B y J i m N in t z e l
ALL THAT HARD work on the Rocking K annexation by the City of Tucson's Project Foresight task force got its first public airing late last month. What emerged was a plan that, as of now, completely ignores significant costs to city taxpayers.
"There's not nearly enough information," complained Councilwoman Molly McKasson. "There's just a pile of assumptions."
Legendary land speculator Don Diamond's Rocking K property, which would add at least 4,200 acres on the city's southwest side, was rezoned a few years back by the Pima County Board of Supervisors after a rancorous debate. As part of the rezoning agreement, Diamond agreed to ensure county taxpayers wouldn't foot the massive bill for infrastructure costs. Critics today grumble the annexation would mean city residents would end up subsidizing the development, while boosters say the development's inhabitants would add to the city's tax base, resulting in more revenue.
To find out which side is right, Ward 1 Councilman Bruce Wheeler originally asked John Jones, head of Project Foresight, to report to the full council earlier in June; but four council members--Mayor George Miller, Roger Sedlmayr, Janet Marcus and Tom Saggau--voted to table the discussion, arguing it would be premature to hear from the annexation team.
Frustrated by the majority council vote, Ward 5 Councilman Steve Leal asked Jones to appear before his financial subcommittee to find out what the annexation team was cooking up.
The council majority was right about one thing: Project Foresight's numbers are still half-baked. The group is trying its damnedest to show the annexation of Rocking K will turn a quick profit, stretching figures so far as to project Diamond's planned 200-room luxury resort will produce nearly a quarter of a million dollars in tax revenue for the fiscal year beginning this month, even though construction hasn't even begun at the site.
"Isn't that a little ridiculous?" asked an incredulous Wheeler, who is challenging Miller for the mayor's post in the September Democratic primary.
While the rest of the projections may not be as obviously absurd, they are flawed in one respect--they're all based on what Diamond says he's planning to do, which doesn't always happen. Take a look at Pima Canyon, for example, where Diamond's plans for a resort hotel collapsed last year. Instead, Diamond is now constructing luxury homes at that site.
Project Foresight has also failed to calculate the basic cost of providing water to Rocking K, as well as neglecting to figure out the cost of building a public golf course for the project.
Amid all the bureaucratic language of population densities and infrastructure costs, a question was left undiscussed: Does Diamond want the city to annex Rocking K? And if so, why?
Diamond spokesman Chris Monson says the city came to them to discuss the annexation, a claim backed by Project Foresight.
What might entice Diamond to go along with annexation? Some insiders speculate he may ask the city to create a special Community Improvement District. Through this special taxing authority, bonds could be sold to cover the steep costs of the Rocking K infrastructure, which future Rocking K homeowners would then be asked to pay off over the next several decades. That gets Diamond off the hook for covering those development costs, which may be all that's delaying the project now.
After nearly two hours of discussing the proposed annexation, the three council members were visibly disturbed by the lack of solid information from Project Foresight. They asked the group to shore up its numbers and report back to the finance subcommittee by the end of the summer.
Weekly contributors Emil Franzi and Jim Wright helped prepare this report.
Cutline: City Council members Bruce Wheeler and Molly McKasson keep an eye on Project Foresight. Photo by Sean Justice
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