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Bound by Bonds

A new city-county skirmish appears to be working itself out

It appears that City Councilman Steve Kozachik is backing off his threat to oppose Pima County's bond package after County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry agreed to some changes in the legal mumbo-jumbo regarding how jurisdictions are supposed to maintain projects funded by the bonds, should voters approve them in November.

Kozachik started complaining in recent weeks that the county was requiring cities and towns to agree to fix any deficiencies in bond-funded buildings, parks or what-have-you within 120 days if the county determined they weren't being properly maintained or operated. If the city or town didn't come through, the county reserved the right to either make the repairs and send the jurisdiction a bill, or stop funding future projects.

Kozachik called that unreasonable because cities and towns can't be expected to come up with a blank check at the beck and call of the county.

"It is unprecedented for any jurisdiction to allow another jurisdiction to effectively enter their budget cycle mid-term with a non-appropriated mandate and say, 'You have 120 days to fix this or we're either going to send you a bill or put the rest of your bond projects on hold,'" Kozachik said last week. "We can't just pull money out of a hat like that."

Later in the week, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry sent out a memo offering some changes in the language of the legal agreement between the county and the various jurisdictions. He said the county would take into account the useful life of the projects, so a street might have a shorter warranty period than a library. And rather than requiring a fix within 120 days, the county would agree to hold off on taking action as long as a plan to fix the problem was being developed. He also added a provision that cities and towns present a funding plan for the operation and maintenance of projects they want built.

Huckelberry was standing firm on the need for cities and towns to agree to take care of bond-funded projects. He pointed to a number of facilities that the city has not properly cared for after bond money was invested in them, including the Tucson Center for the Performing Arts on Sixth Avenue south of Broadway, which remains behind a chain link fence after the county invested $600,000 in it. Huckelberry pointed to other examples of city-owned properties that are now seeking bond dollars, such as the Temple of Music and Art and the Eckbo Fountains outside the Tucson Convention Center.

"Why ask for a capital project to be built with bonds when you can't operate it?" Huckelberry asked. "So everybody has to step up and pledge that they will adequately operate and maintain these facilities if they are built with capital bonds. And if there is a question as to whether you can do that, they should have never asked for the project."

Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson said the push to include accountability in the contract was vital to persuading voters to approve the bonds.

"We need to assure the voters, should they approve these bonds, that the projects will be built and they will be maintained," Bronson said. "To do anything else would be misfeasance, if not malfeasance."

Larry Hecker, who headed up the county's bond advisory committee, said that members stressed that jurisdictions had to be able to afford to maintain and operate any projects that they agreed to consider.

"We didn't want taxpayers to build a project and then have it fall into disrepair because the funds weren't there to keep it up," said Hecker, who expressed annoyance that Kozachik was making a public stink rather than directly addressing county officials, especially since city and county staff had already negotiated the deal point and city staff had only asked the county to change the length of time needed to make repairs from 60 to 120 days.

"Instead of going through the normal channels, which is for the appropriate person at the city level to talk to the appropriate person at the county level to try to work it out, it's done in the media, which is very frustrating," Hecker said.

After he saw Huckelberry's memo, Kozachik called the proposed changes "very constructive."

He added that he didn't blame Huckelberry for including the provision and faulted city staff for not driving a harder bargain and alerting the council to the contractual requirement.

"This is not his fault that we got into this pissing contest," Kozachik said. "City staff negotiated these conditions. And I found out about three days before the Board of Supervisors was supposed to vote to approve it. If I'm Chuck Huckelberry and I haven't heard anything back until three days before its supposed to go to a vote, I am figuring everyone is on board. He has every right to be pissed that this came back at him, and I have every right to be pissed at city staff for withholding this for 30 days."

While he stopped short of pledging his support for the bonds, Kozachik said he believes it's a good package overall: "There are some very important projects in the bond package."

Nightmare Act

Attorney General Brnovich wants to make it harder for DREAMers to attend college

Attorney General Mark Brnovich is appealing a Maricopa County Superior Court decision that allowed undocumented immigrants who are participating in the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to receive in-state tuition.

The Maricopa Community College board decided that because participating in the DACA program granted certain benefits of legal status to DREAMers, they would grant them in-state tuition. (Pima Community College has done the same thing.) Republican Tom Horne, who preceded Brnovich in the AG's office, sued the college, saying that Arizona voters had voted to prohibit such things with Prop 200 back in in 2004.

But Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Arthur T. Anderson ruled that, for the purposes of receiving in-state tuition, DACA participants are considered to be lawfully present in the United States under federal law.

Following the ruling, the Arizona Board of Regents voted to allow DACA participants to also get in-state tuition at the three state universities.

Now Brnovich wants to play to the nativist crowd by taking the case to the Arizona Court of Appeals. To what end? Are we better served as a state if kids who want to contribute to their community are locked out of the chance to get an education?

Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel is taking a summer break. The show will return with a new episode on Sunday, July 26, at 8 a.m. on KWBA, Channel 8 on Cox and Comcast and Channel 58 on DirecTV and broadcast.

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