By Steve Christy
What has come to feel like a neverending journey (or battle) towards just fixing our roads has taken on a new posture recently, as we go through the annual Pima County budget process. Emerging evidence shows that funding sources, criteria, priorities, and procedures seem to be headed in a different direction.
One of the largest-ever combined amounts, approximately $25 million, has been earmarked for county road repair efforts. This amount represents a blending of growth in the Highway User Revenue Fund and Transportation Vehicle License Tax collections, lowered debt service costs, and savings from headcount reductions in the county’s transportation department. Added as well are amounts from remaining funds in previously approved road repair programs.
What reflects the different direction is that $5 million within this sum is allocated tentatively from the county’s general fund – its “household” account. This all adds up to a significant departure from past funding (or lack of funding) procedures utilized by the county.
This means that there is no current contemplation of road repair funding through various new taxes or bonding. In fact, word has it that there may be more general fund allocation than just the $5 million now being suggested. This good news is being celebrated by a variety of folks close to this process, including yours truly. Now we are witnessing the beginnings of accumulating some serious road repair money, though still far short of what is needed.
Yet, a nagging issue still remains in my mind: trust. A reason for failures of past county bond and taxing initiatives for road repair and other projects was, to be sure, the fact that voters did not want to pay more in taxes. However, the overarching reason, the one that I heard repeated many times by county leaders and taxpayers alike (again, including yours truly), was that in a nutshell, taxpayers and voters didn’t trust Pima County with their money. People had no trust that Pima County would actually use monies promised for specifically identified purposes, particularly for road repair. Residents and various officials all feared that those road repair revenues would be diverted to some other “favorite” or “special” project, other than to just fixing our roads. Now, just because significant funds are being accumulated in this current manner, the trust issue has gone away? The same county is still in charge of gathering and dispersing these funds. I’m just saying. This is why I’ve always believed that the best countywide road repair plan should be led and administered by the Regional Transportation Authority, with that agency in charge.
In any event, with this new funding approach for road repair blossoming, I am most willing to pledge to work with my colleagues on the board, county administrators, and various regional committees in combined, new, and improved efforts to just fix our roads.
And it must be pointed out, there are significant signs and indications that numerous county departments, administrators, and their respective staffs are taking a more proactive and “customer oriented” (think “taxpayer-oriented”) focus and approach. Deputy County Administrator Carmine DeBonis and those who work directly with him come to mind. They have been most responsive and thorough in their concerted efforts in trying to solve individual issues voices by our District 4 constituents. Deputy Administrator DeBonis additionally directed his staff to engage directly with our district’s communities, particularly in Vail and Corona de Tucson, through the Southeast Regional Council. The results have been overwhelmingly positive and constructive.
Yes, this new process of road repair funding and the efforts of many county administrators and their staffs deserves a chance. Just fixing our roads will be a perfect opportunity to see if it is a chance well taken.