Huckelberry wants further delay in bond election

2013-09-14T00:00:00Z Huckelberry wants further delay in bond electionBy Joe Ferguson Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

None of the 144 projects being considered by the Pima County Bond Advisory Committee are likely to make it to the ballot next year.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the projects. But it’s starting to look like there won’t be a bond election.

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry is asking the Bond Advisory Committee to support his recommendation to delay the bond election for yet another year, citing a number of concerns about the proposal. If they agree, this will be the fourth time since 2008 the committee, Huckelberry or both have pulled the plug on bond election plans.

Huckelberry’s concerns, outlined in a 38-page memo, are more pragmatic than philosophical.

In addition to the economy, he lists a number of proposed projects that are privately owned, including the Desert Senita Community Health Center Facility in Ajo and the Loft Cinema on Speedway.

The health center asked the county for $280,000 to catch up on maintenance, while the nonprofit group running the Loft wanted $500,000 to partially fund its expansion.

The nonprofit behind the art-house movie theater is trying to raise $2.5 million to renovate and expand the more than 40-year-old theater.

“(These projects) raise practical concerns regarding how the county would ensure the long-term public investment for which voters and bond buyers hold the county accountable,” Huckelberry writes.

The county administrator also is concerned about the state’s gift-tax clause, barring any public funds benefiting a specific individual, association or corporation.

A $10 million proposal to provide noise abatement to homes near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base could be challenged under the state law, Huckelberry concludes.

“This project would result in a gift-clause issue, as there is no indication the program would be limited to low-income families,” Huckelberry wrote.

Another concern for the county, Huckelberry writes, is whether it will have the revenue to back roughly $650 million in bonds.

The county could issue $650 million in bond starting in 2015 under current revenue forecasts, but only if it increased property taxes or issued the bonds over a 12-year period.

Wait one year, Huckelberry suggests, and the local economy will recover enough for the county to issue the bonds without raising taxes or delaying the sale of some bonds.

The Pima County Bond Advisory Committee is expected to decide on Friday whether to approve Huckelberry’s request and forward it to Board of Supervisors, who have the final say on whether to move the bond question to the November 2015 ballot.

Peggy Johnson, the executive director of the nonprofit running the Loft, said she believes the delay is in the best interest for all the groups vying for county funding.

The pool of available funds, she reasons, would be smaller, according to Huckelberry, and would lead to more infighting between various groups.

She did not have any comment to Huckelberry’s concerns that the Loft is privately owned.

Vern Lamplot, executive director of the nonprofit Patronato San Xavier, said he was disappointed the county might delay the bond question for another year.

The restoration project at the historic landmark, he says, will continue to rely on private donations to continue the work until voters decide on the bond question.

The nonprofit is asking the bond advisory commission to consider its request for $1.5 million for the East Tower restoration project.

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

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

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