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Bond Potpourri 

From a new psychiatric hospital to a Green Valley performance center, bond question No. 2 asks for numerous things

A grab-bag of goodies aptly describes the $81.8 million in bonds included under question No. 2 on Pima County's May 18 bond ballot. To be paid for by secondary property taxes, opponents call these 14 projects political pork, while supporters see them as essential improvements.

Local Libertarian Party leadership urges voters to reject the measure, labeling it a "taxpayer-funded bureaucratic building spree" in the statement they wrote for the election's publicity pamphlet. County Supervisor Ramon Valadez, however, believes the proposals meet some of the community's highest needs and names them, collectively, the Sonoran Desert People Protection Plan.

The list of projects involves primarily small-scale efforts. There is $800,000 to restore the historic façade of the county-owned former Walgreens building downtown, and another $1 million to expand a hanger and make other changes at the Pima Air and Space Museum. Also on the list is $1.2 million to construct a 200-seat auditorium at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum and build a gray water treatment plant there.

Other items include $2 million for a central city health clinic and a $300,000 addition to the food bank in Amado. The measure also provides $1 million for a community center on Mount Lemmon, $1.5 million to implement a new facility to dispose of old tires and $3 million for remodeling work at the Pima County Animal Care Center.

The largest project in the package is a proposed new building near county-owned Kino Community Hospital on Ajo Way, which will consolidate existing government-operated health services at a cost of $25 million. In 1997, voters approved $4 million of bond money to have the plans for this building prepared, so if the new funds are approved, construction could get underway fairly quickly.

Question No. 2 also contains a $12 million provision for a new, 50-bed psychiatric hospital on the Kino campus. It is the most controversial project on the list.

According to Norm Botsford, CEO of University Physicians Inc., which recently took over management of problem-plagued Kino, the new building is needed to provide better service. He says the present 38-bed unit is inadequate for a number of reasons, including its lack of single-bed rooms, its poor design for psychiatric patients and its lack of outdoor access.

Former Arizona state Rep. John Kromko believes these patients could remain in the greatly underutilized existing hospital at far less cost to taxpayers. He also argues that UPI is being paid a huge subsidy to manage the hospital and thinks the new psychiatric facility is just being proposed to increase the enormous economic benefits awarded to UPI by the County Board of Supervisors.

"The profits (from Kino) will go to a private company," Kromko says. "That's outrageous."

Herbert Abrams, a member of the Kino Advisory Board, takes the opposite perspective and is supporting proposal No. 2.

"The subsidy will decline over time," Abrams says, "and hopefully, UPI can turn Kino around."

A pair of other large-dollar projects included on the bond list are $20 million worth of infrastructure improvements in low-income, high-stress neighborhoods, and $10 million for housing reinvestment.

At the last county bond election held seven years ago, a total of $10 million was approved for these two categories. Of that amount, almost all the neighborhood money has been used, but because of legal issues, only $1.1 million of the housing funds have been spent so far, with another $1.3 million committed and a similar amount applied for.

"It took longer than it should have (to spend the housing money)," Valadez says, "but there were hurdles to overcome. Now that they have been figured out, I think the program will operate much more smoothly."

The final project on the list will help pay for the second phase of a performing arts center in Green Valley. Located on a 19-acre site near Continental Road and Camino Del Sol, the first phase of the project combined $1.5 million in 1997 bond funds with $3 million from Pima Community College. The result is classrooms along with art and rehearsal studios.

If question No. 2 is approved, the $4 million in county funds will have to be matched by state and federal grants, along with private donations. This money would then be used to build a 500-seat performance hall, an art gallery, other amenities and "lots of restrooms" according to Nancy Karsh, chairwoman of Green Valley's Community Performing Arts Center Foundation.

"We'll have arts and learning in a world class facility," Karsh says.

Asked why all county taxpayers should help fund their local arts center, she replied: "The people of Green Valley have been paying taxes all their lives. They send a lot of property tax money up the road to the Pima County government, but don't get much back. They can't afford to do all (of the center financing) by themselves. They're certainly not interested in raising taxes much, but they are interested in this project."

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