Last week, the Tucson Local Media editorial staff took a look back at the biggest stories of 2018, including the midterm elections, major development projects and the deaths of notable community figures such as Marana Councilwoman Carol McGorray.
This week, most of our reporting team—Kathleen Kunz, Jeff Gardner and myself—pulled out the proverbial crystal ball to look ahead at what the big headlines of 2019 are likely to be. You can count on Tucson Local Media to let you know about these—and many other—stories in the year to come.
Voters ushered in a new era for the Oro Valley Town Council last August, though little has changed since the four new members of council swore their oaths of office in November. More a function of the rookie members becoming acclimated to their new positions on the dais than a lack of urgency in their agendas, Oro Valley’s legislative body is likely to have a lot to work on this year to fulfill promises made to hopeful voters.
While the 2018 campaigns focused on a variety of sticking points, few received as much attention as the town-owned community center located off North La Cañada Drive, its associated golf courses and the facilities’ overall financial situation.
The Town Council received its most recent financial update Dec. 5, at which time town CFO Stacey Lemos synopsized the municipality’s fiscal health through last October. The fiscal year begins July 1.
According to Lemos, each of the town’s various funds—including the Community Center—are performing “on track” when compared to the budget, with no anomalies to report.
According to town records, the Community Center Fund has operated at a $389,000 deficit through the first four months of the fiscal year. Troon, the firm contracted to manage golf and food and beverage operations at the community center, generated nearly $832,000 in revenue through October. (Troon previously handled tennis, though the town took over operations in September.) Over the same period of time, contracted expenditures came in just over $1.8 million. On the town side of operations, which includes the fitness and swim programs, $291,000 in revenue was generated against $275,000 in expenditures.
The fund counts all expenditures against all revenues, so those numbers include more than $715,000 in local sales tax collected through October, which are allocated to subsidize operations at the community center and fund capital outlay. By year-end, the fund is estimated to close with a $115,000 surplus. The fund began the year with a negative balance of $71,500—and as of October sat at a negative balance of roughly $460,000.
Mayor Joe Winfield and councilmembers Melanie Barrett, Joyce Jones-Ivey and Josh Nicolson each campaigned last year on a platform determined to decrease the amount of sales tax revenue needed as subsidy at the community center.
The new council’s distaste for the fund came to light for the first time on the dais during the Dec. 5 meeting when Jones-Ivey stated she could not “in good conscience vote on a continued deficit” for the community center.
Though Jones-Ivey called for a plan to mitigate losses, Lemos told the council the operations at the community center are “very cyclical,” and that the town expected an operational deficit at the facility for the first few months of the fiscal year due to low golf turnout during the summer months and the higher cost of water in the heat.
“We typically see a deficit up through about the December time frame,” Lemos said to council Dec. 5. “Then, once the turn of the new year happens with the return of the peak season, assuming that weather holds out and it’s good conditions for golf, we typically see those numbers start to turn around the second half of the fiscal year.”
Speaking with Tucson Local Media at the end of the year, Town Manager Mary Jacobs said the council has scheduled its first study session for Monday, Jan. 28. At that meeting, Jacob said she hopes to re-introduce the financial situation in its entirety to the council in order to start a dialogue and figure out the town’s priorities for the future.
As for the town’s relationship with Troon, Jacobs extended the contract by six months in September as part of a negotiation through which the town took over responsibility for tennis operations. At the end of that extension, Jacobs said the town will proceed with a public request for proposals to potentially find a new operator.
Other work at the community center includes the recently completed energy audit overhaul, performed by Trane and designed to lessen the utility load at the center and improve operating conditions. The Community Center Fund began paying debt service toward that project starting in July, and is expected to begin seeing the benefits of the overhaul this year.
While the community center has been the center of much controversy in recent years, the council is also facing a controversial decision regarding the potential annexation of two parcels of undeveloped Arizona State Trust Land totaling 885 acres situated along the west side of North Shannon Road, on either side of West Tangerine Road.
Town staff received pushback from nearby residents over the course of a series of public open houses, the final of which was held Dec. 11.
As previously reported by Tucson Local Media, a proposal for the two parcels put forth by the Arizona State Land Department calls for differently zoned sections of land to be developed depending on the economic needs of the time.
While the community has much to say over the prospect of Oro Valley annexing and rezoning the land, the new council has yet to discuss the topic. That will change Wednesday, Jan. 16, when the annexation process will be presented at a study session.
Staff will provide council with a summary of all of the comments they’ve received from the public, along with details about preliminary conversations with the State Land Department, according to Jacobs. The town manager said her goal is to receive crucial feedback from council before she and other staff return to the discussion table. With council’s guidance, Jacobs said she will inform state officials so that changes can be made to the proposal.
“What different about this process than a standard annexation is that we are basically going through the entitlement process before they’re deciding whether or not they’re going to annex,” Jacobs said. “So it’s not as much about should we annex or should we not, but what it is going to look like. That’s where the conversation is.”
To forecast the potential long-term impact of annexing the land, the town has contracted an outside firm to complete a fiscal impact analysis. The report is expected in the next six to eight weeks (to be adjusted for any changes from the State Land Department).
“What we need to know is will this development cost the residents money in general, or will it sustain or sustain-plus to the community?” Jacobs said. “This is big enough and complex enough that we wanted to use an external firm that specializes in analyses like this.”
More nebulous among the new council’s campaign priorities, though still worth keeping an eye on in 2019, was taking time off from assessing major rezoning and General Plan amendment requests during the beginning of their term to better assess the desires of town residents.
While the agenda is not publicly available as of print time for the council’s first meeting of the year, Jan. 9, town documents show that one such item is planned for that agenda: Possible rezoning and an amendment for the northwest corner of Rancho Vistoso Boulevard and Innovation Park Drive.
On the development front, anyone driving along North Magee Road may have recently noticed construction crews near the North Northern Avenue intersection, working on the Oro Valley Police Department’s newest substation.
Work kicked off last July when crews began disassembling the exterior of a 5,000-square-foot building the town acquired back in 2016 to prepare for a 17,000-square-foot expansion.
OVPD Deputy Chief Aaron LeSuer previously told Tucson Local Media that once the expansion is finished, the first floor will house offices for a training coordinator, K9 unit and community action team, and will allow another location for residents to file paperwork with the department. The second floor will be dedicated to housing personnel and property evidence, the main function of the expansion and a department need for nearly two decades.
The expansion was originally funded by $650,000 in development impact fees and roughly $2.7 million from Capital Improvement Project fund, though an increase in cost over time and higher-than-expected bids led the town to bond for the remaining $2 million. The $5.3 million includes both the completion of the property, furniture and equipment. The department hopes to cut the ribbon this summer.
Residents should also keep an eye out this year for an update from the University of Arizona regarding its proposed College of Veterinary Medicine. The university is still on a mission to earn accreditation for what would become the only public veterinary school in the state (which would be located in Oro Valley), though the effort has hit several roadblocks along the way.
The American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education, the sole veterinary education accreditor in North America, rejected the university’s proposal in 2016 after the application failed to meet several criteria—and the decision was upheld the following year after the UA disputed the rejection.
Aside from developing its program ahead of the next AVMA site visit in May (at which time the college could earn provisional accreditation), the UA recently announced that Julie Funk was joining the proposed program as its founding dean.
Whether it’s the airport, streets or even underground, Marana is slated to change a lot in the coming year. The townspeople can expect expanded roads and parks, as well as the completion of a few infrastructure projects they’ve lived with for quite some time.
First on many residents’ minds when they think of infrastructure projects in Marana is the construction on Ina Road. Fortunately for many, 2019 means the end is in sight for this major town project. Being built in conjunction with the Interstate-10/Ina Interchange reconstruction is the Marana leg of the project, including pavement restoration on Ina Road from Camino de Oeste to the eastern town limits and the full extent of Aerie Drive. A new bridge will span the Santa Cruz River. The $3.8 million project is expected to be completed in spring 2019.
Two other major pavement projects in Marana for 2019 are on Avra Valley Road and Coachline Boulevard.
The Avra Valley Road Reconstruction project will add five inches of new asphalt to Avra Valley Road from Sanders Road to the western Town limits. Upon completion of fresh paving, the roadway will be equipped with adjacent guardrail to accommodate the new pavement elevation. Pima County will complete its section of Avra Valley Road independently of the town of Marana. The project is expected to be completed this summer.
The Coachline Boulevard Reconstruction project will renovate asphalt from Silverbell Road north of Linda Vista Boulevard to the intersection of Silverbell Road and Continental Reserve Loop. The project includes replacing the top two inches of asphalt on the roadway to fix rough roads, and extending the roadway by replacing the asphalt pavement at the two low water crossings with concrete. The $3.5 million project is expected to be completed this winter.
Multiple parks are also expanding, and even forming, in 2019. The Santa Cruz River Path is receiving an expansion toward the end of this year, with a shared-use path southward on a 3-mile stretch from Gladden Farms. The 14-foot-wide path will boast five rest areas and will be accessible from entry points from Gladden Farms, Heritage Parks and the CAP trail. The $1.2 million trail project is expected to be completed this winter.
The Saguaro Bloom Community Park is also in its early stages. This 20-acre project will be on the corner of Saguaro Highlands Drive and Saguaro Peaks Boulevard. However, according to the Marana Department of Parks and Recreation, unforeseen circumstances have slowed the development for these community park projects, leaving the date of completion unknown.
The Adonis Neighborhood Sewer Improvements will be designed and constructed in north Marana this year. A new lift station will convey flow from the existing Adonis neighborhood to the Marana’s conveyance systems. The project is planned to provide a long-term sewer solution for the Adonis neighborhood. The $1.4 million sewer project is planned to be constructed by late 2019.
The Twin Peaks Continental Reserve Interconnect includes the construction of over 6,000 feet of pipes between Hartman Vistas/Twin Peaks Water Service area and Continental Reserve Water Service areas. The interconnect is planned to provide more capacity for future development in these areas. This $1.7 million project is expected to be completed at some point in 2019.
The Marana Regional Airport is receiving $6 million in infrastructure improvements thanks to funding from the Federal Aviation Administration. This project includes full pavement reconstruction of the tarmac, portions of the major taxiways, drainage improvements, lighting upgrades, and new pavement markings. These updates are expected to be finished in the summer.
The Town of Marana and the City of Tucson jointly filed lawsuit Nov. 7 against the five companies deemed responsible for creating a significant risk to the public water supply and human health after the presence of elevated chemical levels in wells servicing residential and commercial areas of the two municipalities were discovered.
The complaint was filed against 3M, Buckeye Fire Equipment, Chemguard, Inc., Tyco Fire Products L.P. and National Foam, Inc, each of which produced and sold aqueous film-forming foam, a firefighting product containing the chemicals PFOA and PFOS. Though the chemicals can be found on a variety of household objects, AFFF is at the heart of the lawsuit because Davis-Monthan Air Force Base has used the product for decades.
Back in November, Councilmember Steve Kozachik expressed confidence in the outcome of the joint lawsuit.
The Town of Marana also took steps towards creating the Picture Rocks Water Treatment Campus and Airline/Lambert Water Treatment Campus to begin removing the chemicals.
Spanning more than 9,000 square miles and home to more than 1 million residents, there’s always a lot going on in Pima County, here’s what residents should keep an eye on this year.
Built in 1929, the Pima County Historic Courthouse has been a home for various government operations over the last near-century. After the building began to fall into decomposition, the County Recorder, Treasurer and Assessor’s offices were moved to their current location on Stone Avenue in 2015 and construction to restore the historic building began the following year.
Last March, the Board of Supervisors approved two leases for Visit Tucson and the University of Arizona Mineral Museum to occupy space in the finished building. The county’s Attractions and Tourism Department will also move in and operate a regional visitor’s center.
Roughly $20 million has been spent renovating the building so far. Visit Tucson and Attractions and Tourism will move into their offices this month. There will be a series of new openings over the course of the next year leading up to the completion of the visitor’s center and the mineral museum in 2020.
The first phase of construction in the 145 square-foot expansion of the Kino Sports Complex is already underway and will carry into the new year. It includes space for 18 multi-use turf fields, 20 pickleball courts, related infrastructure and parking lots, with a price tag of about $26 million.
Earlier this month, the Board of Supervisors approved a $9.6 million increase in funding for the second phase of southern expansion. The goal of this project is to transform the complex into a facility that will attract national sports events. After Major League Baseball spring training left Tucson for Phoenix in 2009, revenues at the complex dropped from $1.2 million to $100,000 annually, according to a county memo.
“By diversifying sport revenues to soccer and other field sports and community use of these facilities, use revenues have increased to approximately $2.9 million per year, up $500,000 in just the last three years,” County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry wrote. “I expect use revenues to increase significantly, perhaps double, when the South Complex opens in 2020.”
The third phase and its funding will be presented to the board for a vote in 2019.
In 2015, Pima County established an economic development agreement with World View Enterprises. The company initially earned headlines for its proposed “curvature of the earth” space tourism via balloons, but the business is also developing research and defense solutions for government and private-sector clients. World View launched eight successful missions for a variety of customers including NASA and the U.S. Army this past year, according to Huckelberry.
While it is still experimental technology, the company is growing in a $15 million headquarters that was built by the county and leased back to World View, with a payment schedule that will more than cover the county’s costs, according to Huckelberry.
The Goldwater Institute sued Pima County for the arrangement, arguing that the county used taxpayer money to build and give away a balloon-tourism facility. In one of three phases to the lawsuit, the county won in the Arizona Court of Appeals, which ruled that the county followed state laws regarding competitive bidding.
Still unresolved in the lawsuit: Whether the county was in violation of the Arizona Constitution’s gift clause. Those arguments will be hashed out in court this year, although Huckelberry predicts it could drag out for as long as four years.
The Affordable Care Act requires tax-exempt hospitals to conduct research and identify trends in the health needs of their communities every three years and create plans to address those issues. Their findings are compiled into Community Health Needs Assessments.
The last assessment was done in 2015, so another is scheduled to take place this year. The most recent CHNA was conducted by Banner – University Medical Center, Tucson Medical Center, El Rio Community Health Center, Northwest Healthcare, Carondelet, Healthy Pima, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the Pima County Health Department.
They found that “the majority of Pima County residents live in a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) in primary care, mental health care and dental health care. Transportation and a shortage of primary care practitioners are two of the main challenges facing Pima County residents, especially in rural and low-income areas.” Interviews with key stakeholders found that the top priorities for health needs in the county are (1) anxiety and depression spectrum disorders, (2) substance abuse and dependency, (3) injuries and accidents and (4) diabetes.
“We’re going to take a deep dive into the health needs of this community so thatwe know where our public health dollars should be getting directed to,” said Mark Evans, communications director of Pima County. “It will provide data that will inform public health decisions in the local, state and federal levels for many years to come.”
Pima County’s Flood Control District and the Town of Marana will construct bank protection for the El Rio Preserve, located at 10190 N. Coachline Blvd. The $1.2 million project is set to begin at the end of monsoon season in 2019 and will address continual flooding—dubbed “Lake Marana”—from the Santa Cruz River over the last few years.
“It will be about a year-long project, but the significance of that is that it will protect the site,” said Marana Parks and Recreation Director Jim Conroy at a recent town council meeting. “It’s a 25-year bank protection project so it would be unrealistic to think that there won’t be flooding events, there will be. Flooding events will happen in the area, however they’ll be decreased dramatically.”
When the complete project is finished, El Rio’s 300+ acres will have a new disc golf course, an open preserve similar to the Sweetwater Wetlands, a shared-use path, a parking lot, a preserved archaeological site and an outdoor classroom for local schools to use.
Roughly 70 percent of Pima County’s roads are in poor or failed condition. County officials say they need an estimated $40 million a year to make a significant dent in the problem—$30 million year to rebuild the worst roads and $10 million a year for maintenance of the ones they’ve fixed in recent years. But county officials have argued that if the $30 million came out of the general fund, it would result in either a tax increase or a cut in regional services. Beyond that, Huckelberry argues that that it’s unfair for county residents in cities and towns to pay only for road repair in unincorporated areas.
“To use property taxes collected on all properties, whether in a city, town or unincorporated area of Pima County, for a purpose restricted to the unincorporated area, such as street and highway construction, operation and maintenance, would be inappropriate and inequitable from a tax use perspective,” he wrote in a memo to the Board of Supervisors.
In June, Republicans on the Pima County Board of Supervisors balked at a half-cent sales tax that would have raised $800 million over 10 years for road repairs. In November, Pima County voters shot down a $430 million bond for the roads.
Now, either an expansion of the Regional Transportation Authority’s mission to repair and preserve existing streets or new funds from the Arizona Legislature are the most likely options to fund road repairs.
This story was corrected to indicate OVPD hopes to cut the ribbon on their expansion this summer.