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The Facts about Pima County's Bond Program

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There are times when keeping up with the needs of an expanding population and making investments that will shape the region’s economic future can outstrip the ability of a governmental jurisdiction to “pay as you go.”

When used responsibly, bonds allow a jurisdiction to get started on major projects now, and pay them back over a longer period of time, much like homeowners typically pay a mortgage instead of buying a home with cash up front.

The State Auditor General’s Office completed a review in early 2013 of the Pima County General Obligation Bond Program and determined the bonds have been effectively managed and administered without bias.

For the full report visit: bd-auditor.general.bond.audit.report.pdf

Additional facts about how Pima County manages debt are in the tabs below:

Pima County is well below the state’s “cap” on debt the County may issue

The state constitution sets a cap on general obligation debt at 15 percent of the County’s net secondary assessed valuation. For Cienega CreekFiscal Year 2018/19, for example, the constitutional debt limit is $1.25 billion. However, the actual bonded indebtedness is $276 million, far below the constitutional debt limit. 

Pima County is not a high-debt government

Pima County has the highest per capita debt among Arizona counties. That statistic, without proper context, is grossly misleading. Just one example: Nearly half of the County’s debt stems from operating a regional sewer system. Pima County is the only county that operates a regional sewer system.

Pima County is also unique in that much of our bond funding is used to build facilities within cities and towns.  By doing such, we have substantially reduced the need of cities and towns to issue their own debt to finance their public facilities.

Furthermore, Maricopa County has moved some of its debt to special districts, which makes it appear that Maricopa County has a lower per capita debt.  When all taxing districts within Arizona counties are considered, Maricopa County residents debt is $5,003 per person and Pima County residents debt is $3,201 per person (FY2019 ADOR Report of Long Term Debt, July 1, 2017 Arizona population estimates).

Pima County embraces conservative principles in its debt management policies

  • We are prompt. Our debt is retired within 15 years or less, even though it is common among local governments to issue bonded Joel D Valdez Libraryindebtedness for 20, 30 or more years. In general, 90 percent of our bonded debt is retired within 11 years, with 100 percent retired at or before 15 years. We have been paying off principal on our general obligation bonds at an average of $50 million annually.
  • We are responsible. Pima County has set voluntary property tax rate caps to avoid surprising property taxpayers who repay the bonds.
  • We are cautious. Voters in 1997 authorized $350 million in transportation bonds that are repaid through annual allocation of gas and licensing revenues. To date, Pima County has issued only $288 million of that and we will continue to be careful given shrinking revenues. State sweeps of our funding, lower fuel consumption and higher gas prices have all worked to diminsh the revenue stream available to pay back borrowing.


Pima County’s credit is Excellent

The County is generally rated by Fitch Ratings and Standard and Poor’s. In particular, rating agencies look for predictability, Loop Rillito Mountain Bridgestability and accurate financial forecasts.

In giving Pima County a AAA bond rating, the highest possible bond rating, analysts noted, the County's "aggressive debt amortization schedule," "strong debt and liability position," "low" long-term liability burden "comprised of overall debt and net pension liabilities," and "strong management, with good financial policies and practices."

Pima County is accountable

Voters do not have to worry that they’ll vote for one thing and get another. ROMPThe oversight of the County bond program is strict, transparent and detailed.

An independent Bond Advisory Committee, with 25 members, including representatives from each of the incorporated cities and towns and two tribes,  reviews the status of the bond programs and considers any substantial changes.

Any substantial changes in scope, costs or timing must be approved by this committee at a public meeting and by the Pima County Board of Supervisors in public session.

Pima County’s capital improvement programs support jobs


The County’s bond program has infused the economy with capital in times of need. When private sector spending or construction activity decreases due to unfavorable economic conditions, the County has been able to advance public capital investment programs.

Since the 1997 bond election, Pima County’s capital improvement program, which is largely funded with bonds, Tumamoc has created or sustained an estimated 14,500 jobs locally, not including any other funding sources that might have been applied to the projects.

Pima County’s bond programs have improved quality of life, neighborhoods and economic development efforts

Sometimes it’s easy to get swamped by big numbers, given that voters have authorized $1.5 billion in bonds since 1997.

Bike CampBut the County’s bond program has touched the lives of residents throughout the County, from the roads we drive on, the open space we enjoy, the parks we play in, and the libraries that expand our world. Many projects just make things work better.

We upgraded our sewer system to meet strict federal regulations. We are ensuring that different law enforcement and fire agencies can communicate through a new regional communications system.

Library Baby Time

And we have crisis intervention and behavioral health treatment facilities that ensure Pima County residents have access to a strong, responsive and efficient care system that addresses their needs.