Pima County needs a lot of work. That was the consensus of the four Republican candidates running for Pima County Board of Supervisors District 1, when they met at the Sun City Social Hall on April 17.
Mike Hellon, Stuart McDaniel, Ally Miller, and Rep. Vic Williams, R-District 26, are seeking the District 1 seat, which will be vacated by Supervisor Ann Day, who announced last year that she would be retiring.
During the April 17 forum, candidates fielded a series of questions from moderator Darwin Thornton. Questions centered around what changes each would make in resolving Pima County’s current $1.5 billion bond debt, fixing poor road conditions, and creating a marketplace for jobs.
Miller said the debt problem could easily be resolved simply by using common sense.
“When you want to reduce your debt, what do we all do? We stop spending,” she said.
Miller added that one of Pima County’s problems is investing in projects that fail to show a finished product.
“The courthouse is the perfect example,” she said. “The voters approved $76 million to build a courthouse. Right now, we have a vacant lot that we’ve spent $59 million on. It’s got a nice chain link fence around it, and that’s all there is after spending $59 million.”
Hellon said with Pima County’s situation, it would be important to pay off maturing bonds while not floating new bonds. Still, given the poor quality of the county’s roads, Hellon said it is possible new bonds may have to be taken out.
“It’s all about priorities,” he said. “You guys have nice streets up here. You ought to see some of the streets your neighbors drive on south of Ina Road. But the way to do it is not to incur additional debt for a long period of time that the economy cannot sustain.”
Hellon said county reports show that two-thirds of Pima County’s roads are in poor to failing condition, which would cost $240 million to repair.
Despite their similar views on debt control and roads, Hellon and Miller often found themselves in rebuttal on other issues, particularly when it came to Pima County’s transparency as a government.
Miller argued that there is no transparency when it comes to Pima County’s use of taxpayer dollars, and that county meetings offer minimal information to the public before important decisions like the budget are finalized.
Citing his years of experience in dealing with the Pima County, Hellon said the County is transparent if one knows how to navigate the process.
“By the time it gets to the meeting, the decision has already been made,” he said. “That’s how things work down there.”
Miller’s rebuttal to Hellon was met with applause.
“Isn’t that illegal?” she said. “Isn’t there an open meeting law in Arizona that you have to do things out in the open instead of behind closed doors?”
When it came to the topic of job creation, the candidates all agreed that Pima County has earned a reputation of being job unfriendly.
“As government grows, the private sector shrinks,” said McDaniel. “We need to reduce the size and scope of government and encourage entrepreneurship. It’s critical to our future here in Tucson.”
McDaniel added that if elected he would help “reduce the plague” that Pima County has caused for businesses who might otherwise look at Tucson as a place to locate.
“There are many developers, and developers is a good word,” he said. “Developers help create jobs, and their perception, and perception becomes reality, is that Pima County is closed for business. You can’t even get a taco stand built in Pima County because of the regulations and zoning and development services.”
Citing the Rosemont Copper Mine controversy, McDaniel and the other candidates argued in favor of it.
The candidates each found agreement when asked whether they support a forensic financial audit for Pima County.
“You need to go through these agencies,” said Williams. “Even at the state legislature, we had multi-billion dollar deficits. We’ve reduced spending. I had to go through and restructure many of our agencies. That’s what we’re going to have to do if needed, or if we need, reprioritize money.”
Williams added that Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry is often portrayed as a villain by the media, but in fact, the problem truly lies with the current Board of Supervisors. Huckelberry works for them, and not the other way around, he said.
“It’s up to the County supervisors to be proactive for the positions they believe in,” said Williams.
The Primary Election is Aug. 28.