/ Modified aug 21, 2012 3:57 p.m.

Pima County Supervisors District 1 GOP Candidates Forum

Mike Hellon, Stuart McDaniel discuss issues with host Jim Nintzel


Read the full transcript:

Jim Nintzel: Good evening everyone and welcome to a special Your Vote 2012 edition of Arizona Illustrated for Friday, the 10th of August, 2012. I’m Jim Nintzel, host of Political Roundtable, our weekly analysis and commentary on local, state and national politics. Tonight on the Roundtable we bring you a special forum with the candidates who want to replace Pima County Supervisor Ann Day who is stepping down after three terms. District 1 includes the Catalina Foothills, Oro Valley and parts of Marana. Let’s meet the candidates. Stuart McDaniel is a former mortgage banker who now works as a consultant between businesses and government. Mr. McDaniel has worked in the past on campaigns for former Pima County Supervisor Mike Boyd, former state lawmaker Steve Huffman and congressional candidate Jesse Kelly. Mike Hellon is the former Chair of the Arizona Republican Party and a former Republican national committeeman who has served on the Pima County Merit Commission and been involved with the administration of the state’s judicial system. We invited two other candidates in the race, Ally Miller and Vic Williams to join us this evening but they declined to come down to the studio. Gentlemen, welcome to the Political Roundtable.

Mike Hellon: It’s good to be here.

Stuart McDaniel: Thank you.

Jim Nintzel: Stuart, let’s start with you. What makes you the best man for this job?

Stuart McDaniel: Well, thanks, Jim. I’m looking forward to making a positive difference here in Pima County. I’m a businessman. I’ve never run for office before and my real estate finance experience and my community work here to try to better our entire community will certainly be a plus in working with all parties. We all have to… in order to get something done, we have to work with each other to make a positive result and we’ve had divisive politics that have harmed our community for far too long and we can do better.

Jim Nintzel: And Mike, same question to you. What makes you the man to be on the Pima County Board of Supervisors?

Mike Hellon: I’ve actually spent quite a number of years in a variety of volunteer positions helping government, involved with government. In my professional career I’ve changed many regulatory situations in many states. I know how government works. I’ve learned how government works and I have the experience and the background and knowledge to know how to change. And in fact I’ve already brought some positive change to Pima County government in terms of our streets and roads maintenance and I expect to do a lot more.

Jim Nintzel: Let’s talk about the streets and roads. Obviously Pima County has some troubled streets. We’re behind on taking care of them properly. The county did set aside some money this year but there’s more needs to be done. Where do we find the money in the budget do you think to fix the roads and where does the emphasis need to be? Does it need to be on the arterials, on the residential streets, what are your thoughts?

Mike Hellon: Well, many of these roads, seriously deteriorating roads, have not had any adequate maintenance for more than 20 years and one of the things that I’ve been arguing about with Pima County and I think they’re starting to come around is that you have to change the priority. They’ve been focusing on the arterials first and when you do that you never get to the neighborhoods. I want them to change the priority and do the worst streets first before you do the arterials and if you do that you can catch up. It’s going to take a number of years, it’s going to take a lot of money but we’ve already persuaded them to put $20 million into road maintenance in the next year. I know where we can find another $20 million. That’s not going to solve the problem but it’s a good start and I think we finally got the county to acknowledge that they need to give priority to street maintenance and stay on it until the job’s complete.

Jim Nintzel: And Stuart, same question to you. Your thoughts on where we find the money to fix the roads and where should the priorities be?

Stuart McDaniel: Well, we need to reprioritize how we’re spending our money with everything at the county and the roads… and the road maintenance has to be near the top at this point. We’ve allowed the streets to deteriorate and monies from a general fund can be borrowed against that to be put towards road maintenance and then balanced between road maintenance and new construction as well as we’ve grown and so that’s very important to be able to do and we certainly haven’t done that. At the same time, we have to stand up to those legislators who have swept our gas taxes and taken that 18 cents per gallon that’s earmarked for our road maintenance here and we’ve lost about $35 million over the past seven years and that’ll fix a lot of potholes here.

Jim Nintzel: That was going to be my next question to you. You’ve been critical of state lawmakers including one of your opponents in this race for sweeping those highway user revenue funds, the so-called HURF funds that come from gas taxes and car registration fees and you feel it’s had a very major impact on our ability to maintain our roads here.

Stuart McDaniel: Well, in combination with not spending enough money locally, certainly not letting the Board off the hook but that money certainly should have stayed here. To that end, I stopped the road raid campaign and I’ve gone to different chambers and business groups to get behind this campaign as far as getting our candidates and current state representatives to sign off on this, a pledge not to sweep our gas taxes, to keep that money here regardless of party. We need to know where people stand before they go to the legislature. The 18 cents a gallon, that’s a big deal.

Jim Nintzel: And Mike, you’ve been critical of them as well. You’ve actually called it stealing our money.

Mike Hellon: Yeah, they call it sweeps, I call it stealing. But it’s more than the gas tax and the county’s right, the state legislature has largely balanced its budget on the backs of the cities and the counties. Pima County, besides having their HURF money swept, had to write a check for $6 million and send it to the state last year. So that’s a problem that the Board has and it’s a legitimate problem. My point simply is that the county has certain core responsibilities and even if the legislature is taking some of your funding, then you have to readjust your priorities and they have to readjust them in favor of fixing the streets because it’s no longer a matter of inconvenience. It’s becoming a matter of danger.

Jim Nintzel: Back in 1997 when the county actually got more HURF funds from the legislature the decision was made to go forward with a bond proposal to borrow against those HURF funds and the voters approved it. How do you feel as though that bond project or the bonds have worked out in terms of dealing with our transportation projects? Do you think that was a good decision at the time and would you support doing something like that in the future?

Mike Hellon: Well, I’m not sure I’d support it in the future. The point you make is important because there are some people who believe that all of the HURF money is available for current maintenance. It’s not. A lot of it’s been pledged for those 1997 bonds. There were problems with the 1997 bonds that caused Ann Day to come in and bring the auditor general in to investigate. A lot of those problems have been sorted out and the 2004 and 2006 bonds I don’t think had very many serious problems. I am not in favor right now of bonding, further bonding until we get our economy back in the kind of shape that it needs to be in with one possible exception. That would be for street maintenance because the more you delay, the longer it’s going to take and the more it’s going to cost in the long run.

Jim Nintzel: Stuart, your thoughts on the decision back in 1997 to go ahead and bond against those HURF funds and how that has worked out.

Stuart McDaniel: Well, obviously there were issues with that, the voters decided to do that and it had to be cleaned up as Mike was saying but I do not believe that there is an appetite for bonding right now, especially in District 1, to spend more money and get in more debt and it’s certainly an issue is our debt here and where we’re spending our money. We need to grow our way out of this and we can’t just shift money around and we have to bring in more companies and more jobs here. It’s not just about moving monies around and raising taxes. That just doesn’t work.

Jim Nintzel: And of course the county is talking about another bond proposal,not for streets but for a variety of different things as they have in the past, they’ve sold these bonds for neighborhood reinvestment or for open space or for the county courthouse downtown that they’re still working on and things of that nature. You’re reluctant to actually… What would it take for you to say, you know what, I could support putting this on the ballot for voters to decide?

Stuart McDaniel: I don’t believe, just in my talking with the voters, knocking door to door, there’s just not the appetite for that right now. People are seeing the debt that we’re under and the taxes that we have certainly are not willing to support that. So no, at this point, I certainly could not. We need to reprioritize where we’re spending our money but we have to stop castigating the job creators and start bringing in some jobs. We have to become more business friendly here in Pima County.

Jim Nintzel: Mike, how about your? Under what circumstances could you see yourself supporting a future bond proposal?

Mike Hellon: I can see myself potentially supporting a modest bond proposal for street maintenance and repairs because I think the cost is going to be much greater the longer we delay it. Beyond that I’m very, very skeptical. One of the issues that I have with Pima County is their attitude is once you pay off existing debt, then you can acquire more debt. I think a better alternative is once you pay off existing debt you can reduce taxes.

Jim Nintzel: Let me shift topics here. The county has been engaged in a fight with the town of Marana over the sewer plant. The town of Marana initially tried to seize the sewer plant, the county fought them in court and won that court fight. Then the town of Marana went to the state legislature and got permission to take over the sewer plant as long as they paid back what was already… what is now owed on the sewer plant but without paying what the county had actually spent on the sewer plant and you objected to that. You said the town of Marana should pay the full cost of what the rate payers paid to build this sewer plant.

Mike Hellon: Well, yes. Think of it this way. You buy a house for $100,000, you put $50,000 and you get a $50,000 mortgage and I come along and I want to buy your house for the $50,000 mortgage that you still owe on it. That’s basically what Marana was trying to get away with and I don’t think they should. I think they should pay the full invested cost of the county that the county invested in that plant. The problem is a little bit on both sides. I think the county is negligent in not in the first instance respecting Marana’s need for affluent water and dealing with their problems of growth. Marana I think is not ready to run the plant but I’d say let them have it. If they can sort out the legalities of it, I say let Marana have it, let’s get this fight off the table and move on and improve the relationships between the county and the incorporated cities in this region.

Jim Nintzel: And Stuart, what are your thoughts on this dispute between the county and Marana?

Stuart McDaniel: I think it’s been a failure of leadership on both sides and one that has cost all of us millions of dollars in unneeded litigation and once again going to our legislators for relief. Going back… at this point now that the lawsuits are complete, Marana has lost that, we need to take a step back. Looking at the groundwater act of 1980 and the recharge issues, Pima County is not a water provider and there’s a lot of complex issues that go into that. We need to be able to work with each other instead of against each other and certainly recognizing the needs for the towns and communities to grow, water should be a regional issue and that… this infighting between mayors and administrators, it has to stop. We have to start working with each other to move forward.

Jim Nintzel: And on the topic of a regional issue that that’s sort of the county’s argument is that they feel like the sewer system should remain a regional system and shouldn’t be broken up by these smaller jurisdictions. Do you think…

Stuart McDaniel: But a lot of self determination with the different towns, I certainly support that as well. Absolutely it’s a matter of how are they going to pay for that. And that needs to be done properly and it needs to be negotiated out. Instead of this is my way or no way at all and that’s what we’ve had between the county and Marana, we have to be able to sit down like this and hammer out the details cause right now it’s been sorely lacking.

Jim Nintzel: And what about the whole question of a regional system as opposed to having the independent towns run their own systems.

Mike Hellon: Well, and I think the county’s correct in this regard. I think wastewater management is one of those issues that should be managed on a regional basis. One of the complications is that the major water utility is the City of Tucson and the major wastewater utility if you think of it that way is Pima County. They’re two different political entities and different jurisdictions and we have to have a system where they’re working together, they’re not working at cross purposes. This little spat between Pima County and Marana is similar to one Pima County had with Oro Valley awhile back on some annexation matters and some proposals. The county needs to get out of the business of harassing the cities, of interfering with the cities and get into the business of helping the cities grow and expand and deal with their constitutents.

Jim Nintzel: You’ve been critical of the county’s opposition to the Rosemont Mine.

Mike Hellon: I have.

Jim Nintzel: You said the county should stand down and quit getting in the way there. Why is that?

Mike Hellon: Well, for two reasons. The first is that Pima County’s open notorious public hostility to Rosemont is giving Pima County an international reputation for being anti-business. We desperately need to bring business in, to create jobs, to stabilize our economy, to grow our economy and to grow our tax base and this business of talking about bonding needs to be on the shelf until we expand our economy. And trash talking a major business investor doesn’t get the job done. We have to change that image of Pima County. The other part of the issue in my opinion is this is a federal government issue. It’s up to the Forest Service to decide whether Rosemont meets the environmental impact statement or not, it’s up to the Forest Service to permit Rosemont or not and I think Pima County should get out of the way and let the federal government do its job. Pima County doesn’t like it when the legislature interferes with its business. I think it should stay out of the federal government’s business.

Jim Nintzel: All right. And if you’re just tuning in right now, we are having a forum with the candidates for the Pima County Board of Supervisors District 1 seat now held by the retiring Ann Day. With us are Mike Hellon and Stuart McDaniel. The other candidates were invited to come down but chose not to. Stuart, back to the Rosemont Mine. You also think the county’s opposition is wrong headed.

Stuart McDaniel: Absolutely. Copper in the Copper State, yes please. I’m in favor of that. When two of our top ten revenue generators, ASARCO and Freeport McMoran, these were big companies that did provide a lot of benefit to all of us here in this area and when a private company is attempting to come out of the ground and encourage jobs for all of us and all of their supply chain companies, that’s a big deal and it’s not the government’s role to be interventionist against another company. It is a federal issue and that certainly should be looked at as such. And so, yes, we need to allow companies to come in because California is hemorrhaging jobs because of high taxation and high regulation. Looking at that, they’re not going to come here. One, we have that high taxation and high regulation but also its anti-business attitude needs to be turned around 180 degrees.

Jim Nintzel: Let’s talk a little bit about creating jobs in Pima County. Other than the mine question, what are some strategies that Pima County you think could implement in order to attract more employers?

Stuart McDaniel: I think a lot of it is just attitude similar to Rosemont, not going after individual companies like that but working with the different business groups to reduce the regulation, to reduce the red tape, to work with the business community and be part of the business community. Even working… when the F35 hearings were held last February, not one of our locally elected officials were there to speak out on behalf of the F35. Well, yet the F35, they just landed that contract up at Luke Air Force Base. When they held those hearings, all those elected officials were there. I will certainly be there to champion the business community.

Jim Nintzel: And Mike, your thoughts on some strategies for job creation here.

Mike Hellon: I’ve been a member for ten years of the 162nd Fighter Wing Support Group to support the Air Guard and secondarily Davis-Monthan. They’re major, major financial contributors to our economy and we need to do everything we can to support them. I sent a letter to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force recommending that the F35 be stationed here, and by the way, I think we can still get it in terms of training foreign pilots. But on a broader issue, what we may have to do is build on the co-branding that Oro Valley and Marana are doing in the northern part of the county in terms of their economic development activities and try to steer companies into those two cities who are notoriously business friendly. And over time I think we can create an example for Pima County and the City of Tucson and other jurisdictions here to follow but we have to start now building on the strength we have and then change the image that Pima County has with respect to business activity.

Jim Nintzel: And how about TRIO, our economic development agency, the county gives I think about $350,000 a year to TRIO, they’ve actually been reducing that somewhat. TRIO gets most of its funding from the private sector. Do you think the county should withdraw its funding from TRIO and start its own economic development efforts?

Mike Hellon: Well, something you just said is key to the whole discussion. Ally Miller runs around saying, ah, we’ve got to shut down TRIO, we’ve got to de-fund it. The fact is as you just said, more than 50% of the funding for TRIO comes from private sources. I think TRIO has not been successful. There’s nothing that’s happened in economic development in Pima County in the last few years that would lead anybody to believe that we’re a success. I think the whole activity needs to be restructured and changed. I don’t think right now I’m willing to pull Pima County out because when you do, you lose your leverage and you lose any influence on the change that has to take place. I’d like to talk to the people who are investing their own private money into TRIO and work out some arrangements where it becomes much more successful and takes this distasteful activity off of the front page of the newspaper.

Jim Nintzel: And Stuart, your thoughts on TRIO’s efforts.

Stuart McDaniel: Well, we have to be accountable and if they’re receiving taxpayer’s monies and they’re not showing the work they’re supposed to be done, then there’s a problem and certainly within the community there is a perception of that problem because the businesses are not being created. But I think that we can better partner with the U of A Science and Tech Park to create that spirit of entrepreneurism and we can work with a lot of successes where they’re duplicatable like up in Oro Valley where property tax abatements were given to bring in some jobs and the schools were held harmless for that. So we can work on other issues such as that that are… actually we’ve had success and we can build on that.

Jim Nintzel: Let’s talk a little bit about budget priorities. We’ve talked about the roads in Pima County but what about the park system. Obviously they’ve got some bonds to purchase open space but the park system with the river parks loops that they’re developing and then the other large parts that the county runs. Is the county on the right path with these parks, should we be lowering the amount of money we’re spending on parks or increasing? Your thoughts, Stuart?

Scott McDaniel: Well, I’d be against anymore further monies going towards open space, that’s for sure. I know that in Marana and Oro Valley they have their parks in their general plan and there’s even some of the tourism dollars going towards the parks such as the pool that’s gong in Oro Valley and that’s an important part of overall economic development. As far as spending any additional monies on parks, we need to grow the pie, the economic pie and then that’s certainly very important but right now getting into any more debt is certainly out of the question. We need to continue to work on economic development.

Jim Nintzel: Mike, your thoughts on where Pima County’s park systems are.

Mike Hellon: Well, after street maintenance and repair I would put parks in the second position of priority not just because we need more facilities for our own children’s youth activities but by expanding some of the soccer fields for example we can draw tournaments, regional tournaments from outside of Arizona into Pima County. We could actually become a hub for a lot of economic activity involving amateur sports if we have the facilities to support them and yeah, I think that’s something that Pima County has to do a little bit more of.

Jim Nintzel: And how about our libraries. The libraries are funded by a separate property tax that’s exclusively dedicated to the libraries and that has increased in recent years because the county has taken over the library system from the City of Tucson which used to split the cost with the county. It’s also now taking over from Oro Valley. Do you think it was a wise decision for the county to take on that responsibility and do you think we’re spending too much on the libraries?

Mike Hellon: I believe that’s another service that is best done on a regional basis. I don’t think we’re spending too much. As a matter of fact, it’s my understanding that the library enterprise fund has a surplus and so to the extent that we’re running a good library system I think we can reduce the tax rate on that special assessment.

Jim Nintzel: Your thoughts on the library system.

Stuart McDaniel: Libraries are a key part of who we are in a community. My daughter certainly enjoys that and I have great memories myself as a kid and so that is a very important aspect of who we are. And so are we spending too much, no, I don’t believe so. I think it is important but at the same time you have to look at the overall section of our budget. I don’t think that is a large overriding factor of where we are right now.

Jim Nintzel: Okay. There was an annexation that was somewhat controversial where the City of Tucson came in at River and Craycroft and took the corner there. There’s a developer there who wants to put in a hotel and other facilities and he felt like the county was too hard on him in terms of their requirements and he turned to the City of Tucson which annexed it. What are your thoughts on how that played out?

Stuart McDaniel: Well, again, failure of leadership. If you can’t get together with people to work things out, that’s a problem. The issue there is with the roads and with whoever rode right there and how that’s going to play out with the increased usage and that’s going to have to be worked out because it’ll certainly affect an effect on the neighbors over there. That is something that the new businesses going in will be a benefit and I’m typically in favor of that, however, and they’re there now in the Basis School which is certainly a success, it’s going in there as well. But we need to work to reduce the regulations if we’re going to move forward and to bring in more businesses.

Jim Nintzel: Mike, your thoughts on what happened there.

Mike Hellon: Well, you can’t hate Joe Caesar for trying to get his deal done at Craycroft and River. My complaint is twofold. I don’t think the neighboring communities, the residents had enough input into the overall plan and had not been consulted sufficiently which I think is crucial if you’re going to have an important annexation. The other part of the problem is the city only annexed up to River Road. They didn’t annex River Road so they get all the tax revenue from the project and the county has to pay to improve River Road because of the added traffic that’s coming in from the development. I think that’s a problem and I think Stuart’s right, it’s a failure of leadership and it’s another area where the county and the city and the developers simply need to do a better job.

Jim Nintzel: Okay, we’ve got less than a minute left so why don’t you take about 20 seconds here and just give a final wrap up Mike.

Mike Hellon: I’m not running for a job or a position or a title. I’m running because I think we are at a crucial crossroads in Pima County where we’re going to go one way or another and I think there’s an opportunity for us to move forward, to get our economy on track and to solve some of the problems and I want to be part of that solution.

Jim Nintzel: And Stuart, another… can you do it in about 20 seconds.

Stuart McDaniel: I’m looking forward to making a positive difference and I envision a Pima County where my daughter and your children can find good jobs, where roads are well maintained, where the size of government is small and the private sector is strong. I’m looking forward to working for you and work hard. Thank you very much. I appreciate your vote.

Jim Nintzel: All right. That’s all the time we have for tonight. I’d like to thank both of you for being here. You can learn more about what’s happening in politics by visiting azpm.org/yourvote and while you’re on our website we’d love to hear your thoughts about tonight’s program so be sure to leave us a comment and to find out the latest from AZPM, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Stay tuned next for the NewsHour and then at 8:30 tune into Arizona Week for a look at the challenges facing the student loan programs. On Monday, Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva faces his two challengers in the Democratic Primary in a forum on Arizona Illustrated. I’m Jim Nintzel. Thanks for watching and have a great weekend.

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