Nothing dramatizes the magnitude of the lightning growth of the far south East Valley like the Central Arizona College $435 million bond election May 17. Pinal County truly is emerging from rural to urban status, and few things will be as important to the future of this once-sleepy county.
The bond proposal’s score is breathtaking. As the Tribune’s J. Craig Anderson reported on Wednesday, the measure would authorize the CAC board to finance four ambitious construction phases spanning more than 20 years that would add, replace or improve community college facilities in every part of the county. Over 32 years, property owners would pay about $758 million, including interest, for the improvements.
The project would add about $54 per year in property taxes for each $100,000 in assessed value for homeowners. That’s no small consideration, and voters are asking: Is it worth the price?
Meanwhile, opponents have questioned why each phase of the construction plan can’t be approved as needed. They raise legitimate concerns about granting a college board such sweeping fiscal authority before we really know the amount and direction of growth.
But proponents make a more compelling case that expanding higher education in Pinal County is crucial to the region’s economic development, and trying to get voters county-wide to approve college facilities in one or two areas every few years would be nearly impossible. A comprehensive plan that improves higher education throughout the county for 20 or more years is easier to sell to voters, even though the price is steep.
Proponents also accurately point out that as the county grows, an ever-increasing proportion of the new residents and businesses will also be helping pay the debt service on the bonds. And with more and larger community colleges providing educational and job training services to Pinal residents, business and industry that pays a higher proportion of property taxes will be more likely to locate in the county.
Although opponents have questioned giving an “open checkbook” to CAC’s
board for the next 20 years, Pinal voters will be able to control who its members are, as they stand for election every few years.
Still, for Pinal residents who are more accustomed to bond elections of a few million dollars to maintain rural public facilities and services, this is an eye-popping proposal. We would suggest that while they shouldn’t shrink from preparing for the inevitable growth that is coming, they should remain vigilant.
That is, approve the bond but watch the CAC board carefully to make sure they spend the money wisely so that higher education really does unlock the potential of this long-dormant county.