Guest Column: Protect Tucson by understanding, addressing annexation issues

2013-03-20T00:00:00Z Guest Column: Protect Tucson by understanding, addressing annexation issuesGeorge Miller Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Annexation of land, homes and business' adjacent to the city of Tucson is a topic of conversation and controversy that has led a long, unsettled life.

Back in the 1960s-'70s, discussion about mountain-to-mountain annexation was rendered unrealistic.

Here we are in 2013 and we need to ask why the possibilities of annexation are surfacing again.

More importantly, what's annexation about, why should we care about it and why do we really need it?

Actually, the answer is relatively simple. It's pretty much about money to finance the continuing, expanding needs of our city to pay for the basic services provided to everyone within our city's limits. It's about police, fire, water, streets, garbage, buses and other necessary services.

How can we increase the available financial resources to maintain what we have and keep up with what is needed? Annexation means adding more homes and businesses within the city limits as a way to increase funding available from the state along with the current sales taxes.

The unfortunate alternative to annexation is to allow Tucson to sink into the depressed despair affecting other U.S. cities. These cities have become areas with increasing numbers of low-income residents needing a disproportionate amount of social services and less able to offer critical assistance.

To provide basic services, the city needs both a wider base for the 2 percent sales tax as well as the city property tax.

The process of annexation requires agreement of 51 percent of the owners of the assessed property value and 51 percent of the homeowners.

We know that the city will benefit from annexation but what benefits can the population of the annexed areas expect?

The city believes it can provide better police and fire protection including paramedic services, lower garbage fees and above all, the ability of annexed residents to vote for the Tucson mayor and City Council. With voting comes the ability to influence water rates, street maintenance, new roads, bus transportation, services in the parks, etc. All of these resources impact them but lacking city residency, they have no power to influence any of it.

Obviously, the city and the proposed annexation areas must be in agreement; any deal must benefit both entities.

Over the years of this discussion, folks in the city's annexation department have found that a major deterrent for those living on the edge of the city has been the method of electing City Council members. Because council members are elected at large, potential new residents rightly believe that their influence on zoning and water rates would be negligible.

Many of them have expressed that election of council members by ward only would remedy the situation. This could give them a representative on the City Council. It could be accomplished by adding at least one more council member. It's a great opportunity for both the city and its neighbors on the periphery to benefit.

However, this sticky solution requires a change in the City Charter authorized by the votes of city residents. If timely action succeeded in getting such a charter change, it could be on the ballot as soon as the 2013 election.

It must be stressed that this is purely a local issue. It should be addressed by the council and certainly not left to the state legislature to decide.

There is a false assumption about state revenues for incorporated areas. As a matter of fact, the pot of available money does not grow to accommodate newly incorporated areas. It is just further divided among the recipients ladling out less to each of them.

Ultimately, the core cities would receive less revenue. This unhealthy, disastrous scenario has been played out in cities such as St. Louis and Detroit. In Detroit, as more areas encircling the city were incorporated, revenues within Detroit were reduced to a precarious level. Basic services are severely compromised with no relief in sight. Ironically, one of the most affluent counties in the U.S. is flourishing just 20 miles from downtown Detroit.

We are not in imminent danger but it is a warning not to allow such a dismal fate to overtake Tucson because we were busy with other concerns to pay attention.

Let's protect our city's promising direction by paying attention, not only with great optimism but also with prudent realism.

George Miller was mayor of Tucson from 1991 to 1999 and served 14 years on the Tucson City Council, representing Ward 3. Email him at rozgeomiller@msn.com

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

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