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Pima County Supes to vote on plan to tackle rental crisis

The Tucson agenda

Pima County Supes to vote on plan to tackle rental crisis

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

  • The Pima County Board of Supervisors will vote on how to address the affordability crisis in the Tucson-area rental market.
    Shane Adams/CC BY 2.0The Pima County Board of Supervisors will vote on how to address the affordability crisis in the Tucson-area rental market.

The affordable rental crisis seems to have the full attention of Tucson-area elected leaders.

In the coming weeks, the Tucson City Council is expected to vote to require landlords to accept federal housing vouchers. Monday, the Pima County Board of Supervisors will vote to adopt a plan of its own to prevent homelessness.

The five-part plan includes information-gathering to figure out affordability gaps in the market, using county land to develop projects, streamline the development process to promote more high-density development, keeping people in their homes and leveraging innovations (whatever that means).

I've been snarky about local governments coming up with plans and strategies, but the county's ideas beat the hell out of others I will graciously describe as "being offered."

Podcasting kingpin Joe Rogan recently suggested massacring the homeless. There's an idea. The penalty for poverty is death! (And no, I don't think it was much of a joke considering his guest's response was "I like your ideas" and the podcaster thought seemed outraged people couldn't steal from the unhoused).

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake strongly implies the homeless crisis is the result of people deciding to move out of their shelters and go live as "deranged lunatics" in chronic homelessness. So her plan is order the homeless to "get treatment, go to jail, or get going." Thoughtful and detailed, no?

Yeah, none of that addresses the fact that rents have increased by nearly 60 percent in Tucson in the last year. Incomes have not. Jailing the homeless won't address how private equity firms have come big into the rental market, seeking great opportunities to jack the hell out of rent, err, realize "uncaptured revenue."

The long and short of it is this: The county needs 27,500 finished homes to stabilize the market. Additionally, it needs to increase the number of units for low-income families to 12,000 to 75,000. 

Or, y'know, shoot them with Rogan's gun.

New era, old problems

The Jan Lesher era has begun here in Pima County,m and one of the first reversals of the Chuck Huckelberry epoch will be put before the supervisors on Monday.

In his long stint as county administrator, Huckelberry took great joy in sticking it to the Arizona Legislature and one of his board-adopted policies was to pass along the cost of new state mandates in the form of property taxes he could blame on lawmakers.

Lesher, taking the reins as the county's top bureaucrat, wants to change that policy so the board can decide on tax increases on a case-by-case basis. 

In a memo to the board, she lauded the idea but doubted any member of the public has actually blamed the Legislature.

The supes are also set to vote on issuing $1300 million in new debt through "certificiates of participation" to pay for road and sewer projects.

The plan calls for the county to pay off the debt with PAYGO dollars. As other debt gets paid off and secondary property taxes decrease, the board will raise the primary tax to fund costly investments the county has to make but voters keep rejecting under bond programs.

The plan won't cost taxpayers anything. However it involves some tricky accounting because the $90 million road portion would use certificates of participation. The county would use trust and lease purchase agreements as part of the revenue plan to pay off the debt.

County residents won't notice unless the county's finances go terribly, terribly wrong.

The short-term debt would be paid off by June 2028.

One thing that didn't go terribly wrong was how the county ran the 2022 primary election.

Big turnout in the Bear Canyon area on the northeast side of Tucson, meant poll workers ran out of ballots. So long lines developed.

Supervisor Steve Christy will ask the staff for a full accounting during the meeting. 

Once again, Christy is within his rights to raise a legitimate concern that allows a wink toward his GOP base, which believes that our elections are rife with fraud.

He represents Bear Canyon. He should raise a fuss. 

I do find it funny that the same party that has no problem with people of color waiting hours in line gets persnickety when they themselves are inconvenienced.

Meanwhile, Supervisor Adelita Grijalva has asked the staff to give a rundown of where the county stands on coronavirus and monkeypox.

Potency in non-potable rules

The Marana Town Council will vote on updating on a section of its non-potable water ordinance to try to require developers of certain projects to hook into the system.

It's not all projects. Local governments can't use water as a reason to reject a development. The Arizona of Water Resources takes care of that. 

However, sometimes developers need special permission to build — as is the case during a rezoning — and then the council can insist on hooking into the water system used for irrigation.

The ordinance would also have the effect of updating an agreement with the Cortaro Marana Irrigation District.

The district was established in 1961 and predates Marana's incorporation by 16 years. It manages non-potable water on a narrow, winding strip of land from the Rillito east of Interstate 10 to North Trico Road and West Treatment Plant Road, west of I-10.

The council is also set to start reworking its budget just six weeks into the fiscal year.

The town completed a salary study in July (after the new budget year began) that found them well off the market pay for police officers. So the town will move $615,000 out of the contingency fund to cover the cost of of raises and new hires.

Also, the town manager's 2023 budget includes $320,000 for a master transportation plan. Problem: The town has since figured out the cost will run an extra $100,000. So the plan is to put off a proposed housing study until the state completes its study later this year and after the Legislature takes whatever action it might take in 2023 (God, help us).

The housing study was set to come out of town's development services department. Of that money, $105,000 will go to the town manager to pay for the road study.

Finally, payroll operations have been moved from the town finance department to the human resources department. So $192,000 will follow from one department to the other.

I point this out because fund transfers from one department to the other are not uncommon. Though these are rather substantial amounts for a town like Marana.

Hit the brakes

Down in Santa Cruz County, the Board of Supervisors is set to take on the issue of "Jake braking."

That's when truck drivers use the drag of their engines to slow down, rather than putting wear on their brake pads. So it revs up an engine a riotous racket, even though the trucker's foot isn't tromping on the gas pedal.

If one could put the sounds of a turbo prop, a machine gun and a very loud Harley-Davidson chopper through a blender (or a sound board) that's what Jake braking sounds like. People who live along highways hate it.

The board will vote Tuesday on whether to impose a $250 fine for what is legally called "compression-release engine braking." The county cites health and safety concerns. I'm not sure of the wounds caused by a blasting cacophony but as truckers tend to be passing through and residents vote, well....

The board will also hold an 11 a.m. study session on community broadband Internet access.

Supervisors can't take legal action during a study session but seeing as no background material accompanies the agenda item, there's not a lot to proceed on.

Watching how Santa Cruz County proceeds on the issue of providing broadband service to county residents because 1) it would be the first Arizona county to really try and 2) there might be some international concerns with Mexico right across the border.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist, who worked in daily journalism for nearly 25 years and is the former communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party.
An earlier version of this column incorrectly identified the day of the Pima County Board of Supervsors’ meeting. The board is set to meet Monday.

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