A Pima County proposal to spend $8.75 million to purchase 167 acres for soccer fields makes sense, with a caveat: No road repair money should be touched to pay for it.
Pima County Supervisors have already approved a county budget that allows the expenditure to be made, and they will decide July 1 if the land deal should move ahead and how to pay for it.
The land is a piece of a much larger proposal to build a regional soccer complex that supporters say would attract soccer tournaments from outside Tucson and Arizona.
This parcel, on the south side of Interstate 10 across from the Kino Sports Complex, is necessary to create a large complex, said Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. The land is bordered by East Benson Highway, South Kino Parkway, East Irvington Road and I-10.
The plan is still in the concept stage, but without these 167 acres, the complex would be greatly reduced. The parcel could be developed into 19 soccer fields and a stadium with a capacity of up to 7,000.
“Funding for the complex will have to go in the 2015 bond election,” Huckelberry said in an interview. “It’s a step, but it makes it possible.”
It is far too soon to know if the regional soccer complex proposal would be a good investment. We need details, plans, budgets and analysis before deciding on its merit.
Huckelberry said the county approached the landowners several years ago with an offer of $6 million, and they said, “Not only ‘no,’ but ‘hell no.’” They said they’d put roughly $19 million into the property to build a housing development.
The county went back about a month ago and the owner said yes to $8.75 million.
If the regional soccer complex doesn’t pencil out or voters reject it, then the county can sell the land.
This is where the caveat comes in. The land purchase became connected to road repair funds when Huckelberry stated the initial payment of $1.75 million could come out of a $5 million allocation from the general fund balance (aka the rainy day fund) that for the past several years has been earmarked for county road repairs.
This $5 million has come on top of the $50 million in gas taxes, vehicle licensing fees and other state money the county spends on road maintenance.
Huckelberry also points out, rightly so, that the county is $300 million behind on road maintenance and repairs. Redirecting any of the $5 million to the land purchase wouldn’t make much of a difference in the overall picture, he said.
“What you really need to do is come to grips with what we need to solve — we need to invest $30 million a year for 10 years,” Huckelberry said, to catch up on backlogged road maintenance.
Pima County can only spend money on roads in the unincorporated areas, because cities and towns are responsible for maintaining their own roadways.
Some point out that taxes from residents of Marana, Tucson and other towns pay to repair county streets they likely will never use. It’s a matter of fairness, they say, arguing it’s better to use some of that $5 million extra roads allocation for soccer fields because they would benefit everyone.
We understand the concerns. But Tucson metro area streets are in such terrible condition that they require spending every cent possible.
Diverting any available money, even a relatively small amount, from roads to hypothetical soccer fields is a non-starter.
If this land deal is to proceed, it must be paid for another way.