Towns may be eclipsed in race for county bonds - The Explorer: Import

Towns may be eclipsed in race for county bonds

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Posted: Tuesday, November 4, 2003 12:00 am | Updated: 7:47 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Oro Valley and Marana are asking for about $10 million each to preserve historic sites, expand library services and improve their neighborhoods as part of Pima County's $450 million bond proposal expected to go before voters May 18.

But the towns' wish lists, presented to the county's bond advisory committee Oct. 31 will have to survive a prioritization process in which open space and a deluge of requests from the city of Tucson are expected to receive priority.

The proposed bond election was initially considered to be a funding mechanism to purchase and preserve land for the county's Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan. County officials estimate more than $240 million will be earmarked for open space if the measure is approved by voters.

Tucson, home to more than half of the county tax payers who will vote on the bond plan, swamped the bond committee by asking for more than $644 million to fund city projects, and have asked for a joint meeting of the county's board of supervisors and the city council to consider its requests.

Oro Valley is hoping to have four projects funded, including preserving the historic Steam Pump and Kelly ranches and the Honey Bee Village Hohokam site in Rancho Vistoso.

Marana presented seven proposals that include improvements to the Honea Heights neighborhood, relocating a county tire dump from West Ina Road to rural north Marana, and building a sewer system for the town's airport.

Both towns are also looking to expand their library services with bond revenue.

The small towns in Pima County, including Sahuarita and South Tucson, have pitched requests totaling about $28 million to the bond committee - a fraction of the estimated $1 billion in total requests submitted for the bond election firmly capped at $450 million.

The 15-member bond committee is composed of representatives from each of the five county supervisors' districts, municipalities and the Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O'odham tribal governments.

Each committee member will rank all of the projects under consideration by priority and submit their list to County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.

Huckelberry will compile a master list of projects that will be returned to the committee for fine tuning before being submitted to the Pima County Board of Supervisors in December for approval.

Huckelberry said he believed the projects by Oro Valley and Marana stood a good chance of success in the process because their proposals were specific and relatively small in scale.

"I think the fact that their requests are modest and targeted actually make them have a higher likelihood of survival," Huckelberry said in an interview after the committee meeting. "I think the county has shown historically that it's willing to cooperate with the smaller jurisdictions to fund their needs. The citizens who live in the emerging jurisdictions like Marana and Oro Valley are county taxpayers just as much as those who live in the city of Tucson."

Marana and Oro Valley's representatives on the committee were guardedly optimistic about their chances, but still expressed concern about their towns being overwhelmed in the competition for funding.

"We are concerned, but we think that it can be handled. We're just not exactly sure how that's going to happen," said Bob Jennens of Oro Valley. "We want to give it a little more time. We'll watch it carefully and continue to stay active in the process."

Marana's committee member Dan Sullivan said he was concerned that the limited funding would be funneled to buying environmentally-sensitive land at the expense of "people-oriented" projects.

"I'm less concerned about being squeezed out by Tucson's requests than I am by the squeeze from open space. That's going to be the major topic of discussion. If you allow open space to account for $240 million, which some people are insisting on, you've already grabbed on to more than half of the entire bond issue," Sullivan said.

Sullivan, one of the more vocal committee members at the Oct. 31 meeting, asked that the elected bodies of other municipalities be allowed to meet with the board of supervisors if the Tucson City Council is granted its request for a joint study session.

Huckelberry endorsed Sullivan's idea and said the request would be forwarded to the board.

Oro Valley compiled its prioritized list during a special meeting of the town council Oct. 27 and made the preservation of Steam Pump Ranch its top goal.

Mayor Paul Loomis added $2 million to the town's list of bond projects to acquire the 15-acre historic site. The funding would be in addition to the county's proposal of spending $600,000 for renovation of the original ranch house, pump house and water tank foundation.

"We want to keep our options open," Loomis said at the council meeting. "The $2 million is simply an additional possibility that may or may not be approved by the Pima County bond committee and may or may not be necessary to preserve Steam Pump."

The town's second priority is to support the county's $42 million bid to acquire 12,000 acres of state land north of Oro Valley and create a wildlife corridor between the Tortolita and Catalina mountains.

The third and fourth items, having roughly equal weight on Oro Valley's list, are to purchase and preserve the Kelly Ranch and the 12-acre core of a large prehistoric Hohokam site at Honey Bee Village, estimated at $5 million and $2 million respectively.

The privately owned 108-acre Kelly Ranch, adjacent to Catalina State Park, east of Oracle and Tangerine roads, includes a 1940 ranch house designed by noted Tucson architect Josias Joesler.

Honey Bee Village, located within the heart of Oro Valley's Rancho Vistoso subdivisions, is a priority for the county, said Linda Mayro, cultural resources manager for Pima County. Occupied approximately between A.D. 700 to 1300, the site covers 75 acres. However, most of its important archaeological features, including ball courts, trash mounds, burial sites and petroglyphs, occupy a 12-acre core.

"There aren't that many places left that are so intact and so representative of these large village sites," she said. "We would want to see it preserved in place."

The last item on Oro Valley's list is expansion of the town's library. The $1.1 million expansion would complete a 10,000 square-foot shell, and equip it with furnishings, telecommunications and computers. It would also construct 40 additional parking spaces.

The Oro Valley library expansion, along with a $6.6 million proposal to build a new library in the Continental Ranch area of Marana, were also included on a prioritized list submitted to the bond committee by the Tucson-Pima County Public Library District. Marana was listed as the first priority on the district's list of 11 libraries targeted for construction or improvements. Oro Valley's proposal was second, and a $10.1 million plan to expand the Nanini library in Casas Adobes was ranked fifth.

Marana administrators compiled their list of seven bond projects by speaking to council members and citizens individually rather than discussing it in a council meeting, said Jaret Barr, an assistant to Marana's town manager who made Marana's pitch to the bond committee.

"There was a consensus that these were the projects most desired by the town," Barr said, adding that the list was only "loosely" prioritized. "There really wasn't anything else major that was considered."

Topping the list were two related projects: $1 million to help build a regional heritage and cultural park and another $1 million for the preservation of historic buildings and sites.

The Marana Town Council Sept. 16 agreed to pay Marana Unified School District Governing Board President Dan Post $180,000 for buildings and the state land lease to a 75-acre parcel that will form the heart of the park. It's planned to be constructed between Moore Road and the Santa Cruz River in north Marana.

Intended to promote the town's agricultural heritage, plans for the park include a museum that would serve as "a showcase of the evolution of the rural landscape," agricultural exhibits, agricultural crop plots, an "ethnobotanical" garden, and a community garden and farmers market.

Third on Marana's list is $2.8 million for sewer construction at the Marana-Northwest Regional Airport. The town has made development of the airport a priority and hopes to lure business and industry there to help develop a job base in Marana.

"Specific inquiries by businesses interested in relocating (to the airport) have been tempered by an expressed concern of a lack of sewage system that is necessary for development," Marana officials wrote in a Oct. 13 memo to the county and its bond committee.

Marana is asking for $1.2 million to further develop its Tortolita recreational trail system and $1.6 million for the historic Juan Bautista de Anza trail. The Tortolita trail, which envisions 35 miles of paths through the Tortolita Mountains, was ranked fourth on its list. The de Anza trail, a segment of a proposed 1,200-mile national trail that stretches from Sonora, Mexico to San Francisco commemorates the 18th century Spanish expedition that sought a land route from New Spain to the West Coast. It was ranked sixth on Marana's list.

Honea Heights, a 1950s-era subdivision of low income and working class neighbors located west of Marana's town hall, was listed fifth on the town's list and would receive $500,000 for clean-up, sidewalks, landscaping and street lighting under the proposal.

Last on Marana's list is $1.8 million for the relocation of Pima County's Ina Road Tire Facility from its current location at Ina Road and the Santa Cruz River to another location within the town's boundaries.

The tire dump had fueled concerns among Marana citizens that it may be a fire hazard and a breeding ground for mosquitoes that carry the West Nile virus. Marana's memo outlining its proposal to the bond committee suggested moving the dump to "somewhere in the northern farm field area" of the town. Marana officials say they have yet to identify a more specific location.

Members of the bond committee noted Marana's proposal-thick with maps, charts and graphs-was one of the best organized and detailed of the stacks of packets they had received.

"We put a lot of time and effort in to it and we're relatively confident of the success of our proposals," Barr said. "We made sure to keep it under $10 million and we tried to identify projects that would provide a regional benefit to the northwest side, not just a benefit to the town."

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