Tucson residents will get to decide whether to spend nearly a quarter of a billion dollars to breathe new life into city parks, swimming pools, and other recreational centers this fall.
The Tucson City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday night to move forward with a $225 million bond that would build new splash pads, reopen closed swimming pools, build new playgrounds, walking and bike paths, add field lighting and fund specific golf course improvements.
Vice Mayor Paul Cunningham said the time was right to ask voters about what kind of parks facilities they want.
Costs will be a concern, but the city has done well managing the last two voter-approved projects, Cunningham said.
“As long as we are upfront about what we are building and improving, Tucson deserves a top-flight parks system,” Cunningham said.
The decision Tuesday night directed the city staff to bring back a full-fledged proposal back in early July ahead of a deadline to get the $225 million proposal on the November ballot.
The proposal discussed Tuesday night was pulled directly from old shelved plans to fix the city’s parks system, and staffers concede that the exact list of projects and their related costs are still evolving. At best, the dusted-off plans reflect the best guess as to what the city could do with $225 million over the next decade.
Even what goes before the council in a few weeks will continue to evolve as the city holds public forums as part of an education campaign on the council-backed bond proposal. The final list of plans and how much the city would spend would not be set in stone until voter guides go out this fall.
As to how much the city will promise voters, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild encouraged city staffers to release as much detail as possible.
To that end, Rothschild began reading aloud a list of expected costs of a handful of projects, inadvertently revealing a document that hadn’t been made publicly available.
Council members have long conceded that city parks have been the loser in fights over city budget allocations since the recession. Faced with ever-increasing maintenance budgets, the city has closed some parks — including city pools — rather than spend the funds to maintain them.
And as voter-backed solutions were considered in the last five years, the council opted to bond and back a separate sales tax initiative focusing on roads and public safety.
Councilman Steve Kozachik was the lone dissenting vote, saying the council pushed the staff to move too fast on the item and felt it would be better to put the item on the ballot next year.
“I’m concerned that we may be overpromising. Let’s just take our time, and make sure we’re getting the numbers right. We could do this again next year, and the year after. But you don’t swing at a bad pitch just because you know you’ve got two more strikes coming,” he said.
The parks bond, if approved by voters in November, won’t raise the city’s property tax rate.
As it stands, the city’s debt-service payments are scheduled to decline as old bonds are paid off, and the new bond would simply extend the current rate.