Pros and cons of Pima bond proposals outlined at COC

Sophia and Damion Alexander

Helping voters make sense of the 2015 Pima County bond election was the focus of a presentation jointly sponsored by Congregation Or Chadash’s social action committee and the Pima County Interfaith Council on Oct. 1.

Cycling advocate and realtor Damion Alexander and his daughter, Sophia, a freshman at Catalina Foothills High School, presented the benefits of investing in the future of Pima County and pointed out the salient points of the seven bond proposals, which total $815,760,000 to support 99 projects. (Alexander is a member of the AJP advisory board.)

They described Pima County’s track record with past bonds, citing an audit conducted by the Arizona Auditor General that found that proceeds from previous county bonds had been fairly used for their authorized purposes. Alexander also pointed out that Fitch Ratings (fitchratings.com) gave Pima County an AA- investment rating with a stable outlook.

Sophia stated that Pima County’s population is expected to grow by 11 percent over the next decade, bringing in more than 100,000 new residents. She equated that to “more than two Oro Valleys or almost four Sahuaritas …. If we put off making these investments now, essential infrastructure, such as roads, will continue to decay and it will cost more to address later.”

“Voter approval of the bond package will create thousands of new construction jobs, even more when combined with the private sector investment,” Alexander said. “Additionally, there will be significant economic benefits across other sectors throughout the county.”

Harpo Jaeger, a community organizer-in-training with PCIC, with a focus on outreach to the Jewish community, equated the bonds to a 12-year mortgage. He said that investors loan the county the money and the county pays them back with property taxes. Jaeger said that for the owner of an average home, valued at $152,511, property taxes would increase by $17.54 a year if all seven bonds are approved.

Providing a counterpoint of arguments against the bonds, Or Chadash Social Action Chair Sherrie Kay cited Taxpayers Against Pima Bonds’ estimate that the financial burden will be closer to $1.6 billion because of varying interest rates, maintenance costs and inflation. She said that Pima County already has the highest property tax rate in the state, and that rates have risen 21 percent over the last three years. “Should the county maintain its current projects, rather than borrow more money to begin new ones?” she asked. “Will incurring the bond debt change Pima County’s AA- bond rating?” Kay also noted additional questions regarding the wisdom of the county taking on new debt at this time. “There is concern … that the timing of the issuance of the bonds, considering the county is facing a deficit and has already raised property taxes, should be delayed.”

The seven bond propositions on the ballot for Nov. 3 (or until Oct. 30 for early voting) include:

Proposition 425: $200 million for road and highway improvements (three projects).

Proposition 426: $91.4 million for economic development, libraries and workforce training (13 projects).

Proposition 427: $98.6 million for tourism-related projects (11 projects).

Proposition 428: $191.5 million for parks and recreational facilities (49 projects).

Proposition 429: $105.3 million for public health and welfare, safety, neighborhoods and housing (10 projects).

Proposition 430: $112 million for natural area conservation and historic preservation (eight projects).

Proposition 431: $16.9 million for flood control and drainage (five projects).

For more details about the bond-funded projects — including debt service, implementation and an interactive project map — visit pima.gov/bonds2015. For more information about the Pima County Interfaith Council, contact Jaeger at harpo.jaeger+pcic@gmail.com or visit pimacountyinterfaith.org.

Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is a feature writer and editor living in Tucson. She can be reached at nancy_ozeri@yahoo.com.