Tucson Council Member touts park investments thanks to SLWA revenue

By Paul Cunningham, Tucson City Council Ward Two
March 1, 2018

There is some good news for those of you that live near Palo Verde Park: we will be expanding the pool and installing a splash pad. The project will cost about $85,000.


Here’s another piece of good news: that $85,000 does not come from the city’s general fund, which means this doesn’t come from your tax dollars.


The money comes from the service line warranty fund. You may have gotten a letter asking if you’d like a service line warranty. Five years ago, the city authorized the company that sells them to send those letters out. In exchange, the city gets a bit of the money generated. It is divided equally among the council wards.


One of my priorities as a councilmember has been to make sure that our city pools are open and available to as many people as possible, and I was glad to find out that this money was available.


Many of the projects that we have been able to build in parks have been done through impact fees. Impact fees are small fees assessed on new homes built within the city. They are assessed because we recognized that new development has infrastructure costs (whether it be new roads, parks or other amenities) that need to be paid for. There are a lot of state mandated restrictions on that money, however. For example, the money can only go to new projects. Building a new basketball court would be doable with impact fee money, but improving or fixing an existing one would not.


Another legal restriction is that impact fee projects have to come off of a priority list from Parks and Recreation. The service line money, however, is spent at the discretion of your elected officials. Councilmembers must consult with Parks officials (they will be managing what we build, after all), but it leaves us with more discretion and more ability to respond to community concerns.


That flexibility meant that over in Ward 1, they will be fixing playground equipment that was lost at Bonita Park due to vandalism. Ward 3 made some repairs in the basketball courts and Amphi Park and, with the help of neighborhood volunteers, has revitalized it. Ward 4 repaired old sidewalks at Lincoln Park. In Ward 6, seven neighborhood parks have gotten or will get new recreational equipment. None of those projects could have been funded with impact fees.


By the way, some of you that use the Fort Lowell Tennis courts have seen the repairs there. Those were also funded through service line money.


Like I said, an important thing to remember here is that this is not general fund money (money that competes with fire, streets, police et cetera), but money collected from a voluntary program. The city collects between $85,000 and $90,000 in fees annually. Tucson is not the only city to have a program like this.


Despite that, there was a move at the legislature to limit our ability to publicize the program. What is really disappointing is that it came from a Tucson representative, Todd Clodfelter. He didn’t speak to me (Ward 2 and his district share a lot of neighborhoods) about the bill or let me know about his concerns with the program. He told our intergovernmental office after submitting the legislation that he based his bill on a single complaint.


The bill, known as HB 2625, may be dead for this session, but as many of you know, bills tend to come back. I’ll be keeping an eye on this because I want to make sure I can keep getting improvements in our Ward 2 parks.