City Council Defies State, Scraps Downtown Hotel

Click to read about a major decision by the Tucson City Council in a heated 2 year long issue: http://www.examiner.com/courts-in-tucson/city-council-defies-state-scraps-downtown-hotel

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Election Guide

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Published:

Today Tucson voters will weigh in on a number of ballot measures and elect new members to the City Council. To help students sort through the candidates and issues, the Daily Wildcat’s Brian Mori compiled this guide.

City Council Race:

 

Ward 3 (North Side)

Incumbent Karin Uhlich (D)
Major issues: Small business growth, restructuring of land use code, and Transparency in government
Elected in 2005
Former Aide to Michigan Congressman
Director Southwest Center for Economic Integrity
Background in grass roots activism and social services

Ben Buhler-Garcia (R)
Major Issues: “Police and potholes, public safety and jobs”
Metro Tucson Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs
Tucson Industrial Development Authority
Fox Theatre Foundation
Business Consultant
Supporter of Public Safety First Initiative, Prop. 200
Has called for Rio Nuevo audit and does not believe City Council prioritizes public safety

Mary DeCamp (G)
Major Issues: Energy, sustainability, economy, and global warming
Instructor and PhD. Student at the University of Arizona
Founding member of Tucson Life Cache, a localized merchant trade currency
Energy retrofitting for Tucson
Asked voters not to fund Public Safety Initiative, Prop 200

Ward 5 (South Side)

Richard Fimbres (D)
Major Issues: Tourism, Downtown Development, Government Efficiency
Tucson (Ward 5) native
Former Pima County Sheriff’s Deputy
Former Director of Governors Office of Highway Safety
Pima Community College Governing Board
Has suggested government can go paperless

Shaun McClusky (R)
Major Issues: Public safety, downtown/business development, mass transit
Tucson Realtor and business owner
Fomer Air Force member
Career background in economics and business
Former assistant to Donald Trump
Supporter of Public Safety First Initiative, Prop. 200 (Promised not to raise taxes)

Ward 6 (Midtown, including University of Arizona)

Steve Kozachick (R)
Major Issues: Rehabilitating relationship between private and public sector, public safety
Director of Athletics for Facilities and Project Management
Establishing student housing corridor between UA and Downtown
Supporter of Public Safety First Initiative, Prop. 200

Incumbent Nina Trasoff (D)
Major Issues: Jobs, downtown and economic development (downtown hotel project), arts and education, restructuring of land-use code.
Elected in 2005
Native of New York
Fomer KGUN 9 reporter

The Initiatives

 

200 – Public Safety First

 A statutory enforcement of already agreed upon police staffing levels and fire department minimum response times to be written into the city charter. Proposition 200 would change the city charter to require 2.4 officers per every 1000 citizens in the City of Tucson, and require the city-wide average fire department response time to be under 4 minutes, the standard set forth by the National Fire Protection Association. The city will have five years to achieve this goal. There is no source of funding included in the proposition to allow for the city to maintain these numbers.

Major supporters: Tucson Association of Realtors, Tucson Police Officers Association, Tucson Fire Department Association.

Their arguments
: Supporters say the City Council cannot be trusted to carry out its own 2006 Sustainability Plan which provides 10 years to achieve both goals. They insist the money necessary to achieve the goals is already in the city budget and can be utilized if the city cuts non-essential services like after school programs and funding for non-profit organizations and outside agencies like the Metro Tucson Visitors and Conventions Bureau and Tucson Regional Economics Organziation.

Major opponents: Don’t Handcuff Tucson – No on 200, Pima County Taxpayers Association, Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

Their arguments: Opponents say the initiative is redundant and financially irresponsible. They insist the city has demonstrated its commitment to public safety by hiring 80 new police officers since 2006 and renovating the West Side Police Services Center. Though further hiring has stopped due to the recession, all three democratic Council members have promised that public safety is the top priority of the city government. Opponents insist that a numerical standard in the city charter will cripple the council’s discretion over the budget and bankrupt other city services.

400 – Home Rule

 The City Council has control over only $420 million of next year’s $1.3 billion budget. The legislature caps the spending of all Arizona cities according to revenue and growth levels. According to numbers listed in the online version of the proposition, 400 will allow the city to spend about $42 million more or what it already has projected to collect through 2014, rather than having to put that money into savings. The city has a $46 million deficit for 2010.

Major Supporters: While there are no organized campaigns for or against the proposition, it was created by the Tucson City Council. The Tucson Association of Realtors.

Their Arguments: 400 will not require a tax or city fee increase. 400 gives the city complete local control over its budget and allows the city to replace some of the services that have been cut due to the city’s and state’s financial crisis.

Major Opponents: There is no formal opposition to 400 though some citizens and online blogs have revealed concerns that the city should be putting money into savings during the economic recession. Arizona College Republicans State Chair Andrew Clark said in an interview last week speaking on his own behalf that he would vote against the measure because he thinks the worst of the recession may still be to come.

A voter’s guide to Propositions 401 and 402

 

 

Published: Monday, November 2, 2009

With a slew of propositions on the ballot in tomorrow’s city elections, it can be difficult to keep all the details straight. To help students sort out a some of the most important issues, the Daily Wildcat’s Brian Mori put together this guide on Propositions 401 and 402, which deal with funding for the Tucson Unified School District.
The Tucson Unified School District, an independently elected government body not under control of the City Council, has asked for more money from taxpayers over the next seven years to replace funding for services cut by the legislature and a drop in enrollment.

Together, Propositions 401 and 402 will add approximately $27.5 million to TUSD’s 2010-2011 budget; however, the district will not have to ask permission from voters again until 2017.

According to TUSD proposals, Tucson homeowners whose houses are assessed at $100,000 or more will pay approximately $5 extra per month in taxes if both propositions pass.

Good to know: Tucson’s Proposition 401 should not be confused with the City of South Tucson’s Proposition 401, which strives for more protection for animals at Tucson Greyhound Park.

Proposition 401 — TUSD Maintenance and Budget Override — Approximately $18.4 million for 2010.
Fund all-day kindergarten at all TUSD elementary schools
Increase student funding ratio from approximately $150 per student to $187 per student.
Bring in-classroom Internet speeds to industry standard.

Proposition 402 — Technology Capital Campaign — $9 million override (recurring)
Lease 10,000 industry-standard computers for in-classroom use
Install new Internet network systems at schools
Replace administration networks
Background

TUSD provides free public education to over 55,000 students.
The district calculates $45 million in losses due to enrollment drops and cuts from the state.
It has claimed to be the only school district in the metro area that does not operate routinely with an override.
Why yes?

The state legislature cuts have forced the elimination of counselors, librarians and kindergarten at several schools. Classroom computers and networks are obsolete and slower than what half of Tucsonans use in their homes, according to TUSD audits.

TUSD is now under the leadership of a new superintendant and more spending control has been given to parents and administrations through individual school site-councils.

“In addition to investing in public safety, transportation and parks, our city’s economy requires an appropriately funded school system to ensure strong neighborhoods,” Ward 2 City Councilman Rodney Glassman wrote in an endorsement on the campaign’s Web page. “When companies look at Tucson as a place to relocate or expand, education is one of the first factors they ask about.”
Why no?

Opponents point to what they say is TUSD’s history of poor financial transparency. A civil investigation by the Arizona attorney general in 2009 resulted in the firing and resignation of TUSD financial administrators for school property use violations. No charges were filed but the scandal has slowed Tucson’s ability to receive federal classroom technology subsidies known as E-rate funds.

TUSD has also been accused of misusing earmarked funds from previous bond elections.

At an early October debate, The Pima Association of Taxpayers suggested that TUSD focus on traditional teaching methods until the economy provides the means to increase technology. They say it’s time for TUSD to get creative and fully utilize the money it has already been given. A recession is not the time to raise taxes, according to detractors.

Who supports the propositions? (According to campaign Web sites)
Invest in Our Kids Campaign
TUSD Governing Board
Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce
Tucson Association of Realtors
Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities, Inc. (Tucson’s regional govt. economics agency)
City Council members Karin Uhlich (D), Rodney Glassman (D), Regina Romero (D) and Nina Trasoff (D)
City Council candidate Richard Fimbres (D)
Congressman Raul Grijalva (D) and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D)
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik
“Tucson is dead last in dollars to classroom spending.” — Ann-Eve Pederson, spokesperson for Invest in Our Kids Campaign

Who’s against them? (According to campaign Web sites)
Pima Association of Taxpayers
“Transparency is the worst I’ve seen it in 20 years.” — Mary Terry-Schultz, Pima Association of Taxpayers representative

Prop 400 would override state spending limits

Published: Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The City of Tucson wants permission from voters to spend all the money it collects during the next four years, overriding state spending limits by about $42 million.

If passed on Nov. 3, Proposition 400, also called the Home Rule Proposition, will allow Tucson the option to spend 100 percent of what it collects in revenue, instead of putting some into savings as Arizona law requires.

Every year, the Arizona Economic Estimates Commission determines the amount municipal and county governments can spend without a city override, based on population growth and revenue from taxes and other income.

Proposition 400 will not raise taxes or fees, according to city officials.

Most city services, including public safety, parks and recreation, and business development are paid for with property taxes and fees from things like parking tickets and permit applications.

“Whatever money we have coming in, we have to spend it for this community,” said Ward 6 City Councilwoman Nina Trasoff. “There’s nothing wrong with saving it or putting it in reserves, but right now we need to be putting the money into the programs.”

Trasoff said the money would be spent to fill holes in the city budget created by the recession.

In 2010, all Tucson services will operate from a total budget of about $1.3 billion, including about $51 million in federal stimulus funds.

While the total has increased $16.5 million from Fiscal Year 2009, the portion over which the council has discretion, the General Fund, has decreased by $49 million.

The General Fund represents only about 32 percent of Tucson’s total bank account, according to the adopted budget for Fiscal Year 2010.

An additional 17 percent accounts for enterprise funds like Tucson Water, which bills citizens directly, and the rest, about 51 percent, is regulated by law.

Although there is much speculation on whether the city will raise taxes if voters pass Proposition 200, which would increase police and fire staffing, the city budget reflected that overall tax rates will drop in 2010.

The council has recently come under fire for spending on non-essential programs like KIDCO, a free afterschool education and recreation program for elementary-age children.

“We could cut everything that promotes quality of life,” Trasoff said in an interview Thursday, “but that would only save us $3 million.”

CBS Tucson affiliate KOLD reported Thursday that the Tucson Association of Realtors, the primary sponsor of Proposition 200, has also endorsed Proposition 400.

Colin Zimmerman, public affairs director for the association, was quoted by KOLD
as saying, “It proves that we’re not out there to push back. If it’s good, it’s good.”

Questions remain as to whether now is the right time for the city to bet the pot.

“We’re learning our lesson for not being responsible with our money,” said Erin Sperling, a political science senior. “(Council members) haven’t been spending our money like they would spend their money.”

Speaking on his own behalf in a phone interview Tuesday night, state chair for Arizona College Republicans Andrew Clark said he’d feel more comfortable if the city kept a cushion in case the economy worsened.

“I would vote against it,” he said. “I don’t know that we’ve seen the bottom yet, but there’s a high degree of probability that we could see that happen.”

Both Propositions can be read in original format on the Tucson City Clerk’s website at http://www.ci.tucson.az.us/clerks.

Public safety proposition highly contested

Published: Monday, October 26, 2009

What could become the largest and most costly expansion of municipal government in Tucson’s history could become law this Nov. 3 if passed by voters.

During the city’s, state’s, and country’s worst economic period since the Great Depression, Tucson’s public safety Proposition 200 will require the city to increase and maintain police and fire fighter staff levels at numbers the city says will bankrupt other city services.

At a projected cost of over $270 million in the first five years, to be shared by the city and county, 200 has been the most publicized issue in this year’s election and has the support of all three Republican Tucson City Council hopefuls.

“You will probably not see another campaign any time soon where you’ve got organizations from the far left, far right, and everyone in between all saying that (one proposition) is bad for Tucson,” said Brandon Patrick, Campaign Manager for No on 200: Don’t Handcuff Tucson.

Organizations like the Goldwater Institute and the Pima County Democratic party, typically on the far opposite sides of political issues, have both chosen not to support 200.

Patrick said students should care because the very reason tuition at the University of Arizona has increased is due to a budget crisis from a history of similar unfunded mandates at the state level.

Tucson City Manager Mike Letcher reported after a Tucson City Key Services Dialogue Sept. 28 that residents will be asked to help with tax increases if 200 passes.

Since, Letcher and the council have been careful to not directly threaten tax and fee increases, but stress the city has an already 40 + million-dollar-deficit budget.

Public safety has been a major platform for all three Republican council candidates and a critique of the current council by each.

200 proponents and council would-be’s like Republican Shaun McClusky, whose running against Democrat Richard Fimbres for the south side Ward 5 seat, have said the city’s current plan is not enough to ensure perspective residents and businesses that Tucson is a safe community.

McClusky promised at the Tucson Tea Party that 200 would not raise taxes.

North side Ward 3 Republican City Council Candidate Ben-Buehler-Garcia characterized Tucson on his campaign webpage as “inundated with crime,” based on Arizona Daily Star’s interactive crime map.

Tucson’s violent and property crime rates have fallen in the last five years according to city reports.

“The debate over Tucson’s crime ranking misses the main point,” Buehler-Garcia wrote. “We should be working to make Tucson safer.”

Buehler-Garcia is running against Democrat Karin Uhlich.

Supporters believe Tucson should meet a 2.4 police officers-per-thousand-citizen ratio that they say conforms to a national average.

The proposition would also put the city at risk of lawsuit if the fire department did not conform to a 4 minute response time to emergency calls.

The initiative provides no guidance for how the city should pay for increases in staffing, emergency vehicles, weapons and equipment, or facilities.

200 supporters disagree with both Tucson and Pima County cost proposals.

Colin Zimmerman, Director of Public Affairs for the Tucson Association of Realtors, the primary donor to prop 200, said in an interview after the Tucson Tea Party that he believes the money is already in the city budget.

Bill Arnold, chairman for Proposition 200 was quoted in an Oct. 11 article by the Arizona Daily Star’s Rhonda Bodfield asking, “ ‘What it boils down to is: Do you trust your firemen and your police officers? Or do you trust your City council? ‘ ”

In 2006, the City Council approved a sustainability plan placing public safety as the highest priority for increases over the next 10 years, as funding permits.

“We’re doing exactly what they asked for,” said Midtown Ward Six City Councilwoman Nina Trasoff whose seat is up for grabs this term. “We are not responsible for the economy tanking, thank you Mr. Bush.”

The University of Arizona is located within Mrs. Trasoff’s ward. UA Athletic Facilities and Capital Projects Associate Director Stephen Kozachick is campaigning against her.

The 2006 sustainability plan endorsed the 2.4 officers-per-thousand-citizens ratio but provided for 10 years to achieve it.

The city reported 2009 fire staffing levels at 100 per cent, and the hiring of 80 police officers since the plan, which also included the renovation of the West Side Police Services Center and plans for a new forensics laboratory.

Trasoff said that while some police administration personnel have been laid off, no cuts are planned to patrol officers or investigative personnel.

A public town hall dialogue will be held Monday at 6 p.m. in the Leo Rich Theatre of the Tucson Convention Center at 260 S. Church Avenue, Downtown, to help the public understand the initiative.

Arizona Public Media (KUAT) and Cox Communications will host a panel of issue representatives like Patrick, as well as proponants Brian Delf of the Tucson Fire Fighter’s Association and Tucson conservative radio personality Jon Justice.

KUAT Arizona Illustrated’s Bill Buckmaster, Arizona Daily Star Opinions Editor Ann Brown, and the Tucson Weekly’s Jim Nintzel (also a professor with the UA’s Journalism School) will ask questions of the panelists.

“To Bar, or Not to Bar?”; North on Fourth Goes South

Arizona Daily Wildcat – “To Bar, or Not to Bar

(Click link to be taken to online version of published story)

 

Published: Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Tucson City Council voted unanimously last Wednesday to recommend that the Arizona Liquor Board deny a liquor license transfer to the Avenue Bar and Grill, a new business proposed by former North on Fourth nightclub owners Patrick Nash and Andrew Sommers.

The decision came after a heated city council meeting Oct. 6 at which several citizens objected on grounds of safety and parking concerns.

No one, not even Nash or Sommers, showed at City Hall to protest the official thumbs down. Though the Arizona State Liquor Board has the final say, the businessmen have been effectively cut off.

North on Fourth, a former hip-hop night spot at 536 N. Fourth Ave, has been closed since building owner Tony Vaccaro, who also owns neighboring Brooklyn Pizza Co., decided not to renew North’s lease and expand his new project, Sky Bar.

In an Aug. 24 letter to the city council, Sommers and Nash detailed their next idea: a roughly 10,000-square-foot restaurant and music spot to be built down the block called Avenue Bar and Grill. The yet-to-break-ground project would combine 522 and 526 N. Fourth Ave., currently the Creative Ventures craft mall and an adjacent parking lot. The new facility would feature flat screen TVs, music stages and historic Fourth Avenue-themed décor.

Adding a “unique fine dining” restaurant to the neighborhood excited some and infuriated others, even though Nash and Sommers insisted that their new lease forbids the use of the property as a night club.

“I don’t have very much trust that if they opened a new place it would be any different than North was, and I don’t want to work near North anymore,” said Mariah Hoenig, a Pima Community College student who has worked at Brooklyn Pizza, next door to North, for 3 years. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been working here and I had to go outside and call the cops because people were getting slammed into the street.”

Megan Algeri, a waitress at Bumsted’s, said she’s noticed a positive change on Fourth Avenue since North closed. Bumsted’s stands next to where Nash and Sommers want to build Avenue.

“I wrote a protest letter, and I’m glad they didn’t get their license. It’s a 10,000-square-foot building. That’s huge to have North’s kind of customers,” she said.

Maebelle Reed, owner of Plush, another bar at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street, said friendly meetings with Sommers and Nash didn’t quell her fears.

“It was very difficult to believe that if they couldn’t figure out how to do it in the eight or nine years they were in the one spot, why (would) moving to another spot make any difference?” she said in a phone interview Thursday.

Reed said she would have considered supporting the transfer if Avenue had filed for a restaurant liquor license which would limit the profits that could be made from liquor sales.

“There are things that happen on the street that are collectively everybody’s problem,” Reed said.

“It was almost like (North was) a magnet for violent activity,”  she added.

A report compiled by the Tucson Police Department in July cited over 530 incidents at North between 2001 and 2009, though that was not enough to lose TPD’s support for the transfer.

Sgt. Victor Garcia II of the Downtown Operations Division wrote to the city, “I have come to (Sommers and Nash) with suggestions that I felt would improve situations and found them to be immediately implemented. The direction they are heading … will help to diminish some of the negative issues that can accompany bars on 4th.”

Eddie Martinez, a doorman at IBT’s, a block away from where North operated since 2001, said, “When I first came here, that bar was bad. But over the years, they’ve straightened it up.”

Martinez has worked at IBT’s for six years.

“A lot of people are still thinking about the way it used to be,” he said. “You (can) actually walk in there and feel comfortable now.”

David Hall has lived one block off of Fourth Avenue since 1987. He supported the transfer after talking with Sommers and Nash.

“I like living a block away from Fourth Avenue. It’s the most urban environment in Tucson,” Hall said. “It’s never been a nice, quiet neighborhood. It’s full of college rental houses. If you don’t like that, you should never move to West University.”

Lori Boston, president of the West University Neighborhood Association, through which the Fourth Avenue promenade runs, wrote to the city council: “The transfer will not alleviate the problems, but only exasperate them as the bar will increase in size from 4,000 square feet of space to 10,000.”

TPD’s 22-page report listed at least 316 arrests at 536 N. Fourth Ave. A scan of the report incident codes revealed the vast majority of calls were assaults and disorderly conduct, though there was at least one homicide in August of 2006 at that address.

In their letter to the city council, Nash and Sommers claimed that some of the incidents started or occurred at other addresses.

Also on file were multiple violations including underage drinking in 2005, serving more alcohol than the law allows in 2007, three counts of failure to follow identification procedures and three counts of selling alcohol to minors in 2009.

Bruce Hungate, owner of the Dairy Queen at Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street, objected to Avenue based on the July TPD report, which Sommers and Nash claimed contained incidents from other bars.

Cheri Wiens, whose letter complained of public urination by bar patrons, was also against recommending a license to Vaccaro’s Sky Bar, which passed the council’s graces Wednesday night.

Neither Hungate nor Wiens could be reached for comment.

A separate letter of opposition addressed to Ward 6 Council Member Nina Trasoff requested a denial and displayed 10 signatures of residents and businesses, including Bumsted’s, the Chocolate Iguana and Delectables Restaurant & Catering.

Trasoff moved to postpone the council’s decision after a horde of angry citizens protested at the Oct. 6 meeting.

Nineteen other letters of support from area residents and merchants were filed with the Tucson City Clerk. Endorsements came from Maloney’s Tavern, The B Line café, and Antigone Books.

Nash could not be reached and Sommers declined to comment other than to say that the men will continue to work with the Tucson City Council and that they don’t want to “piss anyone off.”

The recommendation for denial will be sent to the Arizona State Liquor Board; Nash and Sommers will be able to appeal if the decision is not in their favor.

City Council: Hospitality Leaders Accuse Double Taxation

Tourism might be permanently crippled by city’s proposals

By Brian Mori, Inside Tucson Business
Published on Friday, May 15, 2009

Tucson’s tourism industry — already wounded by the current economic recession — might be permanently crippled by the City of Tucson’s budget proposals to double a $1 per night surcharge on overnight stays and reduce the percentage of money raised by the current bed tax that goes to the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote tourism.

If the proposals by City Manager Mike Letcher are ultimately approved by the City Council, it would put the tax rate visitors on a typical hotel room at 15.8 percent. Jonathan Walker, president and CEO of the MTCVB, says that is higher than the tax rate at most competing destinations, putting Tucson at a competitive disadvantage.

The national average bed tax on an overnight lodging stay is 12.6 percent, according to research done last year by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. And it hasn’t been increasing very rapidly. In 2003 it was 12.4 percent.

 

Separate research done of the top 50 business destinations — Tucson is not one of them — by the National Business Travel Association found lodging taxes ranged from a low of 9 percent in Las Vegas to 17.2 percent in Nashville, with an average of 13.5 percent. Just four cities on the business list have additional surcharges: San Jose, Calif., New Orleans, New York and Nashville.

While city officials defend the proposed changes as an alternative to other service cuts, local industry leaders say they are counter-productive when the city’s own records show that revenues from the taxes has fallen for each of the last three years.

“There’s smoke and mirrors going on,” said Brian Johnson, managing director of Loews Ventana Canyon Resort. 

In 2003, the city increased the bed tax — officially called the transient occupancy tax — to 6 percent, from 4 percent. Under a state law that took effect in 1990, that added tax of 2 percent must go for the promotion of tourism. But in Tucson’s case, the city made a 10-year agreement with the MTCVB that a higher amount — what amounts to a 2.7 percent tax — would go to the MTCVB’s efforts to promote tourism. Using the city’s estimates at the time, that difference amounted to $805,000 in 2004.

Now, the city wants to renege on the agreement and take that extra 0.7 percent tax back. But to make up for it, City Manager Mike Letcher has proposed doubling the $1 per night surcharge on lodging stays and then splitting that revenue between the MTCVB and the Tucson Pima Arts Council. Letcher estimates the additional $1 nightly surcharge would bring in $1.8 million in annual revenue.

But that increased surcharge amounts to an additional tax of 1.7 percent on the $116.60 that Kimberly Schmitz, director of communications for the MTCVB, says is the 2009 year-to-date average nightly room rate. That rate, combined with the state’s sales tax of 5.6 percent, Pima County’s transportation sales tax of 0.5 percent, the city’s 2 percent sales tax and the 6 percent bed tax would put the total tax rate on an overnight lodging stay at 15.8 percent — bringing the total price for that $116.60 a night room to $135.02.

“It would put the city hotels in a non-competitive environment,” said Bill Petrella, general manager of the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa.

Although the increases wouldn’t directly affect his resort, Petrella is also president of the Southern Arizona Lodging and Resort Association and said he’s more concerned about the effect it will have on smaller hotels as well as large group travelers and convention planners who may instead look to competing destinations.

“I’d want them going to another property in Tucson rather than another market,” he said.

At least one member of the council hears that argument. “I am weary of any new taxes or fees that will put Tucson at a competitive disadvantage with other areas of the state,” said City Councilman Rodney Glassman in an e-mail.

Council members also need to know that it’s a misconception to think the increased taxes would be something that only affects tourists who come in from out-of-town.

Wade Hossman, general manager of the Hyatt Place at Tucson International Airport, said the declining numbers of tourists directly translates into jobs lost. “The easiest thing to do is cut the payroll,” he said. “A hotel’s single biggest controllable expense is labor.”

And city revenues are already down from tourism. Schmitz points out the year-to-date average nightly hotel room rate of $116.60 is down 6.6 percent from last year’s average rate of $124.82.

The MTCVB’s Walker says he’s trying to convince the council members not to punish the tourism industry with these changes but to see it as a revenue center.

“This is an industry that creates dollars for the community, and not just in bed taxes. Tens of millions of dollars come in each year to other local businesses that goes to pay for the needed services we have,” Walker said.

Tom Tracy, board member of the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association, called the city’s proposal, “Economics 101 on how to destroy an industry. It’s not that the bureau or hotel community doesn’t want to participate in the austerity needs of the community, we already have a contract that’s indexed (to economic conditions).”

The city council is next scheduled to discuss the proposals on June 9.

Lodging tax rates

These are the combined tax rates for an overnight lodging stay in Tucson and some competitive cities.

San Antonio 16.8%

New York 16.8%*

Chicago  15.4%

Kansas City 15.2%

Austin 15.0%

Denver 14.9%

Tucson 14.1%*

San Francisco 14.1%

Los Angeles 14.1%

Phoenix 13.3%

Albuquerque 12.9%

Portland, Ore. 12.5%

San Diego 12.1%

Sacramento 12.1%

Salt Lake City 11.6%

San Jose, Calif. 11.4%*

Las Vegas 9.0%

* Rate is the effective nightly tax rate on an an average-priced room in the market, including a surcharge. The surcharges are San Jose $1.38 per night, Tucson $1 per night and New York $3.50 per night.

Source: National Business Travel Association for all cities, except Tucson.

Contact Brian Mori at edior@azbiz.com or at 295-4201. Mori is a University of Arizona intern.