Pima County taxpayers beware! At the February 16
, 2016 Board of Supervisors' meeting, we had a somewhat lengthy discussion about the repayment of a $5.3 million loan from the County's General Fund to the Development Services Enterprise Fund. Remember, this loan was made during the years of the economic downturn - something we are still trying to recover from nearly ten years later.
Surprisingly, we were also informed that at the beginning of FY 2016/17 there would be a standard 2% fee increase in permit fees, along with a revised and updated valuation table. The County Administrator reports, "the industry has argued these should be deferred." (
CH Memorandum date March 15, 2016
). Unfortunately, the County administrator is now recommending otherwise. Is this any surprise?
Let's take a step back and ask, "Why was this loan necessary?" Due to the recession and the downward spiral of development projects, permitting was at a snail's pace. This created a significant deficit in revenue to fund the Development Services Department in Pima County. As an enterprise fund, the Development Services Department needs the revenue created from permit fees and other services charged to the public in order to survive. The issue at stake is not about increasing technology-based opportunities, but rather about helping the industry recover from the economic downturn.
It's now 30 days later and at today's "ideas of March 15, 2016" board meeting the Supervisors were asked to consider how to use the repayment funds collected from prior years and whether to increase permitting fees. It was suggested these funds totaling nearly $5.3 million be spent on road repairs. No such luck. The County Administrator recommended the funds be earmarked for economic development. What? Another space balloon deal?
I stand firm on the fact that I don't support increasing development service fees now or for using these funds for economic development. Why? Taxpayers recently saw the result of how county funds are used to support individual companies who acquire multi-million-dollar county owned properties for virtually pennies. Think back to the World View "space balloon" deal recently approved by four of the Supervisors. This was the economic development deal of the century where the corporate owners said we could invest $16 million plus in them, but we were not allowed to see their financials. I believe one Supervisor referred to the financials as "proprietary information" and that's why they couldn't be shared. I've got to remember this logic the next time I ask for a bank loan.
Why is this important to me? First, I don't support increases in permit fees at this time. The administrator argues that fees in Pima County would remain lower than surrounding jurisdictions even with the fee increase. That may be true but I believe this is a clear indicator we must keep these fees lower for a longer period to entice building in Pima County. We just haven't experienced an economic recovery in the way Maricopa County has. Therefore, I believe now is the time to proceed with caution in hopes that more building will occur if we keep our fees lower for at least another year.
Secondly, in the event permit fees increase and we do receive these monies back in the general fund, the most critical need that hasn't been met in Pima County is road repair. Residents are driving on streets that aren't fit for 4 wheel drive traffic. Potholes and crumbling pavement have become the "brand" for Pima County. It is time this Board of Supervisors takes ownership and responsibility for the disastrous road situation and recognize how focusing money toward road repairs is more than a transportation issue. At this stage of the game, funds spent on road repairs constitutes a form of economic development! It is time for this board to remember who they serve....the Pima County Taxpayers.