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N4T Investigators: Road dollars dispute - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Road dollars dispute

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Tucson - Seventy percent of Pima County's roads are in failed condition and there's no sign of a long-term solution. Temporary repair work is going on right now. You may see work crews filling potholes for the time being, and doing other road preservation work. County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry calls it a "band-aid" approach. 

Huckelberry blames the bad roads on the Arizona State Legislature, which he says does not give Pima County its fair share of road money. The gas tax is the main source of revenue to fix roads, and it has not been raised since 1991. 

"It is pretty bad," Huckelberry says of the roads. "But it's bad because of lack of revenue from the state, and the distribution formula for counties and HURF. That stands for Highway User Revenue Fund. It is the money that comes from taxes on gas, fuel consumption, vehicle license taxes and other fees. The money is deposited in the fund and distributed to cities and counties based on a portion of gasoline distribution, diesel fuel consumption, and a percentage of unincorporated population. In the fiscal year 2017, the Pima County Department of Transportation had $65 million in total revenue. Carmine DeBonis, the Deputy County Administrator, showed the News 4 Tucson Investigators how that money is spent by putting, at our request, an itemized list of revenues and expenditures on a whiteboard. 

"The money gets spent on transportation activities, and it is spread across a variety of different areas. The largest component of it is the repayment of the 1997 road bonds," DeBonis said. 

The county is now paying for what voters decided in 1997. They approved a $350 million bond project to widen the roads and ease congestion on certain roads. The county had to repay $19 million in the fiscal year 2017 and owes millions more until 2036. 

Supervisor Ally Miller (R-District 1) says, "The problem with Pima County is they're using the HURF revenues to fund the head count, the department salaries and overhead." She says the transportation department is getting money that should go to roads. "I blame the Board of Supervisors for not directing Mr. Huckelberry to use all of the monies that we get back for repairing the roads," Miller told the News 4 Tucson Investigators. "If he (Huckelberry) would spend 40 million a year we could get these roads fixed, if they had been spending that money on roads in the prior years. But what has happened over 20 years is those monies have been diverted."

We asked Huckelberry, "What goes through your mind when you hear people say that you have mis-used money to fix the roads?" He replied, "Well, the only thing that goes through my mind is that they're absolutely incorrect and they're making assumptions based on false information." 

Huckelberry says he's not allowed by state statute to use certain money from the Vehicle License Tax to fix the roads. The amount in fiscal 2017 was $27 million.  Huckelberry says that had to go to the General Fund to pay for other government services. "The facts are that we've been through audit after audit, and went through a very special audit with regard to the bond program and the auditor general concluded that none of the money was used inappropriately, it was used exactly for the purposes stated," Huckelberry said. 

He says the only way to repair roads relatively quickly is by adding a half-cent sales tax for 10 years. Pima County is the state's only county without a general sales tax. The current half-cent sales tax, approved by voters in 2006, funds the Regional Transportation Authority's new road construction.

Huckelberry says, "It's going to take two generations to the fix the roads if we do nothing."

County supervisors have said that if they approve a half-cent sales tax, they would revoke the 25 cent property tax they passed last year. However, there's virtually no chance the board will adopt the sales tax, because the vote has to be unanimous, and Supervisor Miller is adamant about voting against it.

If you have a story you would like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444. 

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