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Streets of Ire

Did Pima County supervisors retaliate against Republican Ally Miller when they moved road funds out of her district?

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As "Ally's Follies" explains, four members of the Pima County Board of Supervisors recently shifted about $850,000 from Supervisor Ally Miller's District 1 to Colossal Cave Road in Supervisor Ray Carroll's District 4.

Miller, a Republican who represents Oro Valley, Marana, Casas Adobes and the Catalina foothills, claimed her fellow supervisors took the money away from her district in order to punish her for accusing them of mismanaging county funds.

But the other supervisors say that Miller created the problem for herself by moving funds away from arterial roads as recommended by county staff and instead directing the spending to roads within subdivisions and other streets with light traffic, including a road in her own neighborhood.

To understand what's going on, it's helpful to understand that last year, the three Democratic supervisors on the five-member board voted for a budget that included $5 million in general-fund dollars for road repairs. (Miller and fellow Republican Carroll voted against the budget.)

Supervisor Ramón Valadez said he doesn't like the idea of using general-fund dollars for road repairs because his district has few roads that are outside municipal boundaries, so his voters don't see a lot of improvement when general-fund dollars are used to patch roads.

So when the Democrats on the board voted to include $5 million in road-repair dollars, they did it with a caveat that "it has to go to regionally significant and major arteries," Valadez said. "Why? Because then I can go to my voters and say, 'This road might be located outside your district, but you take Oracle Road, don't you? You take River Road, don't you?' And you can make the argument that we all benefit."

The county's transportation staff came up with a list of recommendations for street repairs in each of the districts. The other supervisors agreed to the recommendations, but Miller wanted changes to the District 1 recommendations.

Transportation staffers originally suggested that District 1 get $1.16 million in funding for its projects—considerably more than Valadez's District 2, which was set to get a mere $94,000, or Richard Elías' District 5, which was getting about $828,000.

Staff recommended that the pavement be patched on River Road in two areas: between Shannon and La Cañada roads and between Campbell Avenue and Dodge Boulevard. They also suggested patching Thornydale Road between Rudolph and Daphne roads, Sabino Canyon Road between Ventana Road and River Road; and Sunrise Road between Swan and Craycroft roads.

But Miller didn't like that plan, other than the work on Thornydale Road. Miller explained during the contentious Feb. 18 board meeting in which the District 1 road-repair dollars were transferred to District 4 that she had pushed to move projects to residential streets in poor condition rather than major arterial streets because the proposed work on the major streets would was only repair work designed to cover more miles and make "the road look good (and) that supposedly would—and I'm sure it would—prevent cracks down the road."

Miller's proposed list included Oasis Road in her own neighborhood as well as projects in subdivisions where only a handful of District 1 residents would see any improvements. (One project was a faraway stretch of Sabino Canyon Road in Sabino Town and Country Estates, while another was in the Golden Heritage Village near Ina and Mona Lisa roads. A third was Bowman Road from Golder Ranch Drive to Rollins Road in the Catalina area.

The one project that got completed was Oasis Road between Camino de Oeste and the Marana town limits.

The road is just a block from Miller's home.

The Oasis Road project—which cost $184,000, according to county documents—also benefited Miller's political allies and contributors. Miller collected $1,080 from residents along Oasis Road.

Among them: Sherese Steffens, a longtime Miller pal who helped her form the Pima County Tea Party Patriots. Steffens was one of Miller's first contributors, giving her $100 on Sept. 1, 2011, as Miller began fundraising for her campaign.

Steffens and her husband, Randy Steffens, ultimately gave Miller a total of $630 for her 2012 campaign.

Another contributor, Sherry Potter, gave Miller's 2012 campaign $250 on Nov. 11, 2011, and a third, Linda Jimenez, gave Miller a total of $200 for the 2012 campaign in May and September 2012. Potter managed Republican Tanner Bell's unsuccessful 2012 campaign against Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson.

When the Weekly first posted online stories about Miller's involvement in paving of Oasis Road, she called 911 to request police protection because the story included a map that showed the location of her home. (For details on that, see "Ally's Follies.")

Meanwhile, her defenders complained that the story was inaccurate—but the only factual rebuttal they offered turned out to be a false claim on their part.

Team Miller complained that the story about Oasis Road was inaccurate because a portion of Oasis Road in front of the contributors' homes was not paved.

Sherese Steffens, for example, argued on the Weekly's blog that Pima County's road repair "was conveniently stopped just before the driveway to Steffens and Jimenez's house. So maybe you should get your facts straight before you print a hit piece. And in case you also didn't check out the facts, we pay Pima County property taxes and a lot of them. Was stopping the paving before our houses political retribution for our support of Ally? Looks that way doesn't it."

The problem with Steffens' argument (aside from the fact that a road project generally benefits anyone who lives near it because the whole idea of roads is to carry people a certain distance): That eighth of a mile of Oasis Road that remained unpaved actually belongs to the town of Marana, which annexed roughly 37 acres in the area last October.

Miller argues that other districts also got repairs in subdivisions, including Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bronson's District 3, which had nearly $1.9 million in road repairs. Among those projects was a $541,000 rebuilding of the streets in the Tucson Mountain Village subdivision.

Bronson said the repair work in Tucson Mountain Village was a staff recommendation.

"I just took staff recommendations, so if they recommended it, I went with it," Bronson said. "I didn't ask for any changes."

As angry as Miller may be about the transfer of funds, the people in the Vail area are pleased that Colossal Cave Road is going to be fixed.

"It's a dangerous situation," says George Yost of the Greater Vail Civic League. "We have schoolkids walking along the dirt shoulders and we've seen people drive on those dirt shoulders to get around traffic during rush hour, which is when the school starts."

County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said the improvements along Colossal Cave Road are expensive because it is a distressed two-lane road with two railroad crossings that create big expenses for the county and it covers hilly terrain that needs to be altered to make it easier to see oncoming traffic. Huckelberry estimates that improving the road will cost roughly $5 million, and the county already has about $3 million available for the project. With the money originally set aside for District 1 and $100,000 from the Vail School District, the county is still short about $1 million.

"We're looking at how to maybe move some impact fees into that area to make up the difference," Huckelberry said.

Carroll said that he was happy to see the money made available for Colossal Cave Road.

"I'm glad the board majority has recognized this is a very dangerous area for schoolchildren," Carroll said.

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