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DELAYED IMPACT: We're well aware that impact fees are not the be-all, end-all solution to our transportation funding shortfall. But every little bit (and our measly impact fees amount to little more than a little bit) helps.

The Board of Supervisors is gearing up to double Pima County's ridiculously low transportation impact fees. The current $1,550 fee, set by the old GOP-controlled board in 1996, was only half the $3,100 recommended by county staff. Yet the green board elected later that year, which has spent plenty of time and money on the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, has sidestepped the question of impact fees since it came into office. (Anybody remember Democrat Sharon Bronson's '96 opponent, Republican Vicki Cox-Golder, screeching about Bronson's alleged intent to raise impact fees to $10,000 or more? Bronson, for all her tough talk during the campaign, has been terrified to even have a discussion of impact fees on the agenda.)

The increase is overdue and probably ought to be higher than $3,100. We heard Democrat Steve Emerine complaining on John C. Scott's radiofiesta that the county had no basis for the increase. Uh, Steve--maybe you should check out the thick reports done by county staff way back in the mid-'90s. We doubt road construction has gotten any cheaper since then. Do you suppose the county should do the work all over again? That doesn't sound like a wise use of strapped county resources to us--although the end result would likely justify an even higher fee.

(An aside: When John C. introduces Emerine as a former county assessor, former city editor at the Arizona Daily Star, former owner of the Green Valley News, former nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, etc., etc., we wonder why he doesn't mention his current gig: paid flack for the Southern Arizona Homebuilders Association.)


RAILROADED: Citizens for a Sensible Transportation Solution, led by conductor Steve Farley, is making a final push for the 12,000-plus signatures they need to put a light-rail plan on the November ballot. If you want to find out how you can help out with the plan, which would hike the sales tax by three-tenths of a cent and crank the tax on construction materials to pay for a light-rail system down Broadway and South Sixth Avenue, as well as boosting mass transit and fixing the potholes in your neighborhood streets, visit www.tucsonlightrail.org.

We don't know if the group will get enough signatures--volunteer petition efforts are always a challenge under a tight deadline--but we hear rumors the mayor and council may decide to put in on the ballot even if they don't make it. Politically, that makes sense. We don't think city officials want the light rail questions hanging over their heads for the next year, and Mayor Bob Walkup surely doesn't want to run for re-election with the light-rail prop on the ballot.

The odds that Tucson voters will support the plan are slim, anyway, so the council has nothing to lose by putting the question to voters. The downside for supporters of light rail: if voters reject the prop, then the council can cancel the planned light-rail studies, saying the voters have spoken on the issue.


HE'S KEENE: City Manager James Keene refused to take yes for an answer. He bitched. He moaned. He threw several fits. And then he got his way with a slim City Council majority to renege on an old promise, bolstered by an arbitration panel, to give white collar workers a 3.6 percent raise retroactive to February.

Keene, the second paladin in the last 10 years to be imported from Berkeley to set Tucson right, went into overtime and overdrive to work over freshman Republican Kathleen Dunbar. The northside Ward 3 councilwoman made multiple pronouncements on the need to live up to commitments and promises, but in the end performed like Flipper for Kommander Keene, Mayor Bob Walkup and Councilman Fred Ronstadt, both Republicans. They were joined by Republi-crat Carol West in dissing white collar workers and approving a $935 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

It was not pretty, though the public and the council minority were left out of the loop in a peculiar meeting that the press allowed to become a secret session of negotiation in violation of the state Open Meeting Law.

When the petulant Ronstadt didn't get his way, the council adjourned for nearly 90 minutes. During that time, Ronstadt admitted to the increasingly skeptical radioman John C. Scott, intense negotiations ensued in pairs: Ronstadt with his idol, the mayor; Ronstadt with his idol, Keene; Ronstadt with his idol, West; and finally Ronstadt with Flipper.

Democrats Steve Leal, Jose Ibarra and Shirley Scott were excluded in the mini-meetings that clearly circumvented the Open Meeting Law. Certainly, council members are going to talk during breaks and a little arm-twisting is expected. But 90 minutes away from public discussion?

The new budget screws kids and the working poor, which Keene has been attempting to do since he blew into town two years ago. It adds 50 cents for kids on Reid Park Zoo field trips, slaps $20 onto those in the Kidco afterschool programs, soaks those in swim lessons with $10.

But there is good news that neither the City Council, including Mayor Bob, nor the Daily Star understands: Even though the budget failed to make a recommended cut in property taxes, more than 80 percent of the homeowners in the city will see a slight decrease--$7 a year on a $100,000 home--in property taxes. Debt schedules permit the council to trim secondary taxes, used for voter-approved bonds, by 7 percent. But to raise more money, the council jacked up the primary property taxes, used to help pay daily operations, by 50 percent to a still-low $21 a year on a $100,000 home. More than 83,800 of the 101,729 homeowners in the city--those within high-tax Tucson Unified School District--will realize the decrease in secondary taxes while being immune to the primary increase. State tax formulas offer homeowners some relief from the chronic high taxes levied by TUSD and Pima County. Primary taxes are already well above the state limit for homeowners in TUSD.


DEBBIE DOES WINDOWS, JAN & BARB DON'T: Tortured Pima County supervisors finally agreed to seek an audit of the troubled 1997 road bonds. Republican Ann Day snared state Auditor General Debra K. Davenport, whose office will provide 700 hours at the bargain-basement price of $20,000. Only disgraced Arthur Andersen could be cheaper.

That will take the heat off Attorney General Janet Napolitano, busy 24/7 with her Democratic run for governor, and her pal and fellow Democrat County Attorney Barbara LaWall.

Both would see their credibility soar if they simply came clean on why they don't want to look into allegations that the transportation bond projects are full of misspent millions and fraught with patronage and illegal contracting. Republican Ray Carroll has been singing this song for more than a year. If he and his info-suppliers are wrong, let some investigative authority say so and Sugar Ray should then shut up.

Napolitano has made numerous radio appearances in Tucson to offer such lame reasoning as not wanting to intervene in a Pima County matter and that Pima County does not want any Phoenician interference. She'd do a lot better by saying there is no way she'll look into the matter because she is too close, particularly in her run for governor, with Supes Chairman Sharon Bronson and Democratic Supervisors Dan Eckstrom and Richard Elias.

Santa Barbara is conflicted by political alliances, dependence on supervisors for her annual budget and by the fact that she and her staff are counsel to the supes and every other Pima County official. They signed off on all those questionable road design contracts.

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