Retirees want to keep taxes low while younger residents want STV to become a real community
Should San Tan Valley incorporate as a city? Opinions were almost equally divided among citizens who engaged in a structured debate at the American Leadership Academy Ironwood Campus on August 27 and moderated by State Sen. David Farnsworth (R-District 16).
At this first in a series of San Tan Valley Town Hall meetings, Sen. Farnsworth said the purpose was to find out what citizens want so officeholders will know how to accurately represent them. He then began to call to the microphone 14 citizens who registered to speak in advance, granting each five minutes to express their opinions. Near the end, a few people were from the audience also were given a few minutes to add to the earlier debate.
For the most part, the debate was civil with only the first speaker to speak in favor of incorporation getting a few boos from incorporation opponents.
Early in the meeting, the views of those who opposed incorporation were heard, beginning with Brad Cole, chief operating officer of Johnson Utilities.
“Incorporation will only create another level of government that will only increase taxes and fees,” Cole said. “You will get a new sales tax. Your property taxes will increase by millions of dollars. And what for? You already have superb police protection from in Pinal County Sheriff’s Office and fire protection from Rural/Metro.
“Don’t be fooled by the smoke and mirrors of pro-incorporation people who claim that recent legislation was about the Right to Vote. It is about more government and more taxes,” he added.
Cole was followed by several retirees who echoed his opinion.
“We have everything we need right now. Good police protect from the sheriff and fire protection from Rural/Metro. While we need more industry to keep taxes down, we are in good shape,” said Roger Wilford.
“What has incorporation done for Queen Creek but create all those special fees and taxes. I prefer the status quo rather than creating a massive bureaucracy,” added Deborah Banks.
“I came to San Tan Valley for the low taxes and don’t want another layer of government eating into the retirement income,” Walter Fulmer stated.
But other speakers were favorable to San Tan Valley Incorporation.
“The issue is self-determination,” said Jeffrey Robins. “By incorporating we can control the level and types of services available to the community without having to beg county officials who don’t live here for them. The County Sheriff’s force is being stretched thin and fire protection is a subscriber option. Why shouldn’t we be able to determine what services we need and then provide them?”
Robins answered the issue of increased taxes by noting that San Tan Valley residents are already paying taxes that are going for the benefit of surrounding communities. These include sales taxes, HURF (Highway User Revenue Funds) and assorted licensing fees that are currently being distributed by the state to Florence, Apache Junction and other Pinal County towns because San Tan Valley is not incorporated and the others are. Such funds could support improvements here instead of elsewhere.
Another benefit of incorporation cited is that San Tan Valley could engage in urban planning. A town government could set aside land for retail and commercial development and promote businesses to locate there, just as other towns do. Creating zoning for light industrial businesses would bring more jobs so local residents could work in their community instead of commuting to Phoenix, he noted.
Candice Steelman agreed, noting that from $12 million to $14 million in revenues collected in San Tan Valley are padding the budgets of other Pinal County towns. She also quoted Tim Kanavel, Pinal County Economic Development Program Manager, as stating it is hard to attract businesses to San Tan Valley because 80% of businesses don’t want to locate in unincorporated areas, which are viewed as legally unstable.
The time for San Tan Valley to incorporate as a town or city should be sooner rather than later, said David Moultan.
“Queen Creek is already trying to seize our community’s tax revenue producing assets including its northern retail strip and the Ironwood Hospital,” Moultan warned. “Without these assets, it will be harder for us to chart our own future.”
Moultan suggested steps toward incorporation that would benefit the community as a whole even if citizens eventually vote against incorporation. These include creation of a local fire district.
“One of my neighbors, a military veteran who moved not long ago to San Tan Valley, didn’t know he had to subscribe for fire protection. So when he had fire that completely destroyed his house, Rural/Metro answered the call but then hit him with a $40,000 bill for services. His worry about where he would get the money to pay the debt caused him to have a fatal heart attack,” Moultan said.
“Creating a fire district now would provide fire protection to all residents and can always be absorbed by the city if we choose to incorporate,” he added.
Patrick Pascowitz, who described himself as a military veteran and paramedic, agreed.
“Having our own fire district would help attract business and industry to San Tan Valley. It also would raise property values,” he noted.
Going beyond such steps, some citizens proposed half measures such as organizing San Tan Valley under the “village concept” or as a county island. With such, residents would organize into communities without a legal government and meet regularly to determine needs and then present them to elected county officers as a request.
But other hooted at the idea, noting that existing county islands were relatively tiny communities while San Tan Valley, with a current estimated population of 95,000, is already the largest community in the entire county. San Tan Valley would be the antithesis of the concept.
“Higley talked about incorporating as a town but instead chose to become a county island. And what happened to Higley? It got sliced and scooped up by Chandler, Gilbert and Mesa and subjected to their taxes. The same will happen to San Tan Valley if we don’t take the reins and chart our own future,” said John Acton, a Pinal County Constable.
Some citizens merely said they favor any method to convert San Tan Valley from a collection of houses in what Stacy Gramazio defined as a “walkable, sustainable community.
“This area isn’t just populated by retirees. There are more of us who work but have to travel long distances to jobs because there aren’t enough jobs here. A lot of these people couldn’t be here tonight because they are still commuting from Phoenix. But they would say they are passionate about San Tan Valley and want to make it the best it can be.”
Near the conclusion of the meeting, George Johnson, owner of Johnson Utilities, took the floor.
“I’m a native of this area and I see no good reason for San Tan Valley to incorporate. The local politicians are great. The local services are great. The only reason incorporation comes up is because one person eyes becoming your mayor,” he said.
Johnson added that he conducted a poll through the newsletter stuffed in with each monthly bill for Johnson Utilities water and sewage services and of the 500 respondents 91% were opposed to incorporation. He invited anyone to visit his offices to check the results.
But Trisha Castillo, leader of the San Tan Valley Right to Vote Coalition, countered by holding up a clipboard on which she said had more than 2,000 signatures favoring incorporation.
“There are 32,000 homes in San Tan Valley. Both sides of the issue claim they have an overwhelming majority of citizens favoring their opinion. But we won’t know who is right until we have a vote. And we can’t have that right to vote until we pass legislation eliminating the six-mile rule in Pinal County, the only county where this 1930s law is still in effect since 2011, so towns like Florence can’t block us from voting,” Castillo emphasized.
Overall, eight speakers favored incorporation, seven opposed incorporation, and seven were undecided and/or favoring other options.
Sen. Farnsworth, who was praised by many speakers for organizing the meeting, concluded by inviting San Tan Valley residents to a second town hall debate set for August 25 at the same location.