HARD TIMESHeads up, citizens! Bad times are on the way!
So we learn from the Citizen Finance and Service Review Committee, which warns that "without immediate action, followed by fundamental change, we see Tucson heading toward a future as a second-rate city at best and almost certain financial collapse at worst."
The committee, mainly wealthy and sensible white guys appointed by City Manager James Keene, delivered a report to the City Council last week underlining the depressing reality that the city is facing some $3.9 billion in unmet capital needs, which will require some major new sources of revenue, often referred to in English as tax hikes.
It's no surprise that the group mostly endorsed ideas that Keene has championed and the council has rejected. The list of new and increased taxes includes garbage fees, residential rental taxes, advertising taxes, higher sales taxes, higher property taxes, higher park and rec fees, and impact fees. (We think they missed the chance to throw in a porn tax on DVD rentals from the little room at Casa Video.) But whether Mayor Bob Walkup--who has been staunchly opposed to new taxes, except for all the ones he's supported--and the council members will support the hikes remains to be seen. So far, Walkup, Republicans Fred Ronstadt and Kathleen Dunbar, and Democrat Carol West seem inclined to support the ideas in the report, while Democrats Steve Leal, José Ibarra and Shirley Scott regard it with polite skepticism--a reversal of the traditional roles played by "no new taxes" Republicans and "tax-and-spend" Democrats.
Meanwhile, staff is showing initiative when it comes to bringing in more bucks. Just take a look at the transportation department's outrageous proposal to crank up fees for residents who live downtown or near the university if they want to get a sticker to park in front of their own homes. The parking passes, which now cost $2.50 a year, could end up costing as much as $72 annually.
The restricted parking was created to help residents who couldn't find parking spaces in their own neighborhood because students and downtown workers were avoiding steep parking fees by parking on nearby streets.
Now transportation staffers say the program is so expensive to administer and enforce that they have to crank up the fees to eliminate a subsidy from the general fund--even though the general fund gets a quarter of the revenue from tickets issued in the residential area.
Life just keeps getting better, don't it?
GREEN LIGHTSupporters of Pima County's May bond package breathed a sigh of relief earlier this week when the Sorry-Assed Home Builders Association said it would remain neutral on the $174 million open-space question, a cornerstone of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan.
But the organization's news release seemed designed to hold the county in suspended terror by suggesting leaders could still change their minds. SAHBA Executive Vice President Ed Taczanowsky said the group's position could change "in the event there are significant changes in the elements of the open-space bond issue, implementation of the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, or additional regulatory restraints by the county."
Some SAHBA members had been rattling sabers for the last few months, promising a six-figure campaign against the bonds that would have highlighted the credibility problem that the county acquired in the wake of the '97 road bonds, as well as the ever-climbing property tax bills.
But County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry made it harder for homebuilders and other business types to oppose the open-space bonds by tossing in $10 million to help buy land near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
Bond packages tend to do well here and elsewhere when there's no organized opposition. Without SAHBA's bucks funding a major opposition campaign, the resistance falls to a ragtag band of rebels who'll have a much harder time getting their message out.
MORE KXCI STATICWhen beleaguered community radio station KXCI and fresh-meat boss Larry Bruce mounted a PR campaign to dampen dissidents, we figured we could let a few lies pass. Bruce and his board even took out a half-page ad in this rag to perpetuate some myths about the Democracy Initiative, the movement that seeks to reform voting and management procedures that have led to the station's bunker mentality. The ad contained misstatements about who and how many people were involved in the Democracy Initiative--points that were addressed at last month's KXCI board meeting by a current programmer who is part of the Democracy Initiative.
KXCI management and board members are working hard to discredit the Democracy Initiative, which has collected sufficient signatures to call for a bylaw referendum. KXCI henchmen are now attempting to attack Bill Risner, the Tucson lawyer who whipped KXCI so badly in court last year that a judge awarded attorneys fees when he won the right to get membership lists for a Democracy Initiative mailing.
The KXCI board hired lawyer Gary Wolf "for a specific research project" investigating Risner and his background with KXCI. Hell, all they had to do was call him. He was a founding member who helped the fledging operation with whatever legal advice the broke radioheads needed. Wolf smells some kind of conflict.
What's worse, board member Kathleen Williamson has jumped in, writing to Risner on behalf of the board and "as a licensed attorney" to demand that Risner respond ASAP. Kat, we love you, but stop yourself before you do something terribly foolish.
In fact, Bruce, and KXCI Board Strongman Tom Spendiarian flat need to stop the costly nonsense.
As Risner noted in his letter last week to KXCI: "Your repeated violations of your fiduciary duties have made it clear to me why an elected board is preferable to an appointed board. Your unfair use of the corporate machinery to perpetuate yourselves in office speaks loudly and clearly of the end result of a daisy chain selection process. I prefer a democratic process.
"Finally, why have you paid to have me threatened when even a moron attorney would know that the allegations are baseless. Is this the way you treat a member who served for years on your board? Don't you people have any personal decency? You can hide behind your lawyer's skirt if your prefer but when your paid agent threatens people on your behalf, it is you who is doing the threatening."
FAST TIMES AT RINCON HIGHThe "What, Me Worry?" crowd at Rincon knew exactly how to aim for the AIMS test last week: liquor. The perfect antidote to test anxiety.
Problems arose because some sophs just can't handle their booze. And rescue units--we're not kidding--were called in from the fire department and paramedic units. A whole lotta commotion when all we wanted to hear was: "Put your pencils down." No word yet on re-takes.