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Call For Sprawl

The Upcoming Bond Issue Includes $2 Million For Parks At Civano -- But Don't Look For Affordable Housing.

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SIX YEARS AGO, when a list of possible projects was being put together prior to the city's 1994 bond election, a citizen committee recommended that $4 million be spent for housing rehabilitation loans and another $2 million be used to assist poor households with down payments.

Critics expressed concerns about the legality of helping individuals with public bond funds, but the proposal did get serious consideration by the City Council, which eventually opted to scrap the request because elected officials saw other pressing bond needs.

Gordon Packard, a longtime advocate of more affordable housing in Tucson, remembers that the City Council made "a strong commitment to follow through with housing funds" at the time of the next bond program -- which is now being hammered out at City Hall.

Departing City Manager Luis Gutierrez remembers things differently than Packard. He recalls Council members discussed including housing projects in the last bond package, but he doesn't believe they made a commitment to include them in future packages.

Packard thinks housing funds "must definitely be a part of" the upcoming bond election scheduled for May 16, 2000. But he says he wasn't even aware of the bond proposal until contacted by The Weekly.

"As a member of the Tucson Metropolitan Housing Commission, I think it would have been appropriate for the City to solicit our input about where the needs are greatest," Packard says. "But this is the first I've heard of the proposed bond election."

Meanwhile, the 50 or so homeowners in the far eastside enclave of Civano (the area formerly known as Tucson's Solar Village) didn't have to worry about being included as part of the bond package. Over the last few years, the city has spent millions on reducing the cost of roads, sewers and reclaimed water lines in the subdivision. On top of that, the City Council pledged to ask the voters to approve $4 million in bond funds for "recreational amenities" for the area. But the anemic pace of development at Civano has resulted in only half of that amount being considered now, with the balance to be included in a future package.

The $2 million for Civano is included in a $127 million package of general obligation bond projects tentatively approved by the City Council. The Council is also considering $25 million in road bonds and $124 million for water projects.

The current general obligation bond list includes:

· $21 million for landfill clean-ups and other environmental issues;

· $24 million for public safety capital projects;

· $5 million for library expansion;

· $35 million for stormwater and drainage projects;

· $10 million for lights and sidewalks along major streets;

· $30 million for parks and recreation improvements.

If the voters approve all of these various proposals, the secondary tax rate for Tucson property owners would increase from the current 90 cents to a maximum of $1.24, thus roughly costing the owner of a home assessed at $80,000 an additional $27 a year in taxes. Proposed road improvements would be paid from existing gas taxes, while water rates would have to be raised approximately 5 percent in each of the next five years to cover the costs of the water projects.

After the Council finished tinkering with a preliminary list of projects in September, Gutierrez appointed a citizen committee to review the proposed program in detail. Once that group completes the job, it will invite the public to comment on the proposals in January.

In addition to possible bond funds for affordable housing, there may be other projects which the public will push to be added to the list. But city staff members are repeatedly asserting that the general obligation portion of the package is very limited by state and local spending caps, as well as the need to leave some reserve for future city bond elections.

Despite that, City Councilman Jerry Anderson says he wants to consider adding some money for reinvestment in Tucson's existing neighborhoods. Those funds could be on top of the general obligation projects already planned.

The possible investment of more taxpayer money in Civano won't be considered again by the City Council; it will be on the ballot in May. But at least Tucson taxpayers will have the opportunity to turn the proposal down. At the Council's insistence, the $2 million request will be a separate ballot question, and thus could be defeated without jeopardizing any of the other proposed bond-funded projects.

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