Pima County courthouse shell game cast in concrete

Beginning at midnight on Friday, June 29, 4,000 cubic yards of concrete will be poured to complete the foundation of the Pima County/City of Tucson Joint Courts Complex at North Stone and East Toole avenues. Sundt Construction is building the foundation and shell.

It will remain a shell until the voters shell over enough money to finish the controversial project. A shell will be built according to Huckleberry for $50 million and the interior will be finished “sometime later.” However, the latest estimate from Pima County of the full tally will be more than $170 million.

Voters approved $76 million in a 2004 county bond election, and were told that monies would provide for a “county-city court facility that will provide for the efficient, effective and economical delivery of services to the public.”

The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted in December 20, 2011, to move ahead with construction of the complex foundation and building shell to avoid up to $9 million in anticipated increases in the costs of materials without reaching an agreement with the City of Tucson.

At that December 20, meeting Ally Miller, candidate for the Board of Supervisors, asked whether voters knew that $22 million was swept from the general fund. Did they know this? Were they informed by thier Pima County supervisor? I think they would have preferred to have this money spent on our crumbling roads. I attended the meeting at which these decisions were made and spoke strongly against moving forward with this project due to the overruns and ongoing economic downturn.”

The County will take $22 million from the Property Tax Stabilization Fund, which comes from the General Fund.

The County Manager advised the County’s Finance manger in a Memorandum dated February 2, 2012, that it was up to him to “determine how these financial arrangements are accounted for in the budget and whether the $22.6 million advance to the capital program is viewed as a loan that becomes due to the General Fund and repaid in proportion by each jurisdiction….”

It is normally not legal to comingle bond monies and monies in the General Fund.

This last year, Governor Jan Brewer signed HB2408, sponsored by Representative Terry Proud, which calls for a special “forensic audit” of Pima County bond efforts. The legislation directs the Auditor General to complete a special audit of the 1997, 2004, and 2006 Pima County general obligation bond programs.

Representative Proud stated she asked for the audit in lieu of her bill that would have created a Regional Bond Accountability Committee. “There were some valid concerns so I asked for an audit instead. The audit makes more sense to what is happening with the Pima County bonds. Pima County has over a billion dollars in bonds with little to show for it,” Proud stated.

County residents pay the second highest tax rate in the state, with substandard governmental services compared to other counties in the state.

According to the City, no decision has been made as to their future financial involvement, if any.

Timeline of the shell game

November 2004:

Voters passed a $76 million bond for Courthouse Project. At the time, attorney Larry Hecker wrote in the Tucson Citizen, “By voting “yes” on all six of the Pima County bond questions May 18, voters will approve funding for a minimum of 115 important community projects” and a “county-city court facility that will provide for the efficient, effective and economical delivery of services to the public.”

2008:

Planning stalled for three years due to archeology, remediation, utility removal and land acquisition costs totaled more than $17 million. As a result, there was not enough money or legitimate need to proceed with the original plan.

2011:

“We got to that point where we had a building we couldn’t afford,” said Reid Spaulding, Pima County Facilities, in 2011.

December 13, 2011:

In a memo to the City Council, dated December 13, 2011, the City’s Manager wrote, “The Pima County Administrator has proposed to the City of Tucson two options for proceeding to implement the Pima County Joint Justice/Municipal Court Complex (JJMCC.) The City was asked to “provide bridge financing for the construction of a shell tower for the JJMCC; this is termed Phase 1,” or the County would” delay implementation until after a future bond authorization can be put before the voters.”

The City Manager wrote that “The County Administrator has stated there is no wrong or right answer regarding alternatives, and that there are risks for either continuing with construction today using temporary financing or delaying the project until voters authorize supplemental bond funding.”

December 20, 2011:

The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted in December 20, 2011, to move ahead with construction of the complex foundation and building shell to avoid up to $9 million in anticipated increases in the costs of materials without reaching an agreement with the City of Tucson.

December 27, 2011:

Kozachik noted in his December 27, 2011 newsletter, “You, the City taxpayers have been paying for this project since its inception through your property taxes. You have paid your “fair share.” The burden shifts to the County BOS to affirmatively direct the County Administrator to credit the City with the $12M improperly spent on the Superior Court facility, and some significant portion of the $17M in over design fees.”

Kozachik claimed “The City (you) should be credited with money spent for reasons you did not authorize, and not charged twice for it. And you deserve a nicely designed landscape. In the alternative, there’s $30M left in the original bond allotment. The City is a 58% occupancy tenant in the not-yet-built joint facility. We have an arguable right to 58% of the remaining money – use that $17M to do tenant improvements in the City Courthouse and leave the County with their dirt lot.”

February 2, 2012:

In Memorandum dated February 2, 2012, County Manager Huckleberry wrote, “it is unlikely there will be a County bond issue in either 2012 or 2013, making completion of the building less likely to be reimbursed by a future bond authorization.”

Huckleberry advised the Board that “both County Justice Courts and the City should be prepared to finance the full additional costs necessary to complete Phase One shell construction, which is under contract with Sundt. As well as a future contract amount of approximately $25 million for tenant improvements. Appropriate cost and repayment should be divided in proportion to each agency’s occupation of the building, which is approximately 42 percent Pima County and 58 percent City of Tucson.

I will leave it to the Finance Manager to determine how these financial arrangements are accounted for in the budget and whether the $22.6 million advance to the capital program is viewed as a loan that becomes due to the General Fund and repaid in proportion by each jurisdiction.” and whether the tenant improvements that will follow should be repaid in the same manner with the County advancing all costs to be repaid by the City with the cumulative cost being divided between Pima county and the City of Tucson at 42 percent City and 58 percent County share being financed by an appropriate annual repayment in the annual Justice Court Operating budget.”

June 6, 2012:

In his June 6 newsletter, Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik wrote that the “project is now under way and we still haven’t worked out the details of an agreement with the County. We’re talking about asking voters to approve bonds to fix our roads. The County is maybe going to ask you to fund infrastructure to protect the interests of some of our most important private sector employers. All of those bond packages might be wonderful – but if the taxpayers feel we’re unaccountable, and are not investing your dollars appropriately, they’ll simply vote “no,” and the region loses.

According to a City Council member Kozachik, the County not only threatened to build something voters “did not approve – a County only facility,” but “they toss out the threat that they will make the surrounding landscape an eyesore if the City doesn’t concede to what they call the City’s “fair share.”

Related article:

Proud’s forensic audit bill signed by Governor

3 Comments

  1. and this is what we will continue to get until we are all smart enought to get rid of Huck! To do that we need to vote out the entire BOS!

  2. And on it goes. What in the heck is wrong with the voters of this city? Maybe we have too many imports from Chicago. It just keeps coming at the tax payers.

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