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County officials dismiss Goldwater questions about World View

Lawyers for Pima County have replied to a letter from a rightwing group that questioned the legality of local government backing of a high-altitude technology firm. The Goldwater Institute threatened to sue over the deal last week, but county officials maintain their actions are within the scope of the law.

In a March 28 letter, the Goldwater Institute called on the county to terminate its agreement with World View, a startup that plans to offer top-dollar balloon rides to the stratosphere as a marquee attraction for what will at base be an operation carrying scientific instruments and communications gear to high altitudes.

Pima County has agreed to build a $15 million office and manufacturing facility near Tucson International Airport and Raytheon Missile Systems for World View. The company will pay rent on the plant for two decades, with the county eventually slated to be repaid more than the construction costs and interest, officials have said.

Goldwater, a Phoenix-based libertarian thinktank, said the "agreement serves no public purpose ... nor is the consideration fair to taxpayers."

"The county is using public credit to finance this project at taxpayer risk while a private corporation enjoys the benefits of the bargain risk-free," wrote Goldwater lawyer James Manley.

Related: Balloon payment: County foray into space as dubious as it is inspired

Tuesday, county officials fired back, detailing their stance that the deal is legal, and mocking Goldwater for focusing on the "space-tourism" aspect of World View's operations while not mentioning the expected economic impact of their plans.

"No reasonable person would argue that the stratosphere will, in the near future, replace Disneyland as a vacation destination for middle-class families. But providing affordable recreational opportunities for county residents, though a legitimate public purpose, is obviously not the public purpose the county is seeking to further in
its transaction with World View," wrote Regina Nassen, a deputy county attorney, in a letter to Manley.

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"The Board approved the transaction with World View as an economic development initiative," she wrote.

"... It is extremely unlikely that a court would find the Goldwater Institute's claims meritorious should a legal action be brought. We therefore urge you to reconsider your proposed course of action, which would simply waste taxpayer dollars by forcing the county to defend a lawsuit," Nassen wrote.

Goldwater letter

Pima County letter

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A rendering of the planned World View building.