South Tucson will finally settle up.
After being delinquent on its jail bill for a decade, it has finally reached a settlement with Pima County.
South Tucson doesn't have a jail so it must pay Pima County to house its prisoners.
The bill to date is nearly $2 million. That's 20% of South Tucson's annual budget and more than the small, one square mile town can afford.
But under interim city manager Luis Gonzales, the city has signed a deal with the county to wipe the slate clean. But it will take time.
Under the agreement, South Tucson paid $150,000 up front. The county forgave about $700,000 in accumulated interest. The $1.1 million balance will be paid monthly over a ten year period.
"We hope it won't take ten years," Gonzales says. "But we want people to know South Tucson pays its debts."
Gonzales says the bill can be paid without affecting services or laying anyone off. He also says "there will be no new taxes."
What is being done, it appears, is far fewer people are being arrested and sent to jail, at least on South Tucson's dime.
Because the town is a major pass through, many of the people arrested were not from South Tucson.
As many as 70% of the people arrested and jailed were not residents. But South Tucson picked up the tab anyway.
"If the person arrested has a warrant out of Tucson or Oro Valley or where ever, they will be billed instead of us," he says.
There is also the question of whether fewer people will be arrested and whether the arrests that are made will be charged as crimes which require jail time.
"There have been fewer arrests," says Gonzales. "Not that much but they have seen a downward trend."
It will be a while before numbers are collected to make comparisons.
The town also signed a new agreement with the Pima County Sheriff's Office to pay an estimated $187,000 in jail costs for next year.
All in all, it was an expensive day for the town of 6,000.
How much hurt that may cause the town is hard to predict but there will be some pain.
"Unfortunately, when you're dealing with such a small community any sort of burden can be a hardship," says District II County Supervisor and chair of the board Ramone Valadez.
The town sits in his district which means he helped work out the deal which allowed the town to catch up.
"I'm hoping with what we've been able to negotiate here, it lessen the hardship as much as we can," he says.
Meantime, city leaders are hoping the debt repayment will cast a new light on the town as one which takes its debts seriously.
It believes it's well situated near the street car line near a vibrant downtown Tucson.
Companies and retail outlets which are looking to expand, it's hoped, will at least take a look at what it has to offer.
Future street car expansions could come their way since South Six is a popular thoroughfare.
And the town has many empty lots and places along the street which companies may find attractive.
The town says it's prepared to offer incentives if there's interest.
But being viable is the required first step.
We want to "send out the message the city of South Tucson does pay it's debt," according to Gonzales. "We're interested in making sure we're viable.
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