Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry is getting into the fight over Proposition 200, the Public Safety First Initiative that city voters will decide on Nov. 3.
Huckelberry is warning that if voters approve Prop 200, and the city is forced to hire enough cops to reach a ratio of 2.4 officers per 1,000 residents, county taxpayers—which include city residents—will have to pick up the significant tab of paying for more prosecutors, public defenders, judges, jail space and other associated costs.
There are a whole bunch of numbers you can check out online, but here's the main takeaway: The overall additional cost to the county's justice system annually will be about $26 million in operating costs, and $6 million to cover the cost of building more jail and court space.
Huckelberry estimates that would break down to an additional $73 a year in property taxes on a house valued at $200,000.
"Whoever crafted the initiative forgot that the county is involved in the criminal-justice system in Pima County," Huckelberry says. "We house folks who get arrested in our jail; we prosecute them through the county attorney; we defend them through the legal defender; we try them in courts."
Although she's not taking a public stand on Prop 200 (See "The Cost of Crime," Page 11), Ward 3 Councilwoman Karin Uhlich cites Huckelberry's concerns as a reason that voters may want to think twice about passing it.
But here's Uhlich's problem: She has supported a policy of hiring 2.4 cops per 1,000 city residents, which would create the same kinds of costs for the county as Prop 200.
In light of Huckelberry's report, Uhlich is no longer sure that the city should build the force to 2.4 officers per 1,000. She says that standard seemed to make sense in 2006, but "three years later, both the police and fire standards have come into increasing question."
She adds that the City Council can, as of now, adjust those numbers, but if Prop 200 passes, they can't be changed, "even if we know for a fact that the ratio is incorrect or the response times are faulty. We will be locked into those measures."
Councilwoman Nina Trasoff is similarly conflicted over the right ratio for Tucson. Trasoff says she still supports the goal of reaching 2.4 officers per 1,000, but that may need to revisited if Prop 200 does not pass.
"I've thought about it a lot, and I rely on the expertise of the top officers we have in the police department," says Trasoff. "It is, and should be, a moving target as to how many officers we need, based on the needs of the community."
Republican Steve Kozachik, who is running against Trasoff, says those additional county taxes don't matter, because crime is already costing Pima County residents a bundle.
"We are paying for it right now," Kozachik says. "We're paying for it in terms of higher insurance costs for cars, for homes, for businesses. We're paying for it in terms of Tucson having the image of being a high-crime city, so it's a disincentive for businesses to come here."
Colin Zimmerman, the director of public affairs for the Tucson Association of Realtors (which has funded the lion's share of the Prop 200 campaign), says that Huckelberry's report shows that if the initiative passes, more criminals will end up behind bars. He suggests that busting more criminals is worth an additional tax burden.
"What is the cost of not arresting these people?" Zimmerman says. "What is the cost of letting crimes go unpunished? Where would you rather these criminals be? I'm all for criminals getting taken off the street."
But Huckelberry, who released another report last week examining the ratio of police officers per 1,000 residents, says "there is no magic formula about the right ratio of police officers to fight crime. It varies all over the state. ... It's an artificial number, and it means nothing."
Public Policy Polling dropped a lot of Arizona survey numbers on gubernatorial and Senate races last week, which we covered at The Range, the Tucson Weekly blog that you really should be reading.
One of the more interesting installments involved Sen. John McCain's numbers. He was set up against two Southern Arizona Democrats.
PPP tested McCain against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Tucson City Councilman Rodney Glassman, because those are the Democrats whose names are dropped as potential challengers. (They also tested him against Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, with the caveat that she "obviously is not going to run for Senate next year.")
McCain crushed both Giffords and Glassman in the poll, which isn't all that surprising, given that the election is still a year in the future, and neither Giffords nor Glassman has done too much to raise their statewide profile.
McCain gets 57 percent of the vote against Giffords, who gets 30 percent. No shock here, given that 60 percent of the voters don't know enough about her to give her a favorable or unfavorable ranking. (She's at 19 percent favorable and 21 percent unfavorable.)
Glassman is even more unknown. McCain gets 55 percent of the vote against the Tucson City Council member, who was supported by 25 percent of those surveyed. More than four out of five voters—82 percent—didn't know enough about Glassman to have an opinion about him. His favorables were at 6 percent, and his unfavorables were at 12 percent.
We hear that Giffords is more likely to wait until 2012 to make a run for the Senate, especially if Sen. Jon Kyl decides to retire, as many seem to think he will. That makes sense to us, especially since redistricting could change the character of Giffords' District 8. That gives her more time to build a statewide profile.
But we hear Glassman is seriously considering going after McCain. He's being encouraged to do it by party elders such as Attorney General Terry Goddard and former state party chair Jim Pederson, who undoubtedly hope that some of Glassman's family fortune would be dumped into a get-out-the-vote effort.
The U.S. Census Bureau released new numbers showing how badly the city of Tucson has slipped in economic terms. The total number of those living in poverty climbed from 18.4 percent in 2007 to 20.9 percent last year.
The percentage of children living in poverty also took a significant jump. It went from 25.7 percent two years ago to 27.9 percent in 2008, which means more than one in four kids younger 18 is living in poverty inside the Tucson city limits. How many of those running for the City Council will want to talk about that depressing figure?
Skinny scribe Jim Nintzel will be joining Arizona Illustrated anchor Bill Buckmaster for a debate between the Ward 5 candidates, Democrat Richard Fimbres and Republican Shaun McClusky, on Monday, Oct. 5. The show airs at 6:30 p.m. on KUAT Channel 6.
Ward 6 Councilwoman Nina Trasoff and Republican Steve Kozachik will be joining the Friday Roundtable on Friday, Oct. 9.
Find early and late-breaking Skinny at The Range, our daily dispatch.