Soon, I’ll be making my appointment to the citizen’s committee that will be overseeing spending on the bonds that you and your neighbors passed in November. Those of you that paid close attention to the 409 bonds that were passed five years ago may see something a little different with the parks bonds.
In the road bonds, we had a list of specific projects along major streets, but there was also a part of the money set aside for neighborhood projects. That gave the citizen’s committee some leeway to address needs in individual neighborhoods that were brought to them.
These bonds are different. Every project was listed as part of the ballot materials, along with the schedule for when the work will be done.
There’s a good reason why this was done. Bonds are borrowed money that are paid off with your property taxes. We need to tell you exactly where that money will be spent when we ask you for your approval.
This is why when people call my office to ask if money for one project can instead be spent on another project, our answer will be a very polite no. For money to be shifted around, there has to be one of a very limited set of reasons. If the cost of a project changes from the initial estimate by a large amount, there may be a change. If something unforeseen happens that doesn’t allow a project to go forward (a piece of land becoming unavailable, for example), you may see a change. Even under those circumstances, there has to be a public process, before both the bond committee as well as the council, for these sorts of changes to be authorized.
A big consideration as well is the schedule. There will be $225 million in bonds sold for both parks and connectivity (things like walking and bike paths). Because these are bonds, this money will not be available all at once but spread out over the course of nine years. Selling all the bonds at once or in a short period of time would have resulted in a big hit to your property taxes. Instead, they will be spread out and sold as old bonds are paid off to make sure that your taxes remain constant. Because of that, projects are scheduled in three phases over the course of those nine years.
The schedule was also part of the public materials put before the voters and can’t be tinkered with. There are several projects in phase 1, the part that will be complete by 2022, that are smaller projects that are easy to get done right away. For example, Palo Verde Park has lighting projects scheduled (both for athletic fields and parking lots) as part of phase 1, while things like tennis court resurfacing and irrigation are saved for later phases. We wanted to make sure that you, as a voter and taxpayer, will see results quickly.
Because of a spike in city sales tax revenue, my colleagues and I authorized advanced funding of $12 million that can go into getting those phase one projects started right away. As the bonds are sold, that $12 million will be put back into the general fund to be spent on other city priorities.
Some of you have contacted me to ask why certain projects in their area are put off to phase 2 (2023-2025) or phase 3 (2026-2028). The schedule was put together to make sure that projects in different phases were balanced regionally, but there were also some practical considerations.
For example, those of you that use Jesse Owens Park know that a large part of the park of was shut down while a new irrigation system was installed. Users of that park had to go to nearby parks for things like youth sports. This is one of the things that had to be kept in mind when putting together the schedule. If one particularly disruptive improvement was being made in one park, there would have to be one nearby where work wasn’t being done so that things like league sports, recreation classes and other things could still happen within a short drive.
There are 620 projects on the schedule, and considerations like this make it really hard to move one project from one phase to another. It’s a puzzle where you move one piece and you have to figure out where two or three others are going to go and on and on.
If you want more information on schedules and what projects are going to happen in your neighborhood park, you can visit https://www.tucsonaz.gov/parksbond. Remember that you can always call my office as well.