Rio Nuevo makes pitch to keep hockey in Tucson; Sahuarita has healthy surplus

This week, the Rio Nuevo Multipurpose Facilities District Board will discuss an incentive package it is throwing together to keep the Tucson Roadrunners from fleeing to Maricopa County.

Plans are in the works to eventually move the Roadrunners to Phoenix. For the 2024-25 season, the team wants to play 14 home games in Tempe and 22 in Tucson.

Roadrunner attendance averaged 4,120 in 2023-24, which isn’t terrible. It’s not great for a team that finished second in the Pacific Division, with the fourth-best record in the 32-team league. However, attendance has been growing.

The American Hockey League owners will vote May 30 on whether to allow the AAA team to split its home schedule between the Tucson Convention Center Arena and Tempe’s Mullet Arena.

Rio Nuevo’s board must sign off on the agreement.

Why would they? If the AHL votes against the move and there’s no deal then the Roadrunners stay in Tucson next season. Plus, the Rio Nuevo folks were caught flat-footed when the Roadrunners announced plans to move north.

Roadrunners owner Alex Meruelo is eyeing a permanent move to the Valley once an arena is built. Plans are now to build on a piece of state land, after the Phoenix property is (Meruelo hopes) acquired in a public auction.

What if the Roadrunners’ ownership fails to get the land? Exactly. This isn’t exactly planned out like the Normandy landings.

The Arizona Coyotes’ staff and players have up and left to Salt Lake City. Phoenix is without pro hockey. So the Valley of the Yakes wants to steal Tucson’s team.

Meruelo also hopes to bring NHL hockey back to the Valley, someday.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said she’s a no-vote on using city tax breaks for hockey. It sure seems like the Coyotes’ move could have been prevented with a deal to use public money for a new arena.

The Glendale City Council never even entertained such a thing. In fact, Glendale basically evicted the team in 2021 from the Desert Diamond (nee Gila River) Arena, prompting the move.

I find it dubious the Phoenix City Council will kick in public money for what is now just a AAA team.

So maybe there’s a long-term shot at keeping hockey in Tucson if a whole bunch of stuff falls through 100 miles away.

A Phoenix sports talk podcast went absolutely apoplectic about the uncertainty of it all. Apoplectic in a very Canadian, hockey-loving way. “Wajeeze, I don’t know about this.” It’s so weird that sports podcasters plan on going to a state land auction. Journalists covering sports rarely venture beyond locker rooms and typically gag on hard news (’s Ted Prezelski notwithstanding).

Also on the Rio Nuevo board agenda is a vote on whether to help Crescent Smoke Shop out with a $60,000 sprinkler system and letting the Playground Restaurant and Bar use some taxpayer money to knock down walls to expand the patio.

Two contracts are up for renewal. One is for valet parking services downtown and the other is to use a Pima County garage after-hours for community parking.

The board will also talk with their lawyers about a lawsuit against the woman who won $333,000 of money from the district to refurbish the Citizen Hotel, and closed the hotel after 15 months of operation.

The allegation is that Moniqua Lane represented herself as the sole owner of the hotel, when she was a minority owner.

Rio Nuevo approved $500,000 for the project in April 2022.

To Sahuarita, with love

I’ve long had a crush on the town of Sahuarita.

The Town Council there is doing some interesting stuff, from trying to make Rancho Sahuarita’s growth pay for itself, while experimenting with a for-profit water provider (so no one else has to play that game of “what if?”). The council is doing micro-scale economic development at Sahuarita Advanced Manufacturing and Technology Center and they are even looking at how to build a downtown.

All that stuff is just funky for a municipal nerd like me.

Here’s the truly wacky part about Sahuarita. The town’s tentative 2024-25 budget runs $120 million. The town spends about $60 million.

The council will vote Tuesday on its budget spending limits.

Half (half!) of its budget is reserve balance. Here’s another funny thing. The town gets less in local taxes than from state shared revenues. By comparison, the city of Tucson raises about $340 million in local taxes and $203 million in state shared revenues.

I point this out because very often towns incorporate with the promise of relying on money out of Phoenix, rather than a sales and property taxes. It’s not like Sahuarita is a newbie town. It’s been incorporated since 1994.

As to the changes in spending, there really aren’t that many. It’s all less than a million dollars.

One thing that caught my attention was a $170,000 cut in spending on incarceration services, paid to Pima County.

But it’s really nothing. The town has overestimated how much it would spend on sending arrestees to the county jail. So this year, Town Manager Shane Dille is recommending the budget better reflect reality.

There’s also a $316,000 cut for bridge repair and maintenance but that’s because bridge work has been completed.

If the town council needs more money for the jail, it’s sitting on that giant surplus. It must be nice, South Tucson says.

Local governments still aren’t sure what to make of the economy during the next year and aren’t willing to spend big, while trying to avoid serious cuts. Anytime there’s a presidential election, economic uncertainty abounds.

Budgetary caution comes on the heels of spikes in spending paid for by the American Rescue Plan, providing relief during the pandemic. So that money is drying up.

Then there’s the state, which is grappling with budget deficits that are moving targets. Through 2025, the state is projecting $1.3 billion in deficits, with just under $650 million in red ink this fiscal year and another $670 in fiscal year 2025.

How much budget balancing will be done at the expense of local governments remains to be seen. So governments are playing it safe.

Take for instance, the Catalina Foothills Unified School District’s “straw budget,” which is another word for tentative budget that sets spending limits.

The school board will vote to approve the budget during its Tuesday meeting.

Changes from the current budgets are coming in small. The district will have an extra $2 million to spend. The biggest increase is $281,000 for increased insurance premiums and the biggest cut will be $1 million from teacher stipends for extracurricular activities.

PEEPS at early ed, TVUSD top dawg

The Amphitheater Unified School District Governing Board is set to take Pima County up on an offer to spend an extra $467,000 on early childhood education programs to be housed at district schools.

Amphi administrators are recommending the board add Harelson Elementary and Wilson K-8 schools.

Under the Pima Early Education Program Scholarships, the county provides the money and the districts provide the classroom space. The cash for Amphi Public Schools is a “pass-through” and originates from the city.

The board will also vote to provide $285 in annual incentives for 17 teachers who teach dual-enrollment courses that are cross-listed with the University of Arizona and Pima Community College.

The Flowing Wells Unified School District Governing Board will hold a study session Tuesday to discuss the fiscal year 2025 budget and something called “Seven Character Strengths.”

When my daughter was enrolled in the district, it was called “Building Blocks of Character.”

Flowing Wells usually does a good job of explaining what the board is up to ahead of the posting of its agenda material at 5 p.m., Monday before a meeting. That’s usually too late for me unless I’m reaaaally slow, but the budget items are written in a language called “English” instead of Bureaucratese.

Monday is a holiday. The materials may not be available until Tuesday and no one not currently indoctrinated with the “seven strengths of character” will know what the heck the district is talking about.

The budget is also a mystery, however both will be on an actual meeting agenda before any action is taken on either. The study session agenda specifically says it will not take any legal action on any item.

Well, that’s a parse. Boards and councils can do an awful lot of direction that falls short of “legal action.”

Tanque Verde Unified School District Superintendent Scott Hagerman will get a performance review from the governing board during its Wednesday meeting.

Here’s the thing: It’s an “action item,” slated for public action.

Usually school boards and town councils do this sort of thing behind closed doors during an executive session. It’s done hush-hush because city councils like to call these things “personnel issues.”

I’ve always thought action on city managers, town attorneys and school district superintendents were more political issues because these are the people at the top of the system.

I like that this is being done in public, for everyone to see.