State bills keep Pima County in the spotlight - The Explorer: News

State bills keep Pima County in the spotlight

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Posted: Wednesday, March 14, 2012 3:00 am

While state representatives say the bill needs a lot of work, an amended House Bill 2656 still received the required votes to move on to the Arizona Senate.

The House of Representatives approved HB 2656 in a 34-23 vote. The bill, introduced by District 26 Rep. Terri Proud, is aimed at creating more oversight to the Pima County bond process.

During the third reading on March 8, District 26 Rep. Vic Williams said the bill needs a lot of work, but he still voted to approve it.

“I am looking forward to the discussions on the Senate side,” he said. “This bill has caused quite a stir. Marana has found itself isolated with five other members of the proposed board being in opposition of the bill.”

While Marana continues to disagree with Pima County, Oro Valley, Sahuarita and the City of Tucson have spoken out against the bill. Local chambers have also opposed the bill.

During last week’s discussion, District 28 Rep. Bruce Wheeler criticized the bill for only targeting Pima County.

“The original bill was terrible,” he said in voting no. “It was anti-Pima County. It would enable three unelected people to kill any bond proposal, which is bad for infrastructure and business.”

However, Wheeler commended Proud for amending the bill as it moves forward to the Senate.

The original bill would have given veto power to some of the smaller cities serving on the county board. Acknowledging that would create more problems, Proud amended the bill to set new limits on counties using “certificates of participation’’ to borrow money, which is a legal way of obtaining cash for projects without getting voter approval.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry has criticized the bill, and the way Proud has introduced it.

“There was a time you could talk factually about the issues, and a bill was based on reasoning and logic,” he said. “In the last few years we have so much discourse without facts.”

Huckelberry has challenged Proud’s reasons for introducing the bill, stating she is just taking sides in an ongoing battle between Pima County and Marana.

Pima County is being criticized for not allocating promised funds to several projects, dating back to 2004.

In Marana, some projects in question include the $600,000 Honea Heights Housing project in 2009, and the Marana Regional Airport sewer connection, which was slated to receive $2.4 million in Pima County bond funds.

While Huckelberry disputes the claims, Marana Town Manager Gilbert Davidson said the county’s story is constantly changing.

“Mr. Huckelberry has held up funding, and caused us to lose grants,” Davidson said, referring to the Honea Heights project. “He never said it was because of sewer capacity. He’s creating a new storyline to detract from what he has done.”

Because of that, Davidson said he is more in favor of House Bill 2408 moving forward than he is with HB 2656.

HB 2408, also being pushed by Proud, would direct the state’s auditor general to complete a special audit of the 1997, 2004 and 2006 Pima County general obligation bonds program.

“We need a regional conversation on where this money is coming from, and where it is going,” said Davidson.

Critics of the bills introduced by Proud say it appears Pima County is being targeted by state lawmakers who are siding with Marana in a continued battle over who has the rights to manage a wastewater treatment facility.

Marana assumed control of the plant earlier this year.

Huckelberry said the county has yet to receive proper compensation for the plant, and has not yet received more than $200,000 in attorney’s fees from Marana.

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