DALLAS – The advisory panel considering a $650 million general obligation bond election in Pima County, Ariz., unanimously agreed Sept. 20 to defer the vote until at least 2015.

The move came at the suggestion of County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, who said a drop in the county’s tax base won’t allow new debt to be issued until fiscal 2016.

The bond committee had been considering a bond election in 2014.

If Pima County supervisors agree to the panel’s recommendation, it would be the fourth deferral of a county bond election since 2008.

“The property tax base still hasn’t recovered enough to make a bond election prior to 2015 practical,” Huckelberry said in a Sept. 16 memo to the bond advisory committee.

Assessed valuations are expected to total $7.5 billion in fiscal 2015, he said, more than 23% lower than the $9.8 billion posted in fiscal 2010. Growth in the tax base is not expected until 2016, he said.

Pima County has an aggressive debt repayment policy that calls for retiring 90% of debt within 11 years, Huckelberry said. The county voluntarily caps its property tax rate for debt service at 0.81 cents per $100 of valuation.

“Combined, those two factors have a limiting effect on issuing new debt,” Huckelberry told the bond committee.
“In fact, under these promises, no new debt can be issued at all until 2016 anyway, which is why there is little practical effect of waiting another year for the election,” he said.

The property tax would support a $550 million bond election in 2015, Huckelberry said.

The committee should consider a separate $50 million GO bond package for road repair projects, he said, which could generate another $50 million in matching funds from Tucson and other cities in the county.

“While this level of funding ($100 million) will not resolve the entire backlog of highway maintenance and repairs necessary in our communities, it will demonstrate our priority to make meaningful and timely repairs and improve maintenance of the local highway system,” Huckelberry said.

The Pima County bond panel will not meet again until February.

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