In 2015, two thirds of Pima County voters rejected a bond proposal that included $25 million of renovations to Item 21 of Proposition 27: Old Pima County Courthouse Restoration, January 8th memorial, Tucson Museum of Art. Last week, Supervisors Bronson, Elias and Valadez, once again ignored the will of the voters and approved yet another contract for that project, bringing the total budget to approximately $35 million.
For a full list of 2015 bond projects that were all rejected by the voters of Pima County, click here: 2015 bond projects.
The budget for the January 8th Memorial portion of the project is now set at $2.5 million plus expenses. The Board majority has agreed to pay for construction, management, and the excavation and cataloging of artifacts in front of the courthouse where the Memorial will be placed. Final costs for that portion of the project are ongoing and indeterminable until final construction is complete. These costs are being accumulated under other contracts already issued for the courthouse project, which makes it difficult to segregate costs being paid by county taxpayers being incurred specifically for the January 8th Memorial project.
In a memorandum to the supervisors, (Read CHH memo) Huckelberry expressed the urgency to fast track this project for a January 1st, 2020 completion. What exactly is the urgency? Many have questioned whether the location will be used as a political platform for U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kelly.
After the vote, I heard from outraged constituents, who voiced the same concerns as I have for years. Voters in Pima County are asking why they bother to vote on these bonds if the Board of Supervisors and Huckelberry can simply ignore the will of the voters and move forward with projects using general fund monies as well as using taxpayer owned buildings as collateral on a type of financing known as Certificates of Participation (COPS).
In 2017, after the 2015 bond election had failed, a bill, HB2436 (Read bill overview here) was introduced at the Arizona Legislature at the behest of local supporters of the January 8th Memorial seeking state taxpayer funding for the project. The bill failed when the unpopular bill was held form a hearing in the Arizona Senate.
The January 8th Memorial Foundation financials demonstrate they haven’t had strong community support in raising the $2,500,000 to fund the memorial. Yet in a memo dated February 28, 2019, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry advised supervisors that the January 8th Memorial Foundation’s Board members and President “indicate they are able to raise additional funds to meet the construction cost low bid and, in addition, may make some minor modifications to the cost elements of the Memorial through value engineering.”
In a response from former congressman Ron Barber (Read letter here), who is the president of the January 8th Memorial Foundation he wrote the following on February 28th, 2019:
“…. Now that the bids are in hand and the low bidder has been identified, we want to let you know what the Foundation will do to help address the higher construction costs that are contained in that bid.
Our community is currently experiencing a construction boom, which has resulted in bids that came in higher than the funds we raised and subsequently transferred to the County. In anticipation that the bids might come in high, the Foundation Board of Directors has discussed how we could address that problem should it arise.
Following the close of our fundraising campaign, we have received unsolicited donations. These funds and money we have set aside for the operation of the Foundation, amount to $200,000. We will transfer these funds to the County to help cover the base construction bid, which came in higher than the budget estimate.
In response to your request that we confirm that we will receive additional donations to make up any difference between the construction cost estimate and the low bid before the end of the Memorial’s construction, we are contacting donors to ask for contributions to the Foundation. We have received a very positive response so far and have more donors to contact. We fully intend to raise the additional money needed to cover the higher bid costs and we will get this done before the end of the Memorial construction….”
We hear a lot of lip service from Huckelberry and my fellow supervisors about equity. I continue to ask the same question: What is fair and equitable about taking money from our cash strapped residents for the benefit of the special interests?
In other words, once again Pima County taxpayers are lending private entities money while our residents continue to live in a community where the roads are crumbling all around them.
At the same time, the majority of the Board of Supervisors continues funding a lobbyist at the state legislature who is advocating to raise taxes on the residents of the 5th poorest metropolitan area in the country.
Once again, the taxpayers of this community who so desperately want the roads repaired are being told they need to go to the back of the line. It seems there is always another crony deal that is more important to the special interests than the will of the people of Pima County.
At what point will fixing the roads move to the front of the line? At what point will taxpayers send a message that enough is enough?