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POWER TO THE PEDAL!

More than 200 red-clad cyclists and their supporters crowded a room at Pima Community College's East Campus last week to tell the City Planning Commission that Fantasy Island, a beloved trail network on state trust land near Houghton and Irvington roads, should be protected in the city's Houghton Area Master Plan. (For full details, see "Forbidden Fantasy" in last week's TW.) The speakers, including City Council members Shirley Scott and Steve Leal, said planners should designate the area as a park rather than the medium-density housing the State Land Department and the city's Planning Department are pushing.

The State Land Department's Ron Ruziska, playing the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham, expressed his novel legal opinion that the Land Department's recreational permit did not allow citizens to visit state land more than a few times before they would be considered illegal trespassers. Say, that sounds like just the kind of interpretation we'd like to see Attorney General Terry Goddard weigh in on. Any lawmakers want to request an opinion?

Meanwhile, some bikers are starting to doubt Councilman Fred Ronstadt's commitment to saving Fantasy Island, especially since last week, Ronstadt said he wasn't ready to put the issue on the council's agenda. Ronstadt aide Michael Guyman says Frodo is just waiting to get some more info before the council tackles the issue, probably in April.

Ronstadt himself says he's the real champion of Fantasy Island on the council, adding that Scott's Ward 4 office hasn't done much about preserving the bike trail.

"This is a significant issue that, in my view and in the view of a lot of the users out there, has really been ignored by the council office out there," says Ronstadt.

That comes as news to Jon Shouse, chair of the Fantasy Island Conservation Alliance, who describes Scott as "over the top in support of this." Scott has her own observation regarding Ronstadt: "He's full of baloney."

For more info on the Fantasy Island fight, visit www.savefantasyisland.org.


HEIN'S REICH

Of the many problems confronting new City Manager Mike Hein, none is more pressing than the city's $1 billion-and-change budget that is stretched too thin for any meaningful improvements in city services, parks, pools, libraries, roads, and police and fire protection.

After more than two years as a deputy to Pima County Prime Minister Chuck Huckelberry, and a longer, successful spin at the wheel as Marana manager, Hein is inheriting City Hall's longstanding practice of being a most generous benefactor to its employees.

Aside from a few bloated salaries and the outrageous sums members of the Board of Supervisors pay their hacks, er, political aides, city pay and benefits are dangerously higher than those at the county.

A look at city and county budgets, from a county view, shows that the number of full-time equivalent workers at the city has jumped 15 percent in the last 10 years, compared with 8.4 percent for the county. City cost per employee is $60,833, 28.4 percent higher than the $47,392 at the county. To match salaries with the city, the county would have to increase its $1.1 billion budget by nearly $100 million.

County officials overlook Pima's voracious spending, which has increased 31 percent from $842 million five years ago, and the high property taxes necessary to fuel the expenditures. But salaries and benefits at the city are going to give Hein heartburn.

The key to that, in these times of city budget crunches: The city's annual contribution to its employees' retirement is nearly double that of county contributions. The city benefit per employee is $16,766, 62 percent higher than the $10,335 that the stingy ol' county pays.

In salaries, the two governments can be viewed this way: Someone hired to push paper at the city at $25,000 a year in 1999 makes $36,442 this year, while a pencil-sharpener at the county also hired at $25,000 in 1999 is making "only" $31,752. In the grand scheme, the city could have saved its taxpayers nearly $136 million in the last five years had it implemented raises at the same rate as the county.

To be topical, property taxes for the library--projected to double to $84 on a $200,000 home under a city-inspired plan for the county to take over 100 percent of library funding and operation--could be cut by $10 a year on that home if city employees were paid the same as county workers.

Debt is another matter to cause Hein to lose sleep. Voters have given the county permission to increase the limit on its credit limits for open space, building, preservation, housing, roads, and sewers in record bond elections in 1997 and 2004. Yet county debt, at $444 million, is 56 percent of the city's outstanding debt of nearly $783 million.


SIMON SEZ SORRY

The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct last week reprimanded Justice of the Peace Paul Simon for misconduct over Simon's improper use of court letterhead in letters he wrote to Farmers Insurance on behalf of his mother, and another to a caterer.

Simon, a Democrat who was unopposed last November for re-election to his spot on Pima County's lower bench, wrote a letter to Farmers on May 31, 2002, demanding compensation for his mother's pain and suffering as a result of an automobile accident. Simon told Farmers his mother was entitled to $7,500.

While Simon was allowed to represent his mother, his use of letterhead from Justice Court, where Farmers is a frequent litigant--including in his court--is prohibited by the state Code of Judicial Conduct. The commission noted a judicial canon (2B, for those following at court or at the College of Law) "specifically states that 'judicial letterhead or any stationery identifying the judge as such must not be used for conducting a judge's personal business.'"

Simon, who will receive $84,531 in salary this year and $22,073 in benefits, also used his letterhead to handwrite a note to a caterer rejecting the company's proposal.

The announcement of the reprimand stated Simon "cooperated fully and candidly with the commission and acknowledged that his conduct was improper."

That's a real improvement from Simon's juvenile behavior when the Weekly first reported on the story last September. Then, he accused a court colleague and a Weekly reporter of breaking into his office to take the incriminating letters. Simon went so far as to call in Tucson police for that wasteful goose chase.

Simon, who initially took his position through appointment by the Board of Supervisors in 1997, did not respond to the Weekly's requests for comment on the reprimand.


GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT

It appears the city's pay-as-you-throw garbage fee is headed for the trash heap of history.

Back when the council approved a $14-a-month garbage fee last year, City Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar, who had firmly opposed the fee only weeks before voting to enact it, said she flipped on the condition that the Solid Waste--er, Environmental Services Department develop a sliding-scale system so that people who toss less garbage pay a smaller fee.

But the most recent numbers being tossed around by city officials showed that most everybody would likely pay more under the plan, even though a big percentage would end up with smaller barrels. On top of that, the plan would eliminate the alleyway collection beloved by Tucsonans.

Critics of the Environmental Services Department made the argument that staffers were purposely coming up with numbers that were politically unpalatable, but reaction to the plan they cooked up was so negative that Councilwoman Carol West now says she doesn't expect to get a throw-as-you-go plan this summer, as originally scheduled. Instead, the council might get a plan sometime next winter--well after this November's council election, in which the garbage fee promises be a major point of contention.

Meanwhile, seniors on fixed incomes who produce little trash will continue to shell out the same $14 a month as big families who fill their barrels to the rim.


THEY VOTE LIKE WILDCATS

Charles Salim Stoudamire, the country's top sharpshooter and the UA's leading scorer at 18.4 points a game, shares the team voting title with high-flying Hassan Adams.

Stoudamire, a senior, and Adams, a junior, each registered to vote late last summer and cast ballots in the Nov. 2 general election. Both are Democrats and were the only Wildcat men to vote in Pima County, records show. Matt Brase, a senior reserve who is the grandson of Coach Lute Olson, is the only other Cat on the local voter rolls. Brase, politically unaffiliated, did not vote last November.

Coach O, married to a Republican Pennsylvania political operative, maintained his political independence, and voted in the primary and general elections last fall. His string of general election votes extends to 1996.

Associate Head Coach Jim Rosborough, a Republican, has a slightly better voting record, but avoids primaries and voted in only one of three recent bond elections.

Rodney Tention, the assistant who is headed to Los Angeles to coach Loyola Marymount, is a Democrat who also confined his electoral shots to general elections.

And Josh Pastner, the attention-craving assistant, also skipped bond and transportation elections, voting only in general elections in 2002 and last year, and the city general election in 2003. Put television cameras at the polling place in his Starr Pass precinct, and we absolutely, positively guarantee Pastner, a Republican, will set records for voter efficacy.

Josh, please tell your media reps to not call.

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