Bond Age

County voters are being to asked to approve funds for projects that they already funded.

Only the most nouveau of Pima County voters won't get a sense of déjà vu when they go to the polls in May to decide the fate of a bond package that's now threatening to hit $1 billion.

Those with any history may feel trapped in That '70s Show.

Kino Community Hospital, struggling to retain licensure and mission after the July 15 homicide of psychiatric patient Wendy Gazda, is up for $74.5 million in taxpayer-financed debt under current bond plans.

Voters were generous for county health care facilities in 1974, providing approval for $17.2 million in bonds to construct Kino and other medical facilities chiefly to replace the dreary county general hospital on South Sixth Avenue where Bashas' Food City now stands. Taxpayers have consistently provided more millions for Kino after its 1977 opening, including for a medical campus to attract physician practices. That has never taken root. And voters, in the county's bond election in 1997, approved $4 million for a Kino public health center and $5 million for building repairs.

Much of the latter funding was swallowed up when Kino was beset by mold contamination. When abatement began last year, so did the diversion of funds --months ahead of action by the Board of Supervisors--to convert medical and surgical inpatient rooms at the southside hospital to the kind used for psychiatric patients. Now a $32 million bond is planned for a new psychiatric facility.

Voters specifically were told in 1997 that $3 million in bonds for Kino would be used for a center for the aging. The proposal now includes $3.5 million for the center for aging.

Posada del Sol, the county's nursing home at 2250 N. Craycroft Road, presents other problems. It is an aging building that is difficult to maintain. Posada also is home to the most difficult clients, patients with special needs such as those on respirators and those with AIDS, who won't be accepted by private nursing homes. Posada could be replaced if voters have the chance to approve $21 million in bonds for a new nursing home.

A committee evaluating the $720 million to $900 million in bond proposals has not been told that another health care project, $27 million for the public health center, is a repeat.

That committee is scheduled to meet tomorrow (Oct. 31) at the Manning House, 450 W. Paseo Redondo, to hear more recommendations before it begins to refine a proposal to be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors and County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry in December.

Health facilities are not alone on the county's repeat list.

Within the roughly $250 million proposal for open space and conservation, there's $26 million in new money for projects that voters approved on the 1997 bond list.

That includes $5 million for building rehabilitation at Canoa Ranch. The county bought 4,700 acres of the ranch in the Santa Cruz River valley south of Green Valley for $6.6 million, even though voters in 1997 approved only $2 million for Canoa.

In 1997, county officials presented voters with a $1.5 million plan for Canoa building rehabilitation. "The ranch complex," voters were told, "includes 10 to 12 buildings constructed of adobe and wood framing that have deteriorated. Rehabilitation will follow preparation of a site management plan for the adaptive reuse of the complex and preparation of stabilization plans and construction documents."

Buildings, county officials say, date from the 1870s to the 1930s. The ranch was established as San Ignacio de la Canoa Land Grant in 1821.

Members of the bond advisory committee, and voters who care to peek early, are being told that the 12 buildings at Canoa will be rehabilitated. "Restoration and adaptive use of the Canoa Ranch complex will provide an educational opportunity for the public to learn about ... the ranch's significant role in the history of Pima County."

Buildings at another ranch acquired by Pima County in 1990 also will be rehabilitated if voters grant approval. Buildings on the 366-acre Empirita Ranch, southeast of Tucson, will be restored with $600,000. That is triple what voters were told in 1997 was needed. Included is the de Villa Homestead, which county officials say was built in the late 1800s.

Other repeat projects include: Anza Trail and Campsites, $1.5 million or double the $750,000 in 1997; Pantano townsite, $300,000, up threefold from the acquisition price in 1997; Los Morteros archaeological site in the Tucson Mountains, $500,000 for interpretative and preservation work is the same cost as the purchase price approved by voters in 1997; the Valencia site, a Hohokam village, at $800,000 after $900,000 was approved in 1997 for acquisition that is not expected until next year.

"We have done what we said we were going to do with the 1997 money," said Jim Barry, the top Huckelberry assistant who is serving as bond administrator. "This is for additional and interpretive work."

Several proposals for open space in the Tortolita Mountains are making a return appearance even though voters--or the 17.6 percent who bothered to cast ballots--approved them in 1997. Roughly $6 million was projected for Tortolita Mountain Park and the Tortolita Ironwood Forest. But many of the parcels were not acquired when money was diverted to Canoa Ranch and Tucson Mountain properties.

Two highly visible projects are under consideration. One is the proposed $800,000 façade restoration of the downtown Walgreen's. The commercial building was designed by noted Tucson architect Roy Place. The county acquired the Walgreen's when the Board of Supervisors voted in 1987 to bail out officials of the Great American Bank who wanted to unload the Great American Tower at 32 N. Stone Ave. Supervisors spent--without asking for voter permission--$10.7 million for acquisition and millions more on renovation, repair and asbestos abatement. The building, originally the Home Federal Tower, now houses so much of the county's legal army that it is known as the Legal Services Building.

The other site is the Adkins Steel property at Fort Lowell. Several of Fort Lowell's officers quarters are on the Adkins property, an operating steel and welding shop. Bond proponents are seeking $2.5 million to acquire 5.2 acres for inclusion in the city's Fort Lowell Park.

The 1997 bond included $1 million for Fort Lowell as an option.

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