Ballots are in the mail for Tucson’s special election on raising the city sales tax by a half-cent and the majority of the revenue would go to fund public safety equipment.
That would allow the Tucson Fire Department and the Tucson Police Department to upgrade their vehicles, equipment, technology and infrastructure.
And more than half of TPD’s current vehicles are beyond their useful life, said Chief Chris Magnus.
“It’s embarrassing to have police officers and supervisors driving cars where the seats are so beaten down you literally feel like you are seated on the floor of the car,” he said.
Fire Chief Jim Critchley said the vehicles in his department’s pumper and ladder fleet have run for either 10 years or accumulated over 100,000 miles.
“Ninety percent of the vehicles that I have are not as reliable as we need – 90 percent,” Critchley said.
Police Chief Magnus said new vehicles in both departments would add technology that is just as important as the vehicles themselves.
“If it’s a patrol car, not only is it the vehicle that needs to be replaced but also the things that go in that vehicle. In some cases that almost doubles the cost,” he said. “We’re talking about things like the ruggedized laptop that's in there, if there's other related software and hardware. There's a whole host of things that have to go with a car.”
The tax would raise $250 million over five years, and more than $50 million would go to vehicles for the police and fire departments.
Also on the list are bullet-proof vests, nearly 1,000 of which need to be replaced. Tucson Fire would upgrade fire protection gear.
“This isn’t any new equipment. This is just replacing what currently is unreliable. We’re trying to increase the reliability.”
Mayor Jonathan Rothschild says he wants to ensure that the public will know exactly what the funds will be spent on.
“Both on police and fire, we have outlined - and you can look at - each item of equipment we’re going to buy, each product. So there’s not any place for us to, ‘Oh we're going to change this or we're going to do this differently,’” Rothschild said.
Another major focus for both departments is their buildings. The current south-side police substation is the smallest and oldest and has become energy inefficient. Police Chief Magnus said an innovative solution would be for police and fire to share a new facility.
“So this would be a combined public safety facility. We would have community space, community meeting rooms, opportunities for us to do some training - for example together with the fire department, even,” Magnus said.
A smaller substation on the southeast side near Rita Ranch would operate the same way and allow for police to deploy from that side of town instead of from a substation on East Speedway Boulevard. Rothschild said the proposal would allow for five fire stations to be rebuilt, making it safer for firefighters.
“One of them was found to have toxic levels of carcinogens in them. The other four was built between 1965 and 1983, so we’re looking at fire stations that are 50 years old,” Rothschild said.
“It’s embarrassing to have police officers and supervisors driving cars where the seats are so beaten down you literally feel like you are seated on the floor of the car" - Tucson Police Chief Chris Magnus
Also scheduled for improvement if the proposal passes is the Southern Arizona Law Enforcement Training Center, which is used by both departments.
“Emergency driving is a series of complicated skills that you have to learn in training in a controlled environment. It requires a specialized driving track, and the track that's out there now is in disastrous shape. The concrete is splitting apart. It’s a mess,” TPD’s Magnus said.
Registered voters will have till Wednesday, May 10 to mail in any ballots. The votes will be counted May 16th.
Tomorrow, explore the Prop. 101 street maintenance proposal, in Part 3 of the series looking at the sales-tax proposal.