That's A Wrap

Wherein We Tie Up Some Loose Ends In The Wonderful World Of Local News.
By Dave Devine

NINETEEN NINETY-SIX will be remembered as the year voters decapitated Pima County Supervisor Ed Moore, politically speaking, and a minority of Tucson City Council members managed to show City Manager Michael Brown the door.

But 1996 was also the year Microsoft's arrival in Tucson was supposed to greatly improve the local economy. According to Microsoft promoters, the company was expected to employ 500 people in high-paying jobs during its first year of operation.

To help attract the firm, the City Council pledged $1 million over four years. This money was to cover some of the increased operating costs incurred by the University of Arizona, Microsoft's landlord, out at the old IBM plant on Rita Road.

In February, The Weekly reviewed the problems with finalizing the arrangements for that promised money. The actual amount was to be determined, in part, based on the company's payroll.

Ten months later, an agreement still isn't finalized and the city hasn't paid the University anything. Which is just as well, because according to a Microsoft representative, the company currently employs "about 100" full-time people, not the promised 500.

Two other projects to file in the 1996 "Didn't Achieve Expectations" folder were Don Diamond's dealings with the old La Reforma site and Whiteco Metrocom, Inc.'s attempts to grab big bucks for seven lost billboards on Speedway Boulevard. In both cases, thanks to aggressive action by City of Tucson staff, the taxpayers were able to save large sums of money.

As The Weekly outlined in a May story, Diamond and his partners wanted between $700,000 and $1 million for 12 acres of vacant land near 22nd Street and 10th Avenue. However, they'd paid only $145,000 for the site when they acquired it in 1993. In addition, there were $90,000 in taxes owed on the land at that time. They ended up getting $250,000, plus $37,000 of the property tax bill forgiven.

Whiteco, the billboard company, thought its seven signs on Speedway should be worth $3.2 million. As we reported in February, this figure was considered to be highly inflated by city staff members. The company eventually agreed to settle for $600,000.

While the cost of billboards was held in line, the same couldn't be said for the number of A-frame signs scattered around town. In a June story, The Weekly discussed the proliferation of these signs all over Tucson. It doesn't look like that situation has changed at all.

But while A-frames continue to spring up, the same can't be said for the enrollment at the new Arizona International Campus of the University of Arizona, also housed out at the old IBM plant. As Margaret Regan reported in August, the number of students at the new campus was 44 on opening day. For the spring term, about 58 students have enrolled. They must be soooo busy processing all the kids clamoring to spend their days at the sterile, isolated location on Tucson's far, far southeast side.

Also coming along slowly is a decision on what kind of water will be used to fill Pima County's Ajo Detention Basin as part of the recreational facility being developed near the new baseball stadium. As we outlined for you in an April story, Pima County officials proposed to use CAP water in the basin to promote recharge, but the staff of Tucson Water objected to the idea. It now looks like a compromise on using reclaimed sewer water has been reached.

Another pending decision which also awaits the new Board of Supervisors concerns the proposed bond election, tentatively scheduled for May 20. The current proposal has tens of millions of dollars in roadway projects included as part of the package. Much of this money is slated to go to the northwest side of town to support new and anticipated development. But those projects are far away from where many of Tucson's major traffic problems actually exist.

New Supervisor Sharon Bronson could be the deciding vote on where this money gets spent. Supervisors Raul Grijalva and Dan Eckstrom, as a Weekly editorial reported in November, want a large chunk of these funds used in the center of the city. Bronson, whose district includes much of the northwest side, may have to choose between her district's needs and her Democratic allies' agenda.

Finally, as a September cover story on the growing number of working poor people in Tucson reported, the City Council decided early in 1996 that the issue must be discussed. Unfortunately, they just haven't had the time yet to talk about the problem, or how to solve it.

They've probably been too busy trying to figure out how to spend our tax dollars helping restaurants, resorts and football games. TW

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