There is and has been for several years a community consensus that the poor condition of our roads, especially the local neighborhood roads in the unincorporated county, must be addressed if we are to consider ourselves a prosperous community of excellence.
A lack of adequate funding from the state for 28 years has forced counties and municipalities to resort to local taxation, either a transportation-dedicated sales tax or bonding.
There have been a few local taxes passed in Pima County, some to build more capacity and some, like in the city of Tucson, to pay for road repairs.
As we’re all aware, a recent attempt to fund local road repairs throughout the county failed at the ballot box.
Before the recent road bond vote and continuing after it, a vocal minority has been calling for using the county’s primary property tax, which is called the General Fund, to pay for the needed road repair.
What they’re not telling people is that it would be grossly unfair to two-thirds of county taxpayers.
Pima County is a regional government. We collect a countywide property tax and provide services countywide, from the county courts to the Health Department, and from the County Recorder to the Medical Examiner. One of the only parochial services we provide beside parks is transportation, which is responsible for only the transportation infrastructure in the unincorporated county. And that department is primarily funded with transportation revenue from the state — we all pay a gas tax and vehicle license and a portion of those taxes and fees are sent back to us to fund our Transportation Department. The cities and towns also get a portion of this funding.
Property owners in the cities of Tucson and South Tucson, and the towns of Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita all pay a county property tax. About two-thirds of county residents live in these cities and towns, and they own the majority of all taxable property.
County staff, with the assistance of the citizens’ Transportation Advisory Committee, determined that fixing all of the roads in the unincorporated county, and keeping them fixed, would require about an additional $30 million a year for 10 years. What the vocal faction is proposing would require cutting the county budget by $30 million a year, reducing services to the entire county, and then using the savings to pay for road repair only in the unincorporated county.
In other words, they want two-thirds of county taxpayers to pay to fix the roads of one-third of county taxpayers, while providing fewer county services to everyone.
That’s an inequitable and punitive solution, and I’m surprised it is given any consideration at all. I suppose if city and town councils of all of the municipalities were to vote unanimously on resolutions saying they’re OK with the property taxes of their citizens being used to fund road repair only in unincorporated county neighborhoods then the Board of Supervisors should consider it, but I think that is as likely to happen as snowing downtown in June.
We can’t just throw our arms up in the air and say the problem is too hard to solve. We will continue to work to find the funding to fix our roads. But that solution must be equitable and serve everyone’s interests, not just a minority of county taxpayers.