Over the past few months, the debates between candidates for public office have often been about what the county has or hasn’t done for the residents and taxpayers of Pima County over the past two decades.
Government is rarely big change all at once; it’s incremental. To draw an analogy from the recent glorious baseball postseason, successful government is more about hitting a lot of singles and doubles rather than one or two grand slams. As a result, over time, it’s easy to forget how things used to be and recognize how they’ve changed for the better.
Twenty years ago, the county faced a number of issues and challenges. The homicide rate was twice what it is today, violent crime was almost 50 percent higher than today, and juvenile crime was at its peak. This strained justice and law enforcement operations, facilities and budgets.
Traffic congestion was a pressing concern as many of our roads exceeded capacity.
The federal government’s listing of the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl as an endangered species brought chaos and uncertainty to private and public development projects in the Northwest.
The county’s wastewater system was straining under the weight of rapid growth and changes in federal water quality rules had the county potentially facing a federal takeover of the wastewater system.
To address these issues and many others, we asked the public for a major investment in their community. Bond elections in 1997, 2004, 2006 and 2014 passed overwhelmingly, providing nearly $1.5 billion to fund needed changes and improvements. This funding has so far resulted in over 700 completed bond projects been spread out over decades with some still ongoing.
We didn’t, and couldn’t, spend this money all at once. We sold bonds and completed projects year-by-year to keep the tax rate as low as possible. For newcomers or those with short memories, the successes we’ve achieved over the past two decades might be news to them, but there is no arguing that these are major accomplishments and it’s misleading and inaccurate to claim Pima County government has failed its constituents. We are by far better off in 2016 than we were in 1996 thanks to wise and measured county leadership and the willingness of county voters to invest in themselves and their community.
The list of successes over the past is much too long for this column, but here are a few of the most significant county successes in the past 20 years:
Between 1996 and 2016, Pima County’s property tax rate stayed the same 10 times, increased seven times and decreased five times. Over this 20-year period, the tax rate increased 14 percent – or 73 cents – from $5.10 to $5.83, an increase of less than 1 percent per year.
Completed a massive, regulatory-driven upgrade and expansion of the County’s major wastewater reclamation facilities (the largest public works project in the county’s history, completed early and $100 million under budget), resulting in effluent of near drinking water quality, expanding reclaimed water opportunities, improving groundwater infiltration rates, and supporting a healthier Lower Santa Cruz River with more diverse aquatic wildlife.
Completed a multiple phase 20-year flood control project along six miles of the Arroyo Chico Wash in central Tucson, which removed over 1,300 residences from the floodplain and included environmental restoration and recreational benefits.
Built more than 50 segments of roadway totaling 230 lane miles and completed more than 70 roadway safety projects with voter-approved bond funds that leveraged substantial other funding. Among the widened roads are Thornydale, River, La Cañada, Valencia, and Houghton.
health and community
Successfully transitioned Pima County’s Kino Hospital to a full-service hospital and medical center now managed by Banner Health, a private nonprofit corporation, providing medical care to a portion of the community previously underserved.
Built a new Crisis Response Center and Behavioral Health Pavilion with voter-approved County bonds; now serving approximately 15,000 people per month, reducing pressure on crowded emergency rooms and reducing the drop-off time for law enforcement officers to less than 10 minutes per case.
Created a single, regional library system by transferring library operations from the City of Tucson and Oro Valley to Pima County and increased the number of library branches and expanded others with voter-approved County bonds and Library District funding.
Undertook operational changes at the Pima Animal Care Center that substantially decreased the euthanasia rate and increased adoptions and rescues, and won voter approval for a new facility that is currently under construction.
Completed almost 130 miles of The Loop, a paved, multiuse trail looping Tucson and connecting our suburban communities. The Loop is by far the most popular recreational amenity in the entire county.
Expanded recreational facilities across the region, including 47 new sports fields, the lighting of 52 sports fields, six new pools, 13 new community centers, 15 new basketball courts, the acquisition of almost 500 acres for future parks and community facilities development, and increased recreational access to mountain parks via 10 new trailheads and over 100 miles of new trails.
Crime and Justice
Reduced the number of juveniles detained by 80 percent and constructed new Juvenile Court Detention and Administration facilities with voter-approved bonds.
Constructed a new Adult Detention Facility, expanded Superior Court by 11 courtrooms, and constructed a new Public Service Center, providing all Justice Court functions at a single location for the first time in 18 years, with voter-approved bonds and other funding.
Completed and began implementing the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, the Maeveen Marie Behan Conservation Lands System and the Multi-Species Conservation Plan, protecting natural and cultural resources, expanding recreational opportunities and providing certainty to private and public developers.