TUCSON — Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has proposed using the County’s general funds for arterial and collector roads in the unincorporated areas of Pima County as well as what he describes as “recreational gateway roads.” I fully support this proposal.
As if on cue, there was an immediate, predictable, and baseless outcry from Supervisors Sharon Bronson, Richard Elias and others that it would be unfair to the taxpayers who live in the incorporated cities and towns within Pima County as they pay property taxes too.
Since these individuals want to go down the “fairness” road, let’s explore where the true inequities are. Contrary to their claims, the residents in unincorporated Pima County have long suffered from the inequities created by years of county leaders pandering to their largest voting blocks.
Incorporated cities and towns within Pima County are: Oro Valley, Marana, City of Tucson, City of South Tucson and Sahuarita. If you don’t live within a city or town, you live in unincorporated Pima county.
County leaders have made the argument that because residents within incorporated areas rarely use the roads in the unincorporated areas, they shouldn’t be stuck with the bill to repair them. While it is true that some residents only travel back and forth on roads within the various jurisdictions, the vast majority of residents utilize roads across all jurisdictions.
Claims of unequal treatment for the taxpayers living within incorporated cities and towns could not be further from the truth. Quite the contrary! It is those living within unincorporated Pima County who have been treated unfairly for years.
For example, the 1997 Highway User Revenue Fund bonds are paid back with HURF monies that are intended for unincorporated roads. One example of the unfairness is the current Broadway widening within the city of Tucson.
Pima County has allocated 1997 HURF bonds to pay for that widening. The only jurisdiction paying for the 1997 HURF bonds is Unincorporated Pima. How is this fair?
It is time to request an audit of where those monies were spent as they are paid for by unincorporated Pima County residents to see how much has been spent in incorporated areas. Most may not be aware that the HURF bonds are paid back with unincorporated Pima County HURF distributions.
We need to understand that each incorporated jurisdiction within Pima County as well as Pima County itself receive distributions from the state of Arizona from HURF, otherwise known as the gas tax, and VLT (Vehicle License Tax).
In Fiscal year 2018 the distribution back to each of the jurisdictions is as follows with a grand total of $168 million of HURF distributions in one year. Hence the reason I don’t support a gas tax increase. There is plenty of money for roads if it is spent as intended.
|Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF) Vehicle License Tax (VLT) Revenues 7/1/2017 – 6/30/2018|
As you can see, unincorporated Pima County received over $90 million.
Pima County is responsible for the maintenance of the roads within unincorporated areas only. As you can see from the distribution of $90 million in FY2018, these monies haven’t been getting to the roads.
To further illustrate the inequity , the bulk of the HURF/VLT funds for the unincorporated Pima County roads have been used to subsidize salaries and overhead for the Department of Transportation instead of being utilized for desperately needed road repairs.
The salaries and overhead for the Department of Transportation should be funded from the general fund….not from HURF/VLT distributions.
The bloated Department of Transportation budget for salaries and overhead grew to $43 million in recent years and roads were getting little, if any, maintenance beyond pothole fills and sealing. The headcount approved in the last fiscal year included 286 employees.
It is important to understand that pavement preservation is outsourced to private contractors. This has been the root cause of the problem in Pima County — funding a department to the point there is no money left to do the road maintenance. Does this make sense to you? Where is the equity in this formula?
Moreover, the county administrator has been keeping a distribution of VLT which is approximately $29 million per year for general fund use instead of using those monies to maintain the roads. Just because these monies can be used for other expenses …doesn’t mean they should be used for that. For too long our road repair distributions for gas tax and vehicle license tax have been utilized for everything but the roads.
Last month, Pima County imposed a reduction in the workforce of 36 employees along with another 36 open positions that were funded within the Department of Transportation. As a result of these reductions there will be $15 million of pavement preservation funding available. This alone illustrates the need for a smaller Department of Transportation and why the pavement preservation work has been neglected for years.
It is the taxpayers of unincorporated Pima County who have been treated unfairly because county leaders have funded a department with road repair monies that should have been funded from the general fund each and every year. It is the taxpayers of unincorporated Pima County who have been subsidizing roads in other jurisdictions via the annual $18 million bond payments.
The only roads the Pima County supervisors are responsible for are the roads in unincorporated areas. It is time to be fair to the taxpayers from the much neglected unincorporated areas and it is time to make the roads the number one priority. It is the only fair thing to do!