No way. No how. No park. At least that’s what Chet Oldakowski says.
The Oro Valley retiree, with the help of fellow resident Ron Wiener, recently formed a political action committee to oppose an upcoming bond election.
The PAC — Stop Naranja Park Property Tax — reflects a long-standing anti-tax sentiment in the community.
In March, the Oro Valley Town Council voted to put funding and construction of a park on November ballots.
The cost to taxpayers for the proposed park at the Naranja Town Site, Naranja Drive between First Avenue and La Cañada Drive, stands at more than $48 million.
For Oldakowski, that’s simply too high a price to pay.
“That’s a lot of money to put out there at this point in time,” Oldakowski said. “Can the town really support the costs?”
If the bond passes, it would mark the first town-wide property tax in Oro Valley’s short history.
As a secondary tax, collections would expire once the debt gets paid.
As proposed, the bond would last 25 years. With an interest rate estimated at 5 percent, the town would pay about $3.5 million per year over the course of the bond.
According to town figures, the total payoff amount would stand at nearly $86 million after 25 years.
That doesn’t include an estimated $2.5 million per year in operation costs.
Officials plan to pay those costs using a portion of the lodging taxes charged for room rentals at area hotels.
While Oldakowski recognizes the importance of parks to the town’s growing younger population, he worries about the added burden in troubled financial times.
Most analysts agree that our economy has seen better days. The hard times have hit Arizona with particular ferocity because much of the financial system here hinges on building houses.
Statewide, one in 182 households fell into foreclosure in the month of August, according to RealtyTrac, a Web site that tracks housing industry statistics.
With one in 385 houses in foreclosure, Pima County fared better than our northern neighbors in Pinal and Maricopa counties, where foreclosure topped 1 in 131 and 1 in 134, respectively.
Added to that, Oldakowski questioned the estimated tax rates associated with the park.
Figures on a town Web site dedicated to the park issue show an estimated $11 per month tax toll for homes worth $300,000.
“There should be some real numbers (on the town Web site),” Oldakowski said. “Twelve dollars sounds like an awfully low number.”
Dick Johnson agrees. He helped form a PAC intent on getting the bond issue passed.
At 52 cents per $100 of assessed value, the estimated tax rate looks to Johnson like a small price to pay. He anticipates the rate declining, too, as the town grows.
“As commercial properties come on, we’ll see a rollback on that rate,” Johnson said.
Town financial officials seem to agree. According to estimates on the town Web site, the tax rate would start in fiscal 2010 at 52 cents and drop annually.
By fiscal 2033, the last year of the bond, property owners would pay an estimated 27 cents per $100.
According to Johnson, communities have just as much obligation to fund parks as they do roads. And the burden to pay for such things falls upon all members of the community, not just those who benefit from them, Johnson said.
“That’s not the way we do things in America,” Johnson said. “It’s not just about me, it’s about the community.”
But Oldakowski said the town already has parks, and besides, the proposed park simply costs too much.
“I think this might be somewhat overkill,” Oldakowski said.
If the existing parks aren’t enough to support league sports, he suggested having area schools donate use of their facilities.
“There’s a lot of grass that’s not being utilized in the off hours,” Oldakowski said.
Johnson, however, pointed out that many teams already use schoolyards for practices and games.
A local Web blog dedicated to Oro Valley politics also has vehemently opposed the park and accompanying property tax.
The blog’s authors also questioned the estimated cost to property owners and cast doubt on the town’s neutrality on the bond proposal.
State law forbids municipal employees from using public funds to influence a bond vote.
But Johnson said that the groups opposed to the park, and others who share the point of view, have routinely opposed any efforts to grow and make the community better.
“You’ve got to wonder,” Johnson said, “do they like anything in this town?”