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Citizen committee to recommend use of nearly $20M in new county spending

The Town of Oro Valley could receive roughly $1.4 million in additional funds for its roadway system next calendar year, and staff recently laid out plans to a county advisory committee on how those funds could be spent.

Oro Valley made its presentation to the Pima County Transportation Advisory Committee, a group of community members established by the Board of Supervisors to research and ultimately make recommendations on how the revenue from a new 25-cent Pima County property tax should be spent over its five-year life. The revenue can only be spent on residential streets. The committee is comprised of two representatives nominated by each of the board’s five district supervisors and three nominated by County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry. 

Of the funding allocated to District 1, which includes the Catalina Foothills, Oro Valley and Marana, Oro Valley will receive at least $650,000 and could be eligible for as much as an additional $784,000.

With an inventory of more than 400 lane-miles of asphalt only set to grow, the town has for the past decade implemented a Pavement Preservation Program to track and maintain its roadways, and delivers a yearly update (the first of the five-year plan) to town council every year for approval. When presented with a possible $1.4 million infusion into the preservation plan in the coming months, town engineer and public works director Paul Keesler said the town would not make any changes to its own program. Funds received would be used on projects identified in the roughly $1.5 million already allocated by town council in the yearly budget to roadways in the current fiscal year. The county tax revenue is limited in scope to residential streets, and the town’s preservation plan accounts for all roads. Keesler was asked at the advisory committee meeting on Aug. 14 about how the property tax would affect the town’s program, and said Oro Valley would continue “moving forward,” with or without the additional money. Keesler added that the funding allocated by council will remain for Capital Improvement Projects.

Within the list presented to the advisory committee by Keesler and engineering division manager Jose Rodriguez are stress-absorbing membrane treatments (used to fill cracks) for the Catalina Shadows, Catalina Shadows Estates, Fairhaven Village Rancho Vistoso, Rancho Feliz, Shadow Mountain Estates (and East) and Sunnyslope subdivisions. Scheduled streets for the treatment include Calle Concordia, Cool Drive and Palisades South. The town also presented a list of subdivisions and streets approved for crack seal, including parts of Rancho Vistoso, Catalina Shadows, Lambert Acres, Rivers Edge, Arrowsmith Drive and more.

In total, Oro Valley presented $1.4 million worth of work.

While speaking with Tucson Local Media about the town’s roadway system as a whole, Keesler and Rodriguez both emphasized that when compared to the rest of the county, Oro Valley’s roads never dipped below “fair.” County documents and some news reports had erroneously shown the town to contain more than 10 percent “poor” roads in earlier weeks.

Keesler said that the town’s “constant investment” into the roads has allowed the town to become the example of pavement preservation in the Greater Tucson Metro region.

“Roads are a living organism, not breathing of course, but they do have a lifecycle to them, and you have to take care of them,” Keesler said. “The best analogy you can look at is the skin on the back of your hand. When it gets dry and cracked, you put some lotion on it. When our roads start to dry out as the sun oxidizes it, we have to put more oil back into the streets… You can make a street last forever if you treat it properly.”

Rodriguez told the county advisory committee that the town remains vigilant with its roads because it’s significantly less expensive to fix small problems before they become larger ones.

“If you don’t perform any time of maintenance, it will deteriorate very rapidly—at about 75 percent of its lifespan,” he said. “After about 15 years, the road is pretty much dead, there is no way of getting it back to fair or good. You’re in reconstruction mode here.”

 “What else can I do?”

While Keesler and Rodriguez were proud to speak on the condition of Oro Valley’s roads, not everyone living in Pima County District 1 could say the same thing—a point made clear the night of Thursday, Aug. 24, at the Nanini Library. 

Gathered by the dozens were residents of unincorporated Pima County living in the district, some of whom said they had not seen road work performed on their local streets in decades.

All had arrived to lend their voice to the process as part of an open house headed by Chris DeSimone and Reggie Drout, District 1 Supervisor Ally Miller’s appointees to the advisory Committee. The meeting allowed for DeSimone and Drout to inform residents about the property tax, the advisory committee and how their neighborhood streets could be affected.

“We’re managing expectations, is what we’re doing,” said DeSimone, a local radio host. “I keep saying on the show, and I keep saying other things: a lot of bread, not a lot of butter. That’s going to be the overriding theme in all of this.”

After explaining the committee’s first two meetings, and what’s to come in the future, Drout and DeSimone opened the floor to the attendees, many of whom used the opportunity to voice their opinion on their local streets.

Of the nearly 450 local road miles in District 1, more than 260 miles are rated as “poor” and more than 75 other miles of road are listed as “failed,” according to advisory committee documents. Countywide, District 1 accounts for roughly 43 percent of all poor or failed roadways.

The portion of the accelerated funds allocated to all of unincorporated Pima County is roughly $8 million, and both Drout and DeSimone expressed an interest in allocating a higher percentage of the accelerated tax revenue to District 1.

“I think that a one-size-fits-all approach may not be the best way to talk about this,” Drout said, who added that the total number miles repaired every year throughout the county will depend on the committee’s outlook: repair worse roads or maintain better ones.

In addition to answering questions from the public, DeSimone expressed doubt that District 1 would receive its “fair share” of the tax revenue, and pointed the finger at Pima County’s three Democratic supervisors and Huckelberry.

“If there is a guy whose baby it is, your crappy road, it’s the county administrator; it’s bad decisions, mismanagement,” he said. “In the end, what do you have to do in addition to what I just said? Vote. You have to change the board of supervisors. So, in 2020, they’re all up one more time. Whoever runs against one of these people, write them a check, go knock on a door for them. 

Sharon Bronson has been there for more than 20 years, this is her baby, too. Your pipes coming out of your ground? That’s a Sharon and Chuck baby right there. It’s their decisions, their votes—this is where we’re at.”

The Pima County Transportation Advisory Committee will hold its next meeting from noon until 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 12, at the Abrams Public Health Center, 3950 S. Country Club Road. District 1 will hold its next open house from 6 until 8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7, at the Oro Valley Public Library, 1305 W. Naranja Drive.

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