Ally Miller: Pima County Board of Supervisors Vote to Issue MORE DEBT

I have continued my pledge to eliminate nonessential spending and the resulting burden on the taxpayers with my most recent suggestion at the December 3, 2013, Board of Supervisors meeting.

Agenda Item 15, Resolution 2013-109 authorized the issuance of $58 million in Certificates of Participation debt (COPs) to fund additional construction on the Public Service Center (previously known as the Pima County Justice Court/City of Tucson Municipal Court Complex).  Certificates of Participation debt may be issued with only a Board of Supervisors majority vote – voter approval is not required.

In the 2004 bond election, voters approved $76 million for the “so called” Pima County Justice Court/City of Tucson Municipal Court Complex.  Since this election, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has stated the $76 million would only cover the shell construction of this courthouse.  Voters weren’t aware they would eventually have to pony up more cash to pay for interior finishes.

The City of Tucson had agreed to contribute $18 million to the construction; however, without a signed Intergovernmental Agreement, the Tucson City Council chose to withdraw from the project in November 2012 – eight years after the bond election.  This left Pima County to make a choice:Cancel the project or go it alone.  The Board chose to move forward with the project despite the added burden of bearing all construction costs.  I presented my argument to my fellow board members suggesting the County should lease the additional space to an outside party versus investing more taxpayer dollars in the courthouse.

My argument to the Board was it would be wiser to lease the remaining area to an outside entity to provide their own improvements which could be a winning scenario for the taxpayers.  This option would have allowed for the interior improvements to be completed at the cost of the tenant and at the same time Pima County would have increased revenue by leasing the excess space at the current market rate.

Despite my argument, the Board majority voted to use the building as collateral for an anticipated amount of $58 million in COPs.  In effect, the Board authorized borrowing an additional $58 million on top of the $22 million previously invested from the General Fund in 2011 thereby overrunning the original bond amount presented to voters by $80 million.

This is more than a 100% overrun of the original bonded amount voters approved for this court complex.

Pima County will now repurpose the space to house the Pima County Assessor, Treasurer, Recorder, and Constables. The issuance of these additional COPs will fund all interior tenant improvements for the remainder of the courthouse along with parking facilities.

I voted against this Resolution to issue more debt.  My argument is the movement of County offices to this facility is not necessary or prudent at this time and any additional space improved should be leased at market rate.

Pima County currently has more than 3.5 times the debt of all other counties in the State of Arizona combined as of November 21, 2013.

Source: Huckelberry, C.H. Memo to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, Resolutions Relating to Debt Issues, 3 December 2013.

Supervisor Ally Miller represents District 1 on the Pima County Board of Supervisors.  Supervisor Miller began her term on January 1, 2013.

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