December 27, 2014

Working together works better, Arizona Daily Star

By Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Special to the Arizona Daily Star

We’ve passed the halfway point in our initiative to end veteran homelessness in Tucson—more than 800 veterans housed so far. We’ve done this by working together with, at last count, 14 partner agencies, including the city’s housing department. When we work together, we achieve more—more than any one person or organization could do on their own.

We need to work together, because we’re in an environment with increasing demand for services and fewer resources to deliver those services. Years of spending cuts at the federal and state level—especially in Arizona—have left local governments to take up the slack. This makes collaboration essential, between municipalities and nonprofits, the private sector, and other jurisdictions. In fact, I think we’re just beginning to realize the potential of cities and towns working together with each other.

As the city’s representative on the RTA, the Regional Transportation Authority, I can tell you that we have good relations with our other Pima County municipalities—Marana, Oro Valley, Sahuarita and South Tucson. We also work collaboratively with cities to the north. This fall, Tucson announced a water deal with Phoenix that saves money and increases water security for both cities. We did this independently of the state, independently of our two counties.

Cities are where most economic activity takes place. Even in Pima County, which is far less incorporated than Maricopa County, most people live in cities and towns, not unincorporated areas.

So it’s unfortunate when Arizona’s state government sweeps funds intended for cities and towns. For example, Tucson receives less in Highway User Revenue Funds today than in 2005—nearly $7.6 million less. That’s an annual hit to our roads. Recognizing that these sweeps were unlikely to stop, I pushed for the city to pass a streets bond: Proposition 409. Those funds are being put to work restoring Tucson roads. But a regional approach can do even more, as the RTA has shown.

Since 2007, the RTA has provided transportation improvements throughout Pima County—improvements that no one jurisdiction could have done on its own. The plan needs adjusting, to focus more on fixing the roads we have, transit, and pedestrian and bike safety, and we can do that with an early reauthorization. But the RTA itself has proven incredibly valuable as a tool for local governments to address transportation needs, independently of the state.

In fact, it is the state’s continued offloading of responsibilities that has spurred much of the trend toward cooperation and collaboration among municipalities. Necessity is the mother of many IGAs, or intergovernmental agreements.

What makes for a good IGA is benefit for both parties, fairness to taxpayers, and quality service at a price that can’t be achieved otherwise.

Tucson has many IGAs with Pima County and we expect that to continue. As cities and towns look for more ways to save money, however, they’re looking beyond traditional IGA partners to other local governments—as well as nonprofits and the private sector. The idea is to find a fit that will best leverage limited funds.

With the elections over, I don’t think anyone is predicting there’ll be increased state or federal funding for Arizona’s cities and towns. We’ll have to continue to look out for ourselves—and each other.

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