Last week, former Tucson Mayor George Miller wrote a column that appeared in the Arizona Daily Star advocating annexation of the Catalina Foothills into the city of Tucson. He is spot on. It’s time — and with a recent change in state law — a number of objections to the idea seem to wither away.
The Legislature in Phoenix decided to do what probably should have been done locally when it radically changed the way Tucson’s city council members will be elected.
There will be no more partisan races and they’re changing the arcane system of having voters only vote in the ward for the primary but then having the candidates run city-wide in the general election. Under the law passed by state lawmakers, council members will be elected only by voters within their wards.
Every other city in the state had changed, except Tucson. The reason it never changed in Tucson is that council members were afraid of changing the way they got elected so they came up with every creative way possible to oppose a change.
One of the long time reasons for favoring non-partisan city elections is that partisanship doesn’t fit in when it comes to delivery of city services. Republicans don’t do any better with trash pick up. And Democrats aren’t any better at running libraries. Most citizens just want local services done professionally. They don’t care which party delivers those services.
Historically, there were two key objections from Catalina Foothills residents when it came to annexation — party affiliation and taxes.
Since voter registration within the city is predominantly Democrat and the Foothills is mainly Republican, Foothills residents thought they would be on the short end if they chose to join the city. And, with the old system of council candidates running city-wide in general elections, the odds of a Republican winning in that environment were slim.
Additionally, the City of Tucson has its own property tax and a 2 percent sales tax, which residents in unincorporated areas of Pima County, including the Foothills, don’t pay.
But now it’s time to put all that behind.
As new residents of the city, Foothills property owners would inherit an additional tax of about $1 per $100 of assessed valuation on their homes and businesses. Retail stores would also add on the additional sales tax. But, in return, residents would be getting more for their money.
First off, there would be no more annual subscriptions to Rural Metro to pay for fire protection. The City of Tucson’s excellent fire department would provide that service.
When it comes to law enforcement there would be better response for the Tucson Police Department. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik would be the first to admit his department cannot give Catalina Foothills residents the same response time that the Tucson Police Department can.
And it’s not spoken about much but there is another reason Catalina Foothills residents should want to become part of the city. County governments were not designed to deliver typical city services. Counties are typically the government of last resort. They were set up to build a road from Hamlet A to Town B and help ensure the public health. That’s about it.
Today, Pima County is being asked to deliver services for a more urbanized population and it doesn’t have the funding flexibility to do it. Much of the county’s discretionary spending comes from property taxes. In theory, if the city took over police and fire, county spending for those in the Catalina Foothills should go down.
Let’s face it, Catalina Foothills residents don’t just hang out in the Foothills all day and night. They make daily trips into the city to shop, work or go to University of Arizona events. Geographically, it looks like one big city.
As a former county supervisor who represented the Catalina Foothills, I always thought annexation had merit. The days of the Foothills being a quaint rural outpost are long gone. The area is totally built out and its residents are demanding more services.
It’s time to sign that annexation petition.
Contact Mike Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org. Boyd is currently vice president of development for Western Wind Energy Corporation. He has worked as a consultant and lobbyist and served on the Pima County Board of Supervisors from 1992-2000, was Pima County Recorder from 1988-1992 and worked for KVOA 4 and KOLD 13 as a news anchor and reporter from 1984-1988.