BOS approves purchase of land for N/S Corridor ROW, tapping funds for county road construction
By Dana Trumbull
Residents of Gold Canyon who live just east of Kings Ranch Road spoke for twenty minutes at the Pinal County Board of Supervisors (BOS) meeting on Feb. 13 in hopes of persuading supervisors to block the sale of 7.4 acres of county land adjacent to their properties. A single-level storage unit facility has been proposed by a company seeking to purchase the vacant land. Although supervisors cannot respond to comments during Call to the Public, the board did direct staff to investigate the situation and set up a meeting with stakeholders.
“My property adjoins the property that you guys are going to sell,” said Gary Gross, one of eight speakers to address the BOS on this topic. “We’d like to see the land left as a desert. We bought there for a reason; the realtors told us it would never be built on. And,” he added, “if the views are blocked, like happened to Montesa, our property values are going to plummet. And that’s less tax money coming in.”
Although a few of the residents complained about ATVs and dirt bikes illegally using the scrub-filled desert lot and kicking up clouds of dust, they made it quite clear that a commercial/industrial building that impedes the view, dulls the night sky with security lights and attracts increased vehicular traffic is not an acceptable alternative.
Although supervisors cannot discuss or comment on matters brought to their attention during Call to the Public, District 5 Supervisor Todd House, whose area includes Gold Canyon, directed staff to, “See if it’s at all possible to delay the sale of the property in question, and see if we can set up a meeting with all the stakeholders to discuss how we could go forward with that property in the future.”
ROW for N/S Corridor
Another topic that spurred considerable discussion was the purchase agreement between Pinal County and Pinal Land Holdings, LLC for highway right-of-way (ROW) in anticipation of the construction of the North/South Corridor highway.
John Vlamming, community development director for the city of Eloy, requested a continuance of the item, stating, “The North/South Corridor [route] is in contention right now… On the maps that have been identified by the Pinal Regional Transportation Authority (PRTA), it shows two alignments within our jurisdiction. One alignment is supported by the city of Coolidge; the other is supported by our city council. When we talk about ROW, over a long term, you want to look at all kinds of options on the table to reserve that ROW – but do you want to acquire it 20-30 years before it’s really necessary?”
Although Supervisor Pete Rios, whose district includes both Eloy and Coolidge, proposed a one week delay to give all parties involved a chance to review the details of the agreement and discuss alternatives, the four remaining supervisors opposed any delay.
“I happen to know that there are a lot of extenuating circumstances that go along with this particular ROW, and all the members of the signing of all the different [parties] going forward with this agreement are currently in the state right now and won’t be next week. There’s a very narrow window,” asserted House. “Right now, the window’s open. I understand Eloy’s frustration with the situation, but I would not want to do anything to derail any future economic development on the N/S Corridor, based on delaying it today.”
District 4 Supervisor Anthony Smith pointed out that the purchase agreement provides for a land exchange if ADOT should determine to use an alternate route for the N/S Corridor construction.
Rios’ motion to continue for one week failed for lack of a second. Supervisor House motioned to approve the purchase; the agreement passed 4/1. The county will pay $8 million for 426 acres. The closing date for the sale is set for Feb. 25.
Monies for the purchase will come from Fund 295, the county’s Road Excise Tax fund. According to Pinal County Public Works Director Louis Anderson, 295 is an existing fund, approved by voters in 2005, for construction and maintainenance of county roadways, “dirt to pavement.” There will be no impact to other existing or planned projects, “We have the fund balance to cover it;” however, the county will invoice the PRTA for the cost of the ROW purchase. “Whether or not we’re reimbursed will depend on the court’s decision on the legality of the Proposition 417 tax.”
The PRTA transportation plan, of which the N/S Corridor highway is a key component, was passed by voters in November 2017 (Proposition 416). Although N/S Corridor construction is not scheduled to begin until 2027-28 (phase 2 of the 20-year plan), the PRTA schedule includes the acquisition of ROW for the highway in phase 1.
The funding mechanism for the plan (Proposition 417), however, has been successfully challenged by the Goldwater Institute. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Whitten ruled on November 15, 2018, that the tax was “void and unenforceable.” Pinal County attorneys are currently appealing that decision.
The county has been collecting the half cent excise tax since April 1, 2018, and has accrued approximately $12 million, according to Anerson; however, the funds are being held in escrow, pending the outcome of the lawsuit and appeal.
Posse Volunteer Coordinator
The BOS also approved creating one part-time volunteer coordinator position for the Pinal County Sheriff’s Posse. The position would pay $24,000/year for approximately 20 hours of work per week. The work is currently performed by Captain Carl Montoya without pay.
“That money would be to pay him for those hours he has been putting in and will continue to put in. It is a cost neutral issue right now. We took some money that we had allocated for part-time positions to cover this, and we are planning to budget for it in the next fiscal year,” explained Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb.
“Last month alone, we had over 1,800 hours of volunteer service from the Posse. Last year was over 15,000 hours, which was a savings of over half a million dollars to the county.”
Lamb also commented that Posse members undergo the same background check as deputies and are required to complete more than 300 hours of training.