County tax hike a viable way to get Pima road-repair funds

Our view: Pima streets are in sad shape, and we need to slow the pace of deterioration
2013-06-02T00:00:00Z County tax hike a viable way to get Pima road-repair funds Arizona Daily Star
June 02, 2013 12:00 am

About $1 a week per homeowner could improve Pima County's crumbling roadways - if the Board of Supervisors approves a 7 percent property tax rate increase for next year.

The proposed hike would cost the average single-family homeowner about $52 per year, the Star reported May 25. Average homeowners wouldn't see a larger tax bill because a 7 percent decline in property values would offset the rate increase.

The proposal would generate about $3.9 million in unallocated revenue for the county in the next fiscal year. County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry's $1.27 billion proposed budget included a 5.5 percent property tax rate increase, the Star reported.

"My only goal in increasing the property tax rate was to solve real community problems - road repair and maintenance," said Democratic Supervisor Sharon Bronson, who made the initial motion for the increase at last month's tentative budget adoption session.

Pima County streets are bad.

Priscilla S. Cornelio, director of the county's Transportation Department, told us that about 61 percent of the county's 1,800 miles of paved roads are in poor or failed condition. Huckelberry put a $268 million price tag on fixing the ravaged roads in a transportation funding report released in April.

The $3.9 million generated by the property tax rate increase is only about 1.5 percent of the $268 million. However, without some relief, county roads will fall deeper into a pothole from which they might never be able to recover.

Voters in the city of Tucson, which has roads in similar deteriorated condition, approved in November a $100 million road bond to resurface about a third of city's main roads.

The county needs relief, too.

The downturn in the economy brought road maintenance practically to a standstill, Cornelio said. Last year's county allocation of $20 million was able to repair less than 10 percent of county's paved roads, she said.

Many of the funding bumps are due to the Legislature's sweeping - another word for taking - millions of dollars in gas-tax (Highway User Revenue Fund) money to balance the state budget. That's about $38 million that should have gone to county road repair.

"The county definitely needs another source of funds to fix its roads," said Cornelio. "It could be raising the property tax or some other funding source."

"I am hopeful that the proposal will receive support from the entire board, not just a simple majority," Bronson told us, noting the board's two Republicans' opposition. The tax rate increase could pass with only Democratic support. Bronson said doing so would be divisive, and she is seeking consensus among the board and community.

"Every district has serious road maintenance and repair problems," she added.

Rough, rutted roads are an embarrassing eyesore. They can damage cars and are a danger to drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Crumbling, cracked streets also hinder economic development.

Good transportation systems are necessary to move people and goods, Bronson said. The county must reinvest in its infrastructure if it hopes to attract employers and jobs, she said.

County streets cannot continue to deteriorate. The increase is a reasonable step to keep the roads from further disrepair.

The increase would be a stopgap. Pima County needs long-term, comprehensive, multiple sources of road-maintenance funding, which includes possibly raising the gas tax, which has not been raised for 22 years, and the state returning HURF funds.

We also encourage bipartisan support. "To move forward, we need to do it together," Bronson said. She won't push the increase without full board support.

"Without (Republican) supervisors (Ally) Miller's and (Ray) Carroll's support this proposal is dead, and we will have failed to solve one of our most pressing problems," Bronson said.

Arizona Daily Star

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

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