Tucson City Hall

Tucson City Hall, including the art piece of the Mormon Battalion in downtown Tucson.

Tucson voters will decide in May whether to approve a half-cent sales tax increase to improve roads and buy new equipment for the Police and Fire departments.

The Tucson City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to refer the measure to voters, but not before arguing how the anticipated $50 million in annual revenues should be spent and whether to end the tax after a few years.

At the end of the night, the council signed off on City Manager Mike Ortega’s plan to use 60 percent of the anticipated revenues for public-safety capital needs with the remaining 40 percent going to repairing city streets.

The council, however, broke from Ortega’s proposal and opted to put more money into smaller, less-used streets.

Proposition 409, a road bond voters approved in 2012, backed a plan that put 85 percent into repairing main roads, with the remainder going into smaller streets in neighborhoods.

Councilman Steve Koza- chik fought for a 50-50 split between roads and public safety, noting that roads top the wish list for most of the public.

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The City Council eventually opted to end the sales-tax increase after five years, despite acknowledging that the revenues raised in that period will fall short of the identified needs in each department.

Vice Mayor Regina Romero said she would have preferred to see the tax continue for at least 10 years, saying taxes collected locally are best used in the community.

Mayor Jonathan Roths-child pushed for the five-year sunset on the tax hike, arguing a temporary tax to pay for specific, identified projects would be more appealing to voters.

The council will meet in early January to sign off on the specifics of the ballot language, outlining how the anticipated $250 million will be spent.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@tucson.com or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson

Reporter

Joe has been with the Star for six years. He covers politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona. He graduated from the UA and previously worked for the Arizona Daily Sun.