Cities and towns are vital to Arizona’s economic recovery

[Source: Arizona Capitol Time.com, Guest Opinion, 2/10/12] – While Arizona has endured one of longest and deepest recessions in American history, the League of Arizona Cities and Towns has stepped forward to be a strong partner with Gov. Jan Brewer and state lawmakers as they sought solutions to reverse our fiscal crisis. Arizona’s 91 cities and towns cut their spending by nearly 30 percent on average. We have responded to this crisis by doing more with less.

Now that our state’s economy is starting to emerge and grow again, cities, large and small, will be absolutely vital to Arizona’s economic recovery and future prosperity. From Tucson to Phoenix to rural towns like Clarkdale — where I’m proud to serve as mayor — Arizona cities and towns have provided healthy economic environments that generate 93 percent of all state sales tax revenues. That business-friendly climate helps drive Arizona forward.

Those dollars enable families to enjoy the most efficient and directly accessible services provided by government — like police and fire protection, safe roads, clean water, parks, senior centers, pools and reliable garbage collection. It sounds like a cliché, but only because it’s true — healthy cities make a healthy Arizona.

The good news is our cities and towns are well positioned to do the heavy lifting. Our state, especially in rural Arizona, is open for business and creating jobs. But we must be careful not to impede our recovery by limiting local control or hurting the quality of life that makes Arizona so attractive to entrepreneurs. Local elected leaders stand on the front lines of business recruitment efforts, and they help create the healthy and profitable business environments that attract new employers. For example, if you search for “Payson economic development” on the Internet, you are directed to the town’s website.

I am excited that both House Speaker Andy Tobin and Senate President Steve Pierce represent rural Arizona. I trust they understand, like I do, that imposing unfunded mandates only hurt our ability to attract and retain high quality jobs. In fact, unnecessary mandates only make us spend taxpayer money on things that don’t benefit the public’s quality of life. The best decisions are the ones made at the local level in response to residents and taxpayers. We deliver the daily services that people count on every day.

Since 1937, the League of Arizona Cities and Towns has stood for the principle that local government is the most efficient, most responsive and most economical way to provide services to our residents. We have never wavered from those principles in good times or bad.

So, as the Legislature goes back to work, the League of Arizona Cities and Towns once again stands ready to partner with our state lawmakers to preserve and protect what matters most to residents in our cities and towns. If we work together, I’m confident we can make this happen.

— Doug Von Gausig is mayor of Clarkdale and president of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.

Arizona budget slashing reshapes state

[Source: Mary Jo Pitzl, Arizona Republic] – Arizona’s budget deficits were like a house on fire, lawmakers say, and they responded in kind, dousing the fiscal flames without time to weigh the possible impact.

The aftermath of cuts stretching over four budget years is a smaller state government that affects Arizonans from all walks of life – there are higher university-tuition bills, fewer social services and larger classroom sizes.

But those consequences weren’t most important to lawmakers, according to interviews with nearly a dozen Republican legislators involved in budget talks. Instead, legislators focused on cutting spending to match dwindling state tax collections [to read full article click here].

Misconception hurts state parks

[Source: Arizona Republic Editorial] – The struggling state park system isn’t suddenly and magically awash in cash. But there’s a pernicious misconception that it is because the Arizona State Parks Board approved more than $40 million in grants for two cities to buy state trust land. This is not park money.

The board happens to be, under the terms of a voter-approved referendum, the gatekeeper for funding to preserve trust land. The parks don’t get one penny.

It’s a lot like the state treasurer. The office manages billions of dollars a year. But that doesn’t turn Treasurer Doug Ducey and his staff into billionaires.

This kind of misunderstanding – whether willful or careless – may be one reason legislators have so blithely undermined Arizona State Parks. They cut off all state support in 2009. Since then, they’ve reached right into the till, diverting money that the parks themselves earn through entrance fees and concessions. This is not only wrong but also profoundly disingenuous from legislators who want agencies to act more like businesses.

As Arizona heads into yet another challenging year for the state budget, we can’t make smart decisions without looking at the numbers in context. All dollars aren’t the same. Some funding has legal constraints. Some spending has broader benefits beyond the immediate budget line.

Take that $40 million. It’s from the Growing Smarter fund, which voters approved in 1998. The ballot measure required the state to put aside $220 million, over the course of 11 years, to be used as matching money to preserve state trust land. (Trust land cannot be set aside for conservation outright but must be bought or leased.) Scottsdale just got approval for a $36.2 million grant to help expand its mountain preserve.Phoenixis getting $4.18 million to put toward buying land for the Sonoran Preserve.

Given the well-established value of open space – from tourist appeal to recreation to wildlife habitat – those are farsighted moves that will benefit all Arizonans in the long run.

It gets better. The dollars actually do double duty, helping Arizona schools, as well. Money from the sale of trust land is put into a permanent fund, with the interest going to education and a few other public purposes. Because of the matching requirements, the Growing Smarter grants will end up putting more than $80 million into the permanent fund. The story is far more complex than a single figure on a balance sheet.

Just a few examples of what Heritage Fund has done for Florence

[Source: Bonnie Bariola, TriValleyCentral.com] – For those of you who do not remember, it is thanks to the town of Florence that many of the historic buildings on Main Street have been saved over the years. Through a voter initiative, in 1990 the Heritage Fund was approved by the voters of Arizona. Among other things, this fund provided $1.7 million a year toward historic preservation through a competitive grant process.

Prior to approval of the Heritage Fund, Florence’s Historic District Advisory Commission had been approached by a member of the local Knights of Columbus asking if the Commission supported the rehabilitation of the Chapel of the Gila. The Commission wholeheartedly supported this effort.

Upon receiving the initial criteria for applying for a Heritage Fund, the town’s Community Development Director determined the rehabilitation of the Chapel of the Gila would be a perfect fit. The Knight’s of Columbus member was contacted and the result was a public/private partnership between the town and the Diocese submitting an application — the town prepared and administered the grant and the Diocese provided the matching funds.

The fact that the grant application for the historic Chapel of the Gila ranked first in the first round of Historic Preservation Heritage Fund Grant applications should be mentioned. It should also be noted that before construction began, due to extreme rainfall in the spring, the east wall of the chapel collapsed. Since funding was in place it was possible to save the building; otherwise, it would have been necessary to demolish the entire building. The chapel is always one of the most visited buildings on the annual Tour of Historic Florence.

Clarke House: The William Clarke House has been saved due to the efforts of several organizations and people. Lois Stryker headed a group which put a roof on it prior to the town submitting the first Heritage Fund grant for it’s rehabilitation. Donovan Kramer Sr. then agreed to assume ownership of the property and provide the match for the grant, and the nonprofit Florence Preservation Foundation (FPF) volunteered to assume the administration of the grant. After several additional Heritage Fund Grants and many, many thousands of dollars from Mr. Kramer, this very important building on Main Street is now home to the Florence Reminder and Blade Tribune.

Silver King Hotel:
 Only with the Heritage Fund, the town of Florence, and the Florence Preservation Foundation are the people of Florence able to have the Florence/Silver King Marketplace as one of the most important buildings on Main Street today. In addition to Heritage Fund Grants and donations, it was necessary to find additional funding for this massive project. Transportation Enhancement Funds could be used for Historic Preservation but were only available to government entities. To obtain funding from this source, the FPF partnered with the town of Florence to obtain these funds. Over the years the Florence Preservation Foundation members prepared two separate applications totaling one million dollars with Town Council members approving these applications being submitted.

Each of these $500,000 grants required a $30,000 match. The town of Florence provided the match for the first grant with economic development monies it had received from the State of Arizona. A Heritage Fund grant written and submitted by the FPF provided match for the second $500,000.

McFarland Park: More recently the town assumed operation of McFarland Historic Park in order to have an additional tourist attraction for both visitors and local residents. State Parks used a portion of the Heritage Funds allocated to them to rehabilitate the building that houses the Park. Once that was completed in 2009, Jay Ream, Assistant Director of Arizona State Parks was asked what the plans for McFarland Park were.His reply was “Due to the extreme budget cuts to the parks system, the only use for McFarland is to lease it for an adaptive reuse.” This message was relayed to Town Manager Himanshu Patel, resulting in the Town Council approving a lease between the town and Arizona State Parks.

The Florence Main Street Board agreed to operate the park in addition to already operating the Florence Visitor Center. Again, after Heritage Funds made possible the rehabilitation of the building, due to a partnership between Arizona State Parks, the town of Florence and the Main Street Program, yet another building on Main Street is open to the public.

In 2010 when the Historic Preservation portion of the Heritage Fund was suspended by the Legislature, Florence had a total of five grants valued at $650,000 which were canceled or suspended. With the required matching funds, 1.3 million dollars would have been added to the local economy and five additional historic properties would have been saved.

Won’t you please contact the governor and your legislators and ask them to reinstate the Heritage Fund.