hike to fix streetsBy Joe Ferguson Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry calls it a “Band-Aid,” but it is unclear what the Pima County Board of Supervisors will eventually call it.

Property owners will probably just call it another tax increase.

Huckelberry recently revived a plan to create a $5 million fund to fix potholes in the next fiscal cycle with money coming from a small increase in the primary property tax.

The idea failed to find support earlier this year, with supervisors rejecting the proposal.

But with no new funding in sight, Huckelberry said he has little choice but try again in next year’s budget, asking for a “Band-Aid” to fix crumbling streets.

The county is still working to forecast its revenue, but Huckelberry hints that increases in sales tax revenues will be relatively modest and funding from property tax valuations will largely be flat.

“It won’t be any better (in the next fiscal cycle); there is no relief,” Huckelberry said.

Huckelberry’s memo calls for a $0.07 increase in the property tax primary rate.

A majority of supervisors recently backed a strategy of asking the Legislature to consider a proposed 10-cent per gallon gas tax, but if it is referred to the voters, it could be years before revenue actually comes into county coffers.

An estimate from county workers suggested it would take roughly $268 million to bring 1,842 miles of county-maintained roads up to good conditions.

Republican Supervisor Ally Miller, whose district receives a lion’s share of the current road funding, did not return several calls seeking comment on Huckelberry’s memo.

To date, District 1 has received $89.8 million in bond funding, has $30.7 million in projects underway and another $23.9 million planned.

That represents 64 percent of the total road bond funds approved by voters in the last 15 years spent in Miller’s district, with the four remaining districts splitting up the rest .

Paying back the bonds with highway-user revenue, as approved by voters in 1997, limits how much the county has available for maintenance like fixing potholes.

Miller has been vocal in her criticism of current funding levels, arguing the county isn’t doing enough to fix crumbling roads.

The District 1 supervisor, still in her first year of office, was the sole person on the board to speak against the state legislative agenda, which includes the 10-cent gas tax. Miller has labeled such a tax as unfair to those living on fixed incomes and those who cannot afford hybrids and other fuel-efficient vehicles.

“I can’t support taxing the taxpayers further,” she said two weeks ago.

District 3 Supervisor Sharon Bronson said she is willing to consider a small property tax increase dedicated to road maintenance.

Representing small towns like Arivaca, Amado, Ajo and the Avra Valley, Bronson said road maintenance is huge concern in her district, where a single road might be the only way in and out of an isolated, rural town.

She said not all towns have all-weather roads. In some areas, heavy rains make travel nearly impossible without four-wheel drive vehicles.

Bronson opposed the 1997 bonds, noting she had no input into where the funds would actually go.

Huckelberry said he is also open to floating a $100 million bond dedicated to street maintenance to the voters, but noted that more than half of the funds would go to cities and towns inside Pima County.

The supervisors will discuss the “Band-Aid” approach next spring during a public hearing.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@azstarnet.com or 573-4346. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFerguson.{/span}

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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