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Opinion

The Tucson agenda

COVID keeps trucking so Tucson-area elected leaders must continue to cope with it

A quick look at what's planned for local government meetings

Southern Arizona may be sick of coronavirus but coronavirus isn’t sick of us.

Viruses don’t get bored, tired or distracted. They don’t decide that they dislike what’s on and change the channel or streaming service. They don’t decide they aren’t that into us anymore because 2022 human hosts sold out and got popular.

People are COVID-19’s fuel and COVID-19 is going to keep burning through humanity for as long as it or we exist.

The Pima County supervisors just had their coronavirus update. The Tucson City Council and Amphitheater Governing Board will get theirs on Jan. 11.

The virus ain't stopping.

In Arizona, 14,000 new cases were reported on Friday with a seven-day average approaching 10,000 daily cases. The number is just shy of the state record set a year ago, this week. In Pima County, 1,700 new cases were reported. The wildly contagious Omicron variant is just getting started. Hang onto something.

It’s not that either the City Council or the Amphi board will vote on specific prescriptions. The staff will just update elected leaders with the condition of the virus within the jurisdiction. Then it will be up to people’s representatives to figure out what direction, if any, they want to go in.

Then both will come up with prescriptive policies for a future agenda … or not.

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The City Council will take up the issue during a Tuesday afternoon study session, ahead of the meeting that evening. Study sessions are less formal than regular meetings as members dish and discuss city business knowing they are allowed to vote on none of it.

For instance, the Council will discuss participation in regional transportation planning. They can discuss the RTA. They can discuss going their own way. They can talk all they want. They are only allowed to tell staff what to do so they might vote on the issue down the road.

The Tucson City Council meeting agenda – as it was on Thursday morning – consists of a consent agenda, small items that can be dealt with on a single vote, and final approval of a new development fee schedule.

Builders won’t be asked to pay more, per se, but a new computer system will be installed and the council is moving some numbers around and trying to streamline the process, after decades of gripes from the public.

The Council will also discuss a proposed annexation of 77 acres at the southeast corner of South Alvernon Way and East Los Reales Road. It’s exactly the kind of annexation municipalities love. It would bring in an extra quarter million in sales and property tax revenues while adding zero, nichts, null, nought people to serve.

The Marana Town Council will get an update on the budget process for Fiscal Year 2022-23, during its Tuesday meeting.

We'll see more of these locally as the budget season gets underway. Budgets aren’t approved until late May typically, but toward the beginning of the year, elected officials are given an overview of how much money is coming in and what the staff’s priorities are (if that’s OK with the elected body). Boards and councilmembers can then say “Hey, we want this new initiative.”

Marana is getting their briefing Tuesday.

The Marana Unified School District Governing Board during its Thursday meeting, will focus on personnel issues, including sending a letter to high-skilled employees letting them know their job is secure from layoffs for the next year, so they don't start shopping their skills elsewhere.

The Marana school board will also approve a pay schedule that shows why they might want to do such a thing. Support personnel are making less than $20 an hour across the board, with the exception of computer nerds (typed with love) and a single category of budget analyst.

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The board will also vote on a special category of sick leave for those who are showing symptoms of or tested positive for coronavirus. The 10 days of available leave is in addition to the standard benefits.

The Nogales City Council will meet Wednesday to discuss one thing: whether to issue bonds "pension obligation bonds" to pay off $36 million owed to the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System. Across the state, counties, cities and towns have been struggling with an underfunded pension system for law enforcement.

The move would pay off debt by going into more debt but, apparently, a lot of communities are using this option to meet their obligations as pension problems fester.

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors has already agreed to use bonds to pay off its "unfunded liabilities." Less than half of pension obligations are now funded for the Nogales police and fire departments. In 2010, the city could count 69 percent of its future obligations as funded.

Local governments and employees kick into the fund, which is managed statewide by the  ASPRS board and staff. The state fund's returns soared in the 1990s, leveled off in the 2000s and then absolutely tanked during the Great Recession. A move by the Legislature to decrease the amount paid into the fund by governments was rejected by the courts, leaving an even larger hole to fill.

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Local governments continue to discuss how to get through coronavirus as Omicron variant booms.

The Tucson agenda

Public meetings this week:

Tucson City Council

Marana Town Council

Amphitheater Governing Board

Nogales City Council

Marana Unified School District Governing Board

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