As the 2020 legislative session looms ahead, the elected bodies of Marana and Oro Valley are planning their wishlists before state lawmakers reconvene at the capital on Jan. 13, 2020.
Marana Mayor Ed Honea and councilmembers Jon Post, Herb Kai and John Officer held a meeting at their headquarters with invited guests from the legislature last Tuesday, Dec. 3.
State Reps. Mark Finchem and Bret Roberts as well as Sen. Vince Leach were in attendance. All three of them are Republicans who represent Legislative District 11, which encompasses Marana, Oro Valley, Casa Grande and the City of Maricopa.
From the beginning, Finchem said the two biggest priorities of legislators entering this session will be rural broadband connectivity and education funding. He spoke positively of the millions of dollars that were allocated toward rural Arizona as part of last year’s state budget. Honea and the councilmembers hope to benefit from some of those funds.
According to the State Demographer’s Office, Marana stretches more than 127 acres and has an official population of 49,323 as of July 1. Town staff have predicted there will be more than 50,000 residents by 2020. At last week’s council meeting, Honea said the town has already surpassed 50,000 people, because 365 single-family residential homes have been sold since July.
“We should easily make 50,000 by April, which is really important to us because we’ll be able to get our own CDBG [federal Community Development Block Grants] directly, once we reach that 50,000 threshold, which could be worth another $300,000 a year for our community,” Honea said.
At the legislative meeting, town manager Jamsheed Mehta said Marana is experiencing growth in their northern, eastern and southern regions, primarily in the Dove Mountain, Twin Peaks and Continental Reserve residential communities.
He reported 26,000 planned single-family residences in North Marana and another 22,000 in Dove Mountain. Mehta informed the legislators that Marana has 22 percent of the region’s new residential market. By comparison, Tucson has 26 percent and Oro Valley has 6 percent.
The Marana council is currently considering a new half-cent sales tax, to generate revenue for big infrastructure projects associated with growth, including the final phase of the Tangerine/Interstate 10 Interchange project as well as the Northwest Recharge, Recovery and Delivery System, Barnett Channel and the two water treatment campuses currently being constructed.
However, Honea told the legislators he was hesitant to pass a new sales tax increase, because Pima County supervisors are considering passing one of their own. This would bring the total combined tax rate up to over 9 percent.
Leach said the education community in Arizona is also pursuing a sales tax increase to help fund budget shortages that have been a reality since the recession began in 2008.
“The education community is looking at a $1.5 billion tax increase that will come from increased sales tax, property tax and income tax,” Leach said. “A tax increase of that size on top of what the mayor’s already talking about… it just becomes too expensive to build here.”
Discussing transportation, Honea told the legislators the first phase of the Tangerine Road project and the Ina/Interstate 10 Interchange project were two large regional undertakings that Marana contributed to with road beautification such as sidewalks, streetlights and more. He said these are projects that benefit many more than just Marana’s residents.
“They may be in Marana, but they serve the entire region, maybe even more people than ours, population-wise,” Honea said. “The first phase of Tangerine serves Oro Valley even better than us.”
The mayor mentioned the need to find funding for the remaining stretch of Tangerine Road, near the interstate, saying that this project is important not only to Marana, but to Oro Valley and all of Northwest Tucson.
“The funding isn’t there to complete all the remaining projects, there’s always going to be a shortfall because we had that recession and we’ve never had an opportunity to recover that,” said Mehta. “That will be a significant improvement to our area. We have plans for water and sewer to light up this region.”
This upcoming year, Governor Doug Ducey plans to spend $95 million on rural communities in one-time allocations for transportation projects. Honea asked the legislators if Marana could have a piece of that pie.
“If we could get part of that money that the governor is talking about for rural transportation outside of ADOT... that could more or less assure us that [the Tangerine project] would happen,” Honea told the legislators.
Leach and Roberts said many municipalities will compete for the governor’s money for rural communities.
Leach said he has received “a lot of chatter” about fixing Oracle Road. That project is currently funded and approved by the Regional Transportation Authority, after Oro Valley’s staff and stakeholders lobbied for its inclusion in the five-year project plan.
“I want to put that one-time money that we have, that the taxpayers have put in, I want to put it on something that really benefits the economy of the state, not somebody’s wish or hope,” Leach said.
Roberts encouraged the Marana councilmembers to push for their request. “By all means, go for it,” Roberts said. “We represent you guys, too, and we’re willing to put in whatever ask we can, just pointing out to you that there’s a lot of competition.”
Leach commended the Marana council on their “due diligence” with the sales tax rate, taking into consideration how much Marana’s residents can and should have to pay in total taxes.
“It’s not any secret that Arizona is booming because of our generally low tax rates,” he said. “We all know we can’t make a living off rooftops. They suck more money than they put back into the tax base. You have to have industry.”
Leach sees meetings like these with councils in his district are a way to have friendly discussions where decisions aren’t being made, but issues can be hashed out. He said it allows legislators to build relationships and take their concerns to their jobs at the capital.
He and Honea both said that since they work for the state and Marana, respectively, they’re always going to have disagreements on certain topics.
“A lot of it is just general rapport that we have with our legislators,” Honea said. “It’s to maintain that rapport so that if something comes up at the legislature that I or one of the council members feel would really hurt our community, I can call him and I can say ‘Hey Vince, if you pass that bill it could cost my town a million dollars or really hurt us.’”
He said that while he has personal meetings with legislators from time to time, these formal meetings happen once a year for the past three years.
At their Dec. 4 regular meeting, the Oro Valley town council voted unanimously to adopt their legislative agenda, which identifies the mayor, Joe Winfield, as the main point of contact to both legislators and the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, which is an organization that creates a “strength-in-numbers” approach lobby on behalf of the state’s 91 local jurisdictions.
The Oro Valley Council passed a resolution to schedule meetings with congressional, state, county and other local officials to promote Oro Valley’s legislative program and “continue efforts to improve communications and relationships with the Pima County Board of Supervisors and cities around the state to further our interests in land use, water, transportation, economic development, and public services to our residents.”