The Tucson City Council discussed the best way to spend the revenue from a half-cent sales tax increase that voters will decide on during a special election on May 16.
The five-year proposal will fund repair projects for city roads, and the purchase of new equipment for the Tucson Police and Tucson Fire departments.
The temporary tax hike will generate about $50 million each year, with the average Tucsonan paying an additional $3 dollars a month in sales tax, according to the city’s estimate.
Council Member Steve Kozachik, a Democrat representing Ward 6, said he wanted to assure voters that the potential citywide road improvements weren’t arbitrary, noting some of the roads were recently repaired.
Kozachik also said asking taxpayers to approve this measure again, when infrastructure money is always necessary, is exactly why he didn’t want to limit the time frame for this increase in revenue. “These costs aren’t going away,” he added.
The council decided that 60 percent of the revenue will fund public-safety investments, and 40 percent will go toward various road improvements. The public-safety money will be split evenly between Tucson’s police and fire departments, while 60 percent of road improvements will focus on major streets and 40 percent will repair residential streets.
Daryl Cole, director at Tucson Department of Transportation, said although some local roads were in good condition, maintaining those streets will save the city money in the long run.
City Manager Michael Ortega added maintaining roads in good condition will save Tucson money, and in five years, the council can decide whether the sunset tax increase should be revisited.
Council Member Paul Cunningham, a Democrat of Ward 2, said this initiative can keep the city budget on track and allow Tucson to catch up on its necessary road projects.
“This is the package that maximizes as many roads as we can to be at 90 percent functionality, and that’s why I appreciate the package that’s been put together,” Cunningham said. “And hopefully, this will right the ship, if not once and for all, and get us to the point where we have a sustainable road system in the city.”
The city also plans on purchasing 257 marked patrol cars for TPD with the additional revenue. According to city documents, 63 percent of TPD’s marked fleet have passed their “recommended useful service life.” The city also wants to purchase 1,050 ballistic vests for TPD officers. Even though new officers are provided with this essential protective gear, TPD has struggled to replace ballistic vests for local law enforcement at the recommended five-year mark.
More than $31 million will be spent on new vehicles for Tucson Fire, which includes 19 primary firefighting units, three basic ladder trucks and 90 general purpose vans and staff cars.
The city will invest more than $27 million to remodel TPD’s Operations Division South, 4410 S. Park Avenue, known as the Santa Cruz Substation, by adding a community meeting hall, a basketball court for local youth and extra space to house the growing precinct. Tucson’s Fire Station 10 will be relocated to the site in order to provide efficient emergency services to the city’s Southside.
Shirley C. Scott, a Democrat of Ward 4, said Tucson’s public safety departments did an outstanding job at identifying the investments that are essential, and further said this initiative is a good start.
“There should be more, there’s so many more things that we could add,” Scott said. “But we have to go in a measured pace and address the most important things.”