9 On Your Side Wants to Know
Where did millions of dollars for new courthouse go?
Councilman Kozachik: Lack of results is "Rio Nuevo-esque"
Reporter: Claire Doan
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – Tensions mounting over a project that’s been 7 years in the making and $46 million already spent: Voters approved building a joint city and county courthouse in 2004. Now, in 2011, there’s no construction, no building and a request – through the city – for taxpayers to pony up even more cash.
So 9 On Your Side wants to know: How did Pima County spend tens of millions of dollars of your money?
In a memo, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry gave Tucson Mayor and Council until December 16th to commit $17.4 million to the project, or deal with a long delay.
“The driver of urgency for this request … is that the constructor contractor’s Guaranteed Maximum Price for the shell tower is subject to change,” Huckelberry wrote.
Huckelberry did not return our calls for comment.
Councilmember Steve Kozachik is concerned about the lack of tangible results from the money the county has already spent.
“I think voters should be concerned because it appears to be another Rio Nuevo-esque sort of spending. A lot of money spent. Not much to show for it – and then, ‘by the way, we need more of it.’ So that’s a concern,” Kozachik said.
County documents show that $46 million has already been spent: $11.6 million on planning and design; about $4.6 million on acquisition of land; $16.8 million on archaeology; approximately $1.6 million on demolition; and $12 million on improvements to the current Superior Court building.
During the study session Tuesday, city staff said that $17.4 million that county is requesting is more than the city should be required to spend, and the $12 million already spent on the Superior Court is a concern because it’s a building the county is solely responsible for and would benefit from.
“Any concern right now over the money that the county has spent and whether that’s been totally accounted for?” KGUN9 News reporter Claire Doan asked Vice Mayor Karin Uhlich.
“I think the county is responsible for their financial decisions and I think they’re accountable to the public for their own due diligence,” Uhlih said. “I think we all want to see the project proceed … but we need to be able to prioritize how we spend our limited resources.”
Uhlich said she hopes the county will respect the financial pressures on the city and give them enough time to make an informed decision.
During the Tuesday study session, Councilmember Regina Romero said there are too many unanswered questions about the long-term impact of the project.
“Without knowing what’s lying in front of us in terms of the budget, it seems as though it’s practically impossible for this mayor and council to have an informed decision,” Romero said during study session, adding that the county could negotiate with subcontractors for more time.
Councilmember Paul Cunningham asked about the possibility of finding a vacant building to house the new courthouse for money-saving purposes, but city staff said they haven’t found one that has met projected space and technological needs.
Mayor and council then made a unanimous vote to send city staff back to negotiate with the county and clear up any concerns and issues.
Kozachik said they cannot commit to spending more taxpayer money.
“This is not me saying it’s a bad project. It’s saying we should be sure when we ask voters to open their checkbooks up again and authorize more bond money, we will be able to show them that we spent their money wisely in the past,” Kozachik said.
Although it’s unclear how the county will respond to the vote by city council, Huckelberry mentioned in the memo that the county may wait until 2013 to ask voters to approve additional funds through a bond election – if the city doesn’t commit to spending more.