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Supervisors must weigh importance of soccer and roads

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Tucson could become Arizona's soccer center if 19 additional soccer fields are built just south of I-10, across from Kino Sports Complex.  The total 28 fields would be the most in one location in the state.  Such a move could help Pima County ride the wave of soccer's popularity.  But the decision could come at the cost of road repair.

Soccer is a stress-reliever for Amber Saarinen.

"This is where I get my aggression out and play.  I'm sure some of the refs can tell you this (chuckle). Just kidding. I'm nice!" Saarinen said before her game started Monday night.

Driving county roads is just the opposite for Carlos Chavez.

"Have (you) driven down some of these roads over here? You got to work on your suspension pretty soon if you keep on driving on those," Chavez said as he stood beside his car in a parking lot.

Soccer and roads might seem like two different, unrelated things.  But one could affect the other in the realm of county funding.  On Tuesday the board of supervisors will consider a $1.75 million down payment on 160 acres south of I-10 at Kino Parkway to expand a soccer complex.

That money would come out of a $5 million road repair budget.

"Quality of life improvement attracts the knowledge worker that we're looking to bring and keep.  The graduates from our university we want to keep.  We want to attract those types," said Pima County assistant administrator Nanette Slusser.

Slusser said that the down payment is not that much compared to both what is spent and what is needed for roads.  She said that a national parks and recreation study suggests that Pima County needs 100 soccer fields.  It currently has more than 60. 

In addition to attracting "the knowledge worker", the complex could possibly bring regional soccer competitions.  A memorandum earlier this month from county administrator Chuck Huckelberry said that during the recession, a 2009 soccer regional in the Phoenix area generated $149 million in sales.

If the board approves the $1.75 million down payment, it must then also approve about $1.6 million in five annual payments to cover the $8.75 million cost of the 160 acre parcel.  The first down payment and possibly the first annual payment would come out of the general fund.  The rest could be considered to be added to the November 2015 bond election.  If the cost is not added to the bond election, or if voters reject it, then the remainder would come out of the general fund again.

As far as road repairs, Slusser said that the county's total need for road repair could range between $300-400 million.  And she said that most road funding comes from Highway User Revenue Funds, which are generated by the state gasoline tax as well as vehicle registration.  That funding has dwindled over the years.  She said that to increase funding for effective road repair, the county will consider some other ways in the future to raise the proper funds.

Slusser and county supervisor Ray Carroll both said that far more than $5 million a year already goes to roads.  But Carroll said that no road funding should go to the fields.  He said that they should be part of a voter-approved bond.  He said that a letter of intent or a contract for right of first refusal could help hold the fields until the bond election.

"Because that way you have community buy-in, there's a campaign, it's fully understood by the community what we're doing and why we're doing it.  I'm in favor of doing it that way but no other way," said District Four Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll.

The vote could be tight when supervisors face-off Tuesday.

"If they're taking it from one budget, then from that budget they took it from, they have to get it from somewhere else," Chavez said.

"I think that the complex would bring in a lot of money if they did do it and I think it would be well worth the money and we could find the money to fix the streets somewhere else," Saarinen said.

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