Back To Basics Guide

The Information In This Guide Is Provided To Assist Neighborhoods, The Public And Back To Basics Recipients In Understanding This City Of Tucson Program, Its Processes, Funding, And Goals

What Is Back To Basics?

Back to Basics began in 1998 as a City of Tucson infrastructure improvement program. The purpose was to concentrate funding on projects to revitalize and stabilize neighborhoods with the most serious needs for basic improvements. At the time the program was established, there were many neighborhoods in the City of Tucson that did not have basic infrastructure such as sidewalks, streetlights or curbs.
One of the priorities of the program is to develop partnerships among neighborhood residents, City Council offices, City staff, and local businesses to identify re-investment and financial leverage options in infrastructure and housing.

What Can Back To Basics Be Used For?

The majority of the projects have been infrastructure improvement projects. A sampling of improvements are listed below:


  • Street paving
  • Sidewalks
  • Street lighting
  • Traffic calming
  • Parks and street landscaping
  • Bike and pedestrian paths
  • Drainage improvements
  • Bus stops, pull-outs and shelters


  • Preventive maintenance
  • Emergency home repair
  • Rehabilitation assistance

Back To Basics Funding

During the first nine years of Back to Basics, over $38 million has been allocated citywide. The amount of funding available each year has varied, depending on the City’s budget.

For Fiscal Year 2008 (July 1, 2007-June 30, 2008), the tenth year of the Back to Basics program, $397,199 has been budgeted for each City of Tucson Ward and for the Mayor’s Office. This consists of $154,342 in CDBG funds and $242,857 in HURF funds. Each Council Member and the Mayor determine how to allocate the funding assigned to each of their offices. City staff works closely with Mayor and Council offices and potential recipients to determine the costs and timelines of the project based on a mutually defined scope and budget.

Two sources of funds are available for Back to Basics projects, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) and Highway User Revenue Funds (HURF). Each source has restrictions on the types of projects that can be funded.

Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)

A project or activity must meet two criteria to be considered for Back to Basics funding through CDBG.

Criteria No. 1: The activity or project must primarily benefit low and moderate-income citizens.

There are five ways to determine which activities can meet this requirement:

  1. The benefit is available to all residents of an area where at least 51% of the residents are low or moderate income. Once a neighborhood is declared eligible through review of census data, public improvements such as streetlights, parks and playgrounds can be funded in this category.
  2. The activity is located in an area that has been declared a redevelopment area under State law. This would apply to much of Downtown.
  3. A housing unit provided or improved is occupied by a low or moderate-income household.
  4. The benefit is available to a targeted client group; at least 51% of whom can be determined to be low or moderate income. A sample project would be an upgrade to a building that houses a citywide children’s recreation program targeted to low-income children.
  5. The benefit is available only to persons in one of the following categories: abused children, battered spouses, elderly persons, severely disabled adults, homeless persons, illiterate adults, persons with AIDS, or migrant farm workers.

Criteria No. 2: After an activity has met Criteria No. 1, it must be one of the several activities listed by the federal government as activities on which CDBG funds can be spent.

Among the most frequent uses of Back to Basics funds coming from CDBG have been improvements and rehabilitation of public facilities and residential structures, including exterior improvements, correction of code deficiencies, and preservation of historic buildings.

The best process to determine eligibility of activities is through review by the Community Services Department staff. This is due to the fact that regulations are not always straightforward, and can require interpretation.

Highway Revenue User Funds (HURF)

The use of Highway User Revenue Funds is governed by the State of Arizona’s constitution. Expenditures of HURF must be for improvements in the public roadway right-of-way. Funds can also be used for the acquisition of right-of-way.

Examples of eligible Back to Basics expenditures using HURF include the installation of new pavement, curbing, sidewalks and streetlights, traffic control devices, landscaping and culverts. Administrative and engineering costs also are eligible expenses and will be included in the cost of any Back to Basics project.

What Are The Steps In A Back To Basics Project?

There are three elements to a Back to Basics project:

  1. Discussion of feasibility of the project’s scope and funding with the Mayor and Council and City of Tucson staff.
  2. Designation by the Mayor or Council Member.
  3. Planning. If a neighborhood is selected for a Back to Basics grant and additional planning or community input is necessary, the neighborhood works with City staff and the Mayor or Council Office to prioritize projects within the allocated budget.
  4. Implementation by the City of Tucson staff.

To expedite the process, it is recommended that neighborhoods or the designated group conduct surveys, make inventories, and have discussions with residents to establish consensus on improvements prior to seeking funding from the Mayor or Council Member.

After planning is completed and final recommendations are made, implementation by City of Tucson staff usually takes about one year. City staff checks to make sure the proposed project is not in conflict with other proposed construction or Master Plans and that the proposed project meets City of Tucson design standards and other public approval processes. Implementation also includes architectural and engineering review, creating plans, bidding out the project, awarding the contract, and construction. The length of time from project approval to construction will depend on the complexity of the project and the number of other projects under consideration

Does My Neighborhood Or Group Need Legal Non-Profit Status To Be Eligible For A Back To Basics Grant?

It is not necessary for a neighborhood to be an association nor for it to be a non-profit or 501(c)3 to be awarded a Back to Basics grant since neighborhoods or groups do not actually receive funds directly from the City of Tucson. Neighborhoods or groups work with the Mayor or Council Member to prioritize needs and refine the scope of the project. Since these are City projects, no funding is distributed outside of the City departments except to contractors through the City’s procurement process.

Can The Neigborhoods Do The Projects Themselves?

Public funds spent on any Back to Basics project must follow the City of Tucson procurement processes and are done through contracts that the City obtains. Any improvement or change to City of Tucson property or right-of-way must be done following procurement processes through the City of Tucson.

Is the City's Procurement Process Really Necessary?

According to State statute and local ordinances, the procurement process is necessary for public projects using public funding. The City of Tucson’s Procurement Department and the processes it has developed over the years have received national recognition and are considered a model for other municipalities. Their processes ensure that contractors meet certain requirements and are accountable to complete projects for which they were selected.

Can Back To BAsics Be Used For Improvements On Private Property?

Back to Basics funding cannot be used for improvements on private property with the exception of certain projects eligible under CDBG requirements (see above).

How Can We Stay Up To Date On The Status of Back To Basics Funds?

The City has a website that lists the current, open Back to Basics projects. This list is updated quarterly. It can be found at Back To Basics. Neighborhood Resources staff can assist with more current information if needed.

How Do We Know The Funds Are Being Used As They Were Intended?

The City of Tucson developed a financial reporting system that maintains an accurate record of funds that have been expended for each project. Monthly reports are made available to the Mayor and Council. Each project is provided a budget based on initial estimates. If the actual bid comes in over budget, the scope of the project may need to be modified. Sometimes projects are completed under budget. In such a case, the respective Council Member has the discretion to use that balance to augment the original project or to assign it to a different project.

Who Do We Contact For Back To Basics Information

The primary point of contact for a Back to Basics project should be the Mayor or a Council Member who made the award. However, City staff also is available to answer your questions. Staff from the Community Services Department (CSD) administers the funding and oversees the projects.

For more information on the Back to Basics process, call the Community Services Department, (520) 791-4605.