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Sharon Bronson debates Kim DeMarco in pivotal Pima supervisors race

Whether you live in a city, town or unincorporated part of Pima County, you want to pay attention to the Board of Supervisors races. Among other things, the five-member board controls a large part of your property taxes.

The board, now with a 3-2 Democratic majority, could switch to GOP control if District 3 incumbent Supervisor Sharon Bronson loses to Republican challenger Kim DeMarco in the Nov. 8 election. Democrats hold a substantial registration edge in the district, which stretches from Midtown Tucson west across the Tohono O'odham Nation to Ajo.

Of the other districts, two sitting Democrats — Supervisors Ramon Valadez and Richard Elias — face no GOP opposition, while there is no Democrat running against Republican Steve Christy. Supervisor Ally Miller faces a challenge from political newcomer Brian Bickel.

Because the District 3 race is a pivotal one, we asked the candidates a number of questions to help you discern the differences between them. DeMarco says it's time to reign in what she claims is wasteful county spending, while Bronson says she can help ensure that some successful programs continue.

Bronson has been a supervisor for the past 20 years. DeMarco is a Marine veteran, retired Arizona DPS officer and now works as a mortgage lender in Green Valley.

Democrats make up about 40 percent of voters in District 3 and Republicans, 27 percent. The remainder are independents, Libertarians, Green Party members and others.

We asked four questions of both candidates and an individual one of each of them. Here are the questions and their answers, which have been lightly edited to remove misspellings.

1. County Transportation Director Priscilla Cornelio has estimated the county needs to spend $300 more for road repairs than it is spending now — or $30 million more a year for 10 years. How should the county finance that so that both urban and rural residents get their fair share?

Bronson: I will continue with the multi-faceted plan to address road infrastructure that was started a few years ago. It is worth noting that infrastructure funding is a problem that plagues the entire state, which is facing a billion-dollar shortfall. We will continue to reprioritize and divert available revenues to road maintenance. However, due to the vast number of state and federal restrictions on county funds, there is far less money available to "move around" than some believe.

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Over the last few years the county has developed the most comprehensive, aggressive and successful economic development program in the state. We are now ranked number one in job creation in Arizona and number three nationally. More jobs and healthy growth creates an expanded tax base and the ability to better afford road maintenance for the long term.

We have also been highly successful in reducing unfair and illegal cost shifts to the county and were able to reduce the amount going to Phoenix by $16 million per year. This success allowed us to reduce property taxes. We will continue to fight state costs shifts, putting recovered money into roads.

We are working actively with the state's Surface Transportation Funding Task Force to eliminate the HURF diversion and increase both state and local resources and tools.

We are also carefully managing past debt and paying record low interest on that debt so we can get more money to roads sooner.

Lastly the Regional Transportation Authority should be given the authority to refer to the voters a street maintenance plan for the entire regional. This would be a consensus plan just like the exiting new roads program. However it should be limited to using cash and no debt to privately contract for a voter approved road maintenance plane that takes into consideration urban as well as rural residents.

DeMarco: Our roads have been neglected for a very long time. Sharon Bronson has stated that some of the roads in Pima County were built using sub-standard methods at their direction.

First we have to look at how the HURF (highway user revenue funds) and the VLT (vehicle license tax) are being used. We know that about $20 million is being used to pay back 1997 bond debt and that the State of Arizona sweeps about 7 percent. Over the last nine years the county has received $688 million in road repair money from these sources. So if we average that out there should have been approximately $50 million dollars a year that should have been used for road repair. I am told that is going towards administrative costs. We need to redirect that money towards road repairs as it was meant to be used.

The other place that we may be able to draw from is the RTA (Regional Transportation Authority). This money is currently being used for capital road projects. The plan that Supervisor Miller put forth is a viable plan and one that we can further explore. It would allow money to move from capital projects to road repair and help not only the county but the municipalities. You can see that plan on her website.

Thru this process the urban and rural roads needing repairs would all be addressed.

2. What is the best way to reduce property taxes?

Bronson: Continue my aggressive program of reducing the size and cost of county government through actions such as the already accomplished privatizations of acute care, long term care and solid waste. Continue making investments that create jobs to expand the tax base. Continue to stop unfair cost shifts to the state — which disproportionately hurts Pima County taxpayers. Explore the possibility of diversifying our revenue base solely for the purpose of reducing property taxes

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DeMarco: The best way to reduce property taxes is to increase your tax base. Currently 87 percent of all the land in Pima County is owned by the government. We need to encourage economic development and expand our tax base. We need to sell some of the land that Pima County owns and encourage development.

My opponent, Sharon Bronson, wants to levy a sales tax. The county sued the state recently over property tax issues that enabled the county to reduced the property tax rate, but instead of taxes going down, they went up. They do that by increasing the assessed property value — so no real savings for the residents. This is the "smoke and mirrors" game the county has been playing for some time. We need to work together with the state, not sue them. Lawsuits costs the taxpayers millions of dollars.

The way to reduce property taxes that benefits all is to increase the tax base, business and residential, while still being environmentally friendly.

3. What is the best way to attract companies and jobs?

Bronson: The Comprehensive County Economic Development Plan establishes a number of practices which the county has and will continue to pursue that has made us number one in job creation in the state and number three in the country. These practices include providing a very welcoming environment for new employers and demonstrating a close cooperative working relationship across jurisdictions and the private sector. Under my chairmanship the county has greatly streamlined and reduced the regulatory burden on companies but we must go further and continue to reduce property taxes.

DeMarco: This questions ties in with the last question. Pima County has great people, great weather and amazing views along with other things. So why do we have trouble attracting businesses and creating jobs? Because we are not business friendly.

We need to eliminate excessive regulations, reduce fees and make the permitting process easy to navigate. Our businesses are taxed at 12 times the rate of residential properties - we need to reduce the business taxes. We need to fix our roads and infrastructure and make sure that our law enforcement are receiving a fair wage so we do not continue to lose our experienced deputies and corrections officers.

Companies look at all of these things when deciding where they will set up shop. Sharon Bronson has arbitrarily offered taxpayer incentives that are not sustainable.

4. How do you think Pima County operations and policy would change if Republicans controlled the Board of Supervisors?

Bronson: This race is not about Republican or Democratic leadership but rather about open honest professional and experienced leadership. My fear is that a Republican majority would likely be led by Supervisor (Ally) Miller and supported by my opponent who was hand-picked by her. Miller has consistently failed to support the county's aggressive jobs and economic development strategies adopted by a majority vote of the current Board of Supervisors. She has voted repeatedly to send money to Phoenix increasing local property taxes, again completely out of step with the entire board. Her office has experienced unprecedented employee turnover and operates in an environment of gross paranoia and secrecy, utterly lacking in openness and transparency. We don't need that kind of county government.

DeMarco: I do not believe it is a matter of Republican or Democrat. Our bad roads and high taxes are not red and blue issues. It comes down to fiscal responsibility and doing what is right for Pima County. This county has never recovered from the economic crisis of 2008. Contrary to Sharon Bronson stating that we are moving in a positive economic direction, business owners say they are still struggling. Many have closed due to lack of business and others that have had to look for business outside of Pima County. There are also many people here in Pima County that are either unemployed or under-employed.

In 2012 the percentage of food insecure people in Pima County was 25 percent. In 2016 it is still 25 percent. If the economy was improving that number would be getting smaller.

If the Board of Supervisors were controlled by the Republicans that are potentially going to take office you would see transparency in how we operate, job creation thru the elimination of business unfriendly practices, parks and library's given the attention they deserve, fiscal responsibility and a board that would be responsive to their constituents.

Individual questions

Question to Bronson: Kim DeMarco has said that while you have been in office for two decades, the county debt doubled to about $1.4 billion and roads remain bad. What is your response?

Bronson: My opponent clearly has no understanding of county debt which in the Pima County, unlike the small cities and towns, is virtually all voter approved. The county's bond program was recognized by the State Auditor General as the most open and transparent in the State. Pima County debt per capita is lower than combined debt in almost all areas of Maricopa County. A significant portion of the county debt is for self-funding revenue bonds, paying for sewer infrastructure that will last well over 50 years and ought to be paid for by future residents and is financed at some of the lowest interest rates in modern history. This is one of the best examples of good government in Pima County. Those that criticize it either don't understand it or simply want to tear down our great community.

Question for Kim DeMarco: You have advocated reducing property tax by cutting the budget. Supervisor Bronson has said the only part of the $1.3 billion budget that can be cut is $350 million. Where would you make cuts? Law enforcement, parks, courts or something else?

DeMarco: I believe property taxes will be reduced by doing several different things. Cutting the budget is only one area. Sharon Bronson has never talked about cutting the budget, only increasing your taxes.

Law enforcement, parks, courts, roads and infrastructure are basic functions of county government. I would not cut in those areas. But we have plenty of wasteful spending that can be cut.

· We have a county administrator with a salary of $321,000 (second highest paid county administrator in the country) and his office budget is $2 million.

· We can eliminate take home vehicles for the county supervisors and others that do not warrant a take home vehicle.

· Stop buying land and taking it off the tax rolls — sell some of it and put it back on the tax rolls.

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· $15 million a year to the U of A hospital to assist with medical residents can be cut. Currently not budgeted but being paid with "left over" money at the end of the year.

· Refurbishing buildings that can wait until we get our basic needs taken care of.

· $50 million in administrative costs currently being paid for out of the HURF funds. Cut the administrative costs and put the money towards roads.

These are just a few areas that need to be addressed. Sharon Bronson and this Board of Supervisors has a long history of wasteful spending and mismanaged funds.

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1 comment on this story

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2 comments
Oct 13, 2016, 11:29 am
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Definitely time for a change!

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Click image to enlarge

Bronson, left, and DeMarco