Written Answers of Rex Scott in Debate for Pima County Supervisor District 1

Here are the Answers of Rex Scott:

QUESTION #1

Q: The poverty rate in Pima County is about 15%. What should the county’s role be in lowering that rate? Do you see any steps the county has taken in recent years that you think are working well, or any that aren’t working and should be discontinued?

Pima County is a place where low wage jobs and unacceptably high rates of poverty have been the norm for decades. As just one example, Tucson ranks in the bottom ten out of 100 metropolitan areas in terms of children who live in high poverty settings. Over the course of a year, county staff, working in partnership with all other local jurisdictions and the non-profit sector, developed The Prosperity Initiative, a policy framework that will guide our budgetary and resource allocation decisions moving forward. It has the lofty goal of taking on intergenerational poverty. Our greatest measures of success for any endeavor that comes out of The Prosperity Initiative will be reductions in household costs and increases in household assets for those in our community living in poverty. 

The framework consists of 13 policy statements in three areas: education, critical family resources, and asset building and infrastructure priorities. There are also three cross-policy strategies: using a “two generation” approach, addressing climate resilience and environmental justice, and crime prevention and reduction. The first cross-policy strategy may be the most significant given that the majority of people who live in poverty in our county are children. We cannot hope to improve their present and future circumstances if we do not also focus on the needs of their parents.

For the county, the shift to “priority based budgeting” will be the greatest change stemming from our adoption of The Prosperity Initiative. The public will see how we are aligning all our financial decisions with the policy goals outlined in the framework. We will also be working with both The Aspen Institute and The Urban Institute to gain from their experience supporting other cities and counties that have adopted similar policies. 

When we adopted The Prosperity Initiative last December, I said the following:

The public we serve will rightly expect that we are able to point to the tangible results of our efforts. The Aspen Institute, who will assist us with determining the metrics for measuring our progress, has long championed one of the cross-policy strategies, the “two generation” approach. One of their standards is to “foster evidence and innovation together.” The people we represent will expect us to be true to this standard, especially if the Prosperity Initiative is to be so central to everything we do as a local government.

Conquering intergenerational poverty is not going to happen overnight. However, we have been encouraged and inspired by what we have achieved in three years to reduce barriers to access to quality early childhood education through the success of our Pima Early Education Program scholarships. Just this year, we are helping 1700 kids go to preschool who would not be able to go otherwise. What that means to them and to their families attests to the increase in family well-being that must be the result of anything resulting from The Prosperity Initiative.

References:

The Prosperity Initiative | Pima County, AZ

Prosperity Initiative Statement (civicplus.com) 

December 14, 2023 – Additional Information for the December 5, 2023 Board of Supervisors Agenda Item No. 14, Prosperity Initiative Report and Proposed Board of Supervisors Policy (civicplus.com)

Pima Early Education Program Scholarships (PEEPs) | Pima County, AZ

QUESTION #2

Q: Local governments are negotiating RTA Next before they put it before the voters. What should the county’s top priorities be in these negotiations? What should the county do if the City of Tucson withdraws from RTA Next?

I have been serving as the county’s representative to the nine-member Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) Board since 2021, when I took office as a county supervisor. The RTA is a special taxing authority authorized by the Arizona Legislature. In 2006, the first 20-year RTA plan gained the approval of Pima County voters, as did the half-cent sales tax that funds the plan.

The work to develop an RTA Next plan to cover the next 20-year period began before my election. It has certainly been the focus of the RTA Board since 2021, along with the completion of the first RTA plan. The Citizens Advisory Committee forwarded two plans to us after their work was completed. We are currently working on refinements and revisions to one of those two plans, with the goal of beginning a public review period during the latter half of this year. Our plan is to have an election in May of 2025.

Among the county’s top priorities are to ensure that our infrastructure projects are included in the plan that goes before the voters. Over a third of Pima County residents live in unincorporated portions of the county. I am their advocate and voice on the RTA Board. 

Having said that, another big emphasis for the county is ensuring the development of a plan that will earn broad based support from all county voters, no matter where they live. As a result, we have put forth several compromise proposals during the discussions surrounding RTA Next that have helped to move the process forward. The county is seen as an “honest broker” by the other jurisdictions and we work hard to maintain that status.

If we look at how Pima County has grown, there can be no doubt that we are interconnected in terms of where we live, work, shop and play. As just one example of that interconnectedness, many people live in one of the five smaller cities or towns, work in Tucson, and drive through the unincorporated county on the way to their job. As another example, over 60% of RTA sales tax revenue is generated within the boundaries of the City of Tucson. However, those taxes are collected from people who live throughout the county.

The first RTA plan funded close to 1000 projects and programs since it was approved in 2006. There is no way any one of the jurisdictions in Pima County could have achieved those results on their own. There would not have been state, or federal revenues that could have produced the same outcomes. The same will be true during the next 20-year period. 

All nine members of the RTA Board are engaging with each other to get a plan out for the public review period. I do not believe that any of the local jurisdictions are going to walk away and go it on their own. Each of knows that we are too intertwined for that to be a logical move. We also know that a regional approach to addressing common needs not only makes sense based on how we have grown; it is also the best way to ensure future growth in business and jobs.

References:

Rex Scott: RTA Next transportation plan inextricably linked to economic development | Guest opinion (tucsonsentinel.com)

RTA – Regional Transportation Authority (rtamobility.com)

QUESTION #3

Q: The green economy depends on minerals like copper that are mined in Pima County. How do you balance the need to fight climate change with the environmental damage that often comes with mining? What should the county do about the Copper World project?

The Pima County Board of Supervisors, not just our board, but previous boards, have consistently opposed both the Rosemont and Copper World proposals. We have based that opposition not just on the potential impacts on the surrounding land, but also the effects the mine’s operations could have on groundwater, surrounding washes and air quality. The Board has heard from countless residents who also oppose these proposals, including representatives from Native American tribes who object to impact on lands they consider sacred.

The Rosemont proposal is unlikely to move forward given successful legal action against it because of the impact it would have had on federal lands. As a result, Hudbay (the Canadian company that owns the land where the proposed mines are located) is making a strong push to move forward with the Copper World mine, which is wholly located on land they own. We still oppose it due to the reasons I have cited.

The State of Arizona will play the largest role in determining if the Copper World project moves forward. Pima County staff have provided input to their peers at the state level regarding our concerns with the mine’s potential effects. The Board of Supervisors gets frequent updates from the County Administrator on these matters.

I sponsored a resolution last spring that opposed federal legislation that might have allowed Hudbay to make an end run around both federal law and federal court rulings and push the Rosemont proposal forward. That legislation, unfortunately co-sponsored in the US Senate by Kyrsten Sinema, has thankfully not progressed, largely due to the opposition of other members of the Arizona delegation. The letters to our members of Congress included this excerpt, which speaks to Pima County’s appreciation of the role responsible mining plays in our local economy:

cid:image002.jpg@01DA9B17.5FD6B2B0

References:

March 19, 2024 – Hudbay Copper World Project Update (civicplus.com)

January 30, 2024 – Hudbay Copper World Project Update (civicplus.com)

August 18, 2023 – Hudbay’s Copper World Project Update (civicplus.com)

May 24, 2023 – Pima County’s Opposition to Mining Legislation Update (civicplus.com)

QUESTION #4

Q: The county faces costly choices when it comes to the jail, such as replacing it entirely or investing in repairing it. What do you see as the main problems at the jail? Can repairs to the jail address those problems or should the county replace it?

I do not believe that we have enough information to determine if a new jail is needed. However, there are definitely issues with the current facility that must be addressed. The original commission formed by the Board of Supervisors found that the conditions that need to be repaired are largely due to age, deferred maintenance and vandalism. For example, all the cast iron pipes in the 40-year old tower need to be replaced. The current facility also frequently has capacity issues, especially in its medical and mental health units. 

In a memorandum to the Board in February, the County Administrator said the following:

The Commission recognized the inherent limitations in its jail population projections, and concurred in the Final Report that additional review and information is needed to further inform those numbers and look at ways to successfully reduce them. To do that however, the County would need participation from stakeholders from the criminal justice system, justice services, medical care providers and other social service network providers.

One of the great frustrations for the Board has been getting a better sense of who is in the jail and why. The original commission noted in its report to the Board that they found when they took a snapshot of the jail population in December, 2023, 87% of those in the jail were pending charges, with 94% of them facing felony charges. Most of the people in the jail are charged with non-violent offenses. It has been difficult to get a sense of who needs to be held because they are a threat to public safety, or are a flight risk. It has also been a challenge to determine who remains in the jail because they cannot make bail.

County staff has until August 1 to conduct a review of past work in Pima County designed to reduce both the jail population and recidivism. Staff will also get a better sense of the composition of the jail population. A new commission, the Justice System and Infrastructure Review Committee, will be convened after that to take on several tasks, including to “identify tactics to reduce recidivism rates” and to “identify successful strategies and partners to reduce jail admissions and reduce lengths of stay.” The Board has also asked staff to provide us with information as to essential needs for the current facility to address some of the problems noted by the original commission.

Deciding whether or not we need a new jail is not a choice that can be made in isolation; it must be part of a larger appraisal of our criminal justice system. This will include consideration of another topic that has come before the Board in recent years: how initial appearances by defendants are handled by our courts. I am proud of our Board for listening to the all the concerns our community has about public safety and the criminal justice system. It will be a while before we can credibly determine if a new jail is needed, but the dialogue and work that will get us to that point is sorely needed and long overdue.

References:

Pima County supervisors call for “checks and balances” for the jail – AZ Luminaria

Establishment of the Justice System and Infrastructure Review Committee (civicplus.com)

March 4, 2024 – Establishment of a Commission to Evaluate Impacts and Recommend Improvements to the Criminal Justice System (civicplus.com)

February 13, 2024 – Final Report of the Pima County Adult Detention Center Blue Ribbon Commission (civicplus.com)

QUESTION #5

Q: Pima County, and most of the country, is going through a mutli-faceted housing crisis. What do you see as the most pressing problem with regard to housing? What specific steps would you take to address it?

The biggest single cause of the spike in homelessness in Pima County and across the nation is a lack of affordable housing. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, our county needs approximately 26,000 additional units of affordable housing to meet its needs. Governments at all levels will need to make more investments in housing a priority. The federal commitment is sorely lacking and that has been the case for years. Thanks to Governor Hobbs and Democrats in the Legislature making it a priority, Arizona put $150 million into the state’s housing trust fund after years of neglecting that resource. Pima County has been able to access that fund to help our efforts in confronting homelessness and bringing more affordable housing into the region.

The Board formed a Regional Affordable Housing Commission earlier in our tenure. It includes representatives appointed by each supervisor, as well as members who represent the local jurisdictions, including the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and Tohono O’odham Nation. They are charged with crafting a strategy to increase the amount of affordable, workplace and market rate housing in our region. The commission’s formation was one of the recommendations that came from a task force that looked at housing needs before and during the pandemic.

We have also put $10 million in our budget the last two years for “gap funding,” which helps local developers of affordable housing to fill the “gap” between the funding they have to complete a project and what they need to get it done. County staff and the commission vet applications for funding before making recommendations for approval to the Board. That funding has resulted in over 1,000 additional units of affordable housing being planned for our region.

The commission will soon consider a plan from county staff to put county-owned parcels of land on the market for developers of affordable housing to bid on. Along with providing “gap funding” and streamlining our approval processes for development projects, this is one of the most impactful steps local government can take to encourage more affordable housing. Per a memo to the Board from the County Administrator, all the county-owned parcels under consideration meet these criteria:

1. Vacant properties that could accommodate the development of multiple homes or apartments with current appropriate zoning. 

2. Identified constraints such as flood areas, riparian or other barriers to use could be mitigated through site improvements. 

3. Utilities are adjacent or nearby including sewer, water and electric power. 

4. Transit accessibility is nearby

I will remain committed to this work if granted a second term. Well before the pandemic, too many of our citizens were unable to afford housing, or paid an inordinate amount of their monthly incomes to housing costs. The drive to bring more housing into our region, like so many other areas of importance, will require a high degree of regional collaboration.

References:

Progress is slow for Tucson’s housing assistance – AZPM

Regional Affordable Housing Commission | Pima County, AZ

March 5, 2024 – Update and Next Steps on County Owned Properties Available for Development of Affordable Housing (civicplus.com)

March 5, 2024 Board of Supervisors Agenda Item 14 – Consideration of Additional Fiscal Year 2023/2024 (civicplus.com)


Discover more from Blog for Arizona

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

Discover more from Blog for Arizona

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading