Good people; keep a tax - Tucson Local Media: Editorials

Good people; keep a tax

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Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2009 12:00 am

Last week, the Marana Chamber of Commerce conducted a forum for the community’s town council candidates. There are seven hopefuls — incumbents Carol McGorray, Patti Comerford, Herb Kai and Jon Post, and challengers Kelle Maslyn, Bret Summers and Larry Steckler. On March 10, several may be elected.

Group forums are always of value, though they’re not ideal for exploration of issues, perspectives and differences.

As an example, all of them want to develop Marana’s economy. But how? Further, how should Marana’s sometimes strained relationship with Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities move ahead? Growth can’t happen in a vacuum, candidates must recognize.

It was clear Thursday that Marana has some smart, dedicated people who want the thankless task of public service.

Kai and Post are borne of the land, deep-rooted people running agricultural businesses in their hometown. Comerford, a counselor at Marana High School who served on Marana’s planning and zoning commission, and McGorray, 32 years in the area, a member of the Marana Health Center board and an advisory board member for the community food bank, have long service, too.

A younger generation of potential leadership is represented by Maslyn, the past chamber director and a 10-year resident who gained some notoriety as the Comcast spokeswoman during the Super Bowl porn fiasco. She’s been on the planning commission. Summers, a young, retired police officer who was injured on the job, has “a strong ethics and integrity background.”

Steckler is chair of the parks and recreation commission with other community service and an understanding of business needs.

They all vow thoughtful, community-first, cooperative service, and they’ll give it.

“This is a very critical time for the town of Marana,” Steckler said, and it’s so true.

Nobody likes paying taxes. But 2009 doesn’t appear to be a good time for local governments to be cutting taxes, with borrowed federal “stimulus” funds about to flow, and traditional sources of local revenue crunched by a struggling economy.

Next week, the Oro Valley Town Council takes up a decision on renewal of the town’s optional 2 percent utility sales tax levied on consumed electricity from Tucson Electric Power, natural gas from Southwest Gas and drinking water from the town of Oro Valley, the city of Tucson and Metropolitan Water.

It’s a $1.5 million, general-fund revenue stream that OV needs as it confronts declining sales tax funds and state assistance. The town council should vote for its extension, we believe.

Oro Valley is one of the few Arizona communities — six among 90, when the tax was first imposed in 2006 — that did not have a utilities tax. Oro Valley doesn’t have utility franchise fees, either, with the exception of cable television. Some communities have both forms of taxation.

Council members are establishing their positions. First-termer Bill Garner, who campaigned with a position that he would not vote for the tax, says he won’t this time. And that’s fine; scrutiny of revenue generation and expenditure is always appropriate.

Oro Valley’s piece of sales tax revenue, estimated to be near $19 million for the current fiscal year, is now expected to be closer to $12.6 million. That’s a big decline, a real “plunge” in this time when the media consider small declines to be “plunges.” Utility tax or not, town government has a painful financial future. Lay-offs — the utility tax supports the equivalent of 18 municipal jobs — and less government service appear inevitable.

A 2 percent utility tax is not a lot of money per capita; less, certainly, than any property tax for operations would generate. While steadfast opposition to a property tax for town operations remains, and in this budget-squeezing time, Oro Valley should not take the utility tax out of the mix.

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