Candidate Forum Questions

Bob Huddleston

1. Marketing Casa Grande is important to its Economic Development. There is a current effort in the community to establish a “Destination Marketing Organization”. Its purpose would be to market and brand Casa Grande. Other communities have funded these efforts through a bed tax. Do you support such an effort? If you do support it, how would you propose the City fund and manage this effort?

I would support such an effort, but would have to look closely at the funding options. I believe we already have a bed board booth tax of sorts and would not want to duplicate any portion of that. The idea behind these types of taxes is to let tourism pay for it through increased fees. However, tourism is an industry in itself, and we need to be careful we are not taxing patrons out of the desire to visit our area. The City currently engages in Economic development on a limited basis, providing city staff and web resources for that purpose. The City also partners with the Chamber of Commerce, Central Arizona College, Central Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation, and Arizona Work Force in this effort. The City has also established the Industrial Development Authority to work with proposed new projects in an effort to assist them with available funding for projects that ultimately benefit the citizens of Casa Grande.

2. Are there needs the City is not currently addressing? What are they and how will you work to implement and pay for them?

I believe there are areas we could improve on with many “likes” but not “needs” that face the community. The City has done a very good job in providing needed services to our citizens at a minimal cost. By far the primary services that the City has to provide to our citizens is through Public Works, and Public Safety. Services such as Sewer, Trash, Streets, Police and Fire, make up the majority of the City budget, number of employees, and receives the highest attention from City Council and City Management. This should not change and needs to remain our priority.

3. As a member of the City Council how will you balance quality of life projects with public safety needs? Would you be willing to raise property or sales taxes to meet the needs?

Quality of life projects tend to require additional revenue in the form of fees or taxes from the citizenry, especially in difficult economic times. We are fortunate that in Casa Grande we have some of the lowest property tax and sales tax in the region. There is room to give, in the form of additional or increased taxes, however, these options should be scrutinized closely and left entirely up to our citizens. My belief is that these projects need to go to the citizens in the form of a general obligation bond election or as a sales tax initiative. I would strongly oppose any effort of council to raise fees or taxes for any purpose that had not been voted into place by our citizens. Public safety Must remain the priority, and we must ensure that our Police and Fire have the staff and equipment they need to properly protect our community. I do realize however that a Community has to have amenities to be healthy and happy, which in turn contributes to a safe environment for all. I believe my experience in law enforcement will assist me in striking that balance while prioritizing public safety.

4. What are the top two issues facing Casa Grande over the next five to ten years and how will you help in addressing them?

Managing and promoting growth has been and will remain the biggest challenge for the City for years to come. We have seen rapid growth in the past. We have seen not only the challenges that rapid growth can create, but just as important, we have seen the issues that can be created when that growth stops. I have worked through this on both ends. I have worked with developers in determining Public Safety needs of proposed housing developments and in commercial properties as well. I am familiar with this process and believe I can work through it again as a council member to ensure that the project pays for needed services, and is designed to efficiently receive City Services.

I also believe that Water will be an ever increasing challenge, not just for Casa Grande, but for the entire state. Water supply is a governing factor in whether a project can move forward or not. Our city council must stay engaged with the State and regional water authorities and begin to take positions on how our water is being used and distributed. This will present a steep learning curve for me, but I am anxious to participate and get involved in these processes.

5. How would you stimulate Economic Development in Casa Grande, e.g., incentives, a moratorium on impact fees etc.?

There are incentives available today for development to utilize on a variety of projects. Sales tax, property tax, and city fee rebates as well as off site infrastructure assistance are available and have been utilized. The proposed Destination Marketing Organization could assist in making these incentives better known and therefore closely considered by prospective investors. I believe that marketing our community more aggressively is a better option that a moratorium on impact fees. Impact fees were adopted by the City during times of rapid growth, and are a necessity for the City during such times in order to keep up with growth and delivering an acceptable level of service, without over burdening existing residents. They are not flexible, once implemented, and I would oppose an effort to abolish them.

Mary Kortsen

Question 1: The purpose of market branding is to effectively attract investment in our community by job-creating businesses; to produce and recruit talented workers; and to get the word out that we are a great community to live, work and visit. I agree that marketing Casa Grande is crucial to keep our city moving forward. The idea of establishing a “Destination Marketing Organization” dedicated to these efforts is very wise. It is also crucial to be sure that there is the right mix of backgrounds sitting at the table.

I am always cautious about increasing taxes, even one that is very focused. However, I could support such a tax only if there is a good organizational plan first and we have the buy-in of the community. All monies collected for this purpose would be used solely for marketing activities. The management of such a group should be within the group with oversight by the City to ensure tax dollars are being used appropriately.

Question 2: In order to have a robust employment base we must have the ability to get our workers to and from work. That may sound simplistic but it is a daily challenge for many of our workers to get to work, and on time, due to unreliable transportation. I firmly believe that this has to be recognized and solved. I am not a proponent of public transit just for the sake of public transit. In these times there are other solutions that include private business and the large employers affected by this problem. The technology is there. The City can be the catalyst to bring all of the players together and create extraordinary and innovative solutions.

Question 3: Quality of life includes a community that feels safe. Thus, public safety is crucial. We spend over 50% of our budget for public safety. If I were faced with an inability to provide good police and fire protection, community projects would have to take a back seat. Would I raise taxes? I would have to say that I would have to be provided with a concrete analysis that would support such action. Over 53% of our annual budget goes to public safety, it would be an extraordinary circumstance that would warrant an increase in taxes.

Question 4: Attracting and keeping talented workers is a huge challenge. The establishment of a Destination Marketing Organization is an important step. But, we also have to provide those quality of life components. Today’s talented and educated workforce put quality of life as important as salary. The City can help by identifying those quality of life projects that provide for our community now and in the future. We can also be the catalyst to assist our local businesses to develop in such a way that they, too, can attract new business.

Another important issue that is not often spoken of is our inner city traffic. We have developed streets and roads much as cities have done since the 50’s. There has not been much innovation in design and planning. I believe that there are several innovative solutions to avoid the gridlock experienced by our metropolitan neighbors to the north. I believe that the solutions do not mean just adding more lanes and more lights. While we have the options, we should be creating expressways and other alternatives.

Question 5: I believe that the City has been very successful in stimulating economic development. However, we must continue on this path without negatively impacting our residents. Impact fees have been significantly cut over the past few years. Much is due to the fact that too many cities used these fees for expenditures that had nothing to do with the impact the project had on the community.

I am of the belief that the City needs to do a better job in working with our local business people and developers. When a local businessman gives up on a project due to his frustration with our planning department and fees structure, we do a huge disservice to our community. These are folks who have lived in our community for a very long time, raised their families here and invested in our community. I realize we have to exert caution not to get into legal hot water for giving a better break to our local business people. But, let us take a serious look at what we can do.

Donna McBride

1. Marketing Casa Grande is important to its Economic Development. There is a current effort in the community to establish a “Destination Marketing Organization”. Its purpose would be to market and brand Casa Grande. Other communities have funded these efforts through a bed tax. Do you support such an effort? If you do support it, how would you propose the City fund and manage this effort?

A collaborative effort between organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, hospitality industry officials and Access Arizona are interested in creating an organization to help make Casa Grande an attractive destination spot. Great idea! We have much to offer. Casa Grande’s current bed tax of 3.8% goes to the general fund and is also used for youth programs like the Boys & Girls Club and Teen Center. Casa Grande has one of the lowest bed tax rates in our state, being paid by visitors who stay in our hotels and motels, not our residents. A slight increase in this tax could be used to market and promote Casa Grande as a destination for conferences, meetings and tourist attractions. This means more visitors will shop at our local restaurants and businesses. I support this effort. It will be critical for the stakeholders to develop a solid marketing plan with a budget that reflect their goals and objectives. The Chamber of Commerce is the logical host for this effort as it aligns with their mission to promote the community, tourism and quality of life for residents, visitors and businesses.

2. Are there needs the City is not currently addressing? What are they and how will you work to implement and pay for them?

Roughly 80% of community growth comes from existing employers. A rural community like Casa Grande is even more dependent on internal growth. We have been fortunate in recent years for attracting businesses. That being said, I feel we need to have a greater emphasis to look at our existing smaller businesses and focus on retainment. As a member of the Council, I would like to be part of this initiative by bringing stakeholders to the table to learn about their growth plans, needs and how the city can foster their growth. This is “proactive”, not “reactive” approach. Let’s not wait until they are closing their doors – but use local expertise through our Chamber of Commerce, Access Arizona, Central Arizona College, Arizona Workforce Connection and others – to help keep them open and thriving. I would like for the city to consider creating a city board/commission that consists of local business owners who would work in unison with our economic development office. This board would serve in an advisory capacity for city officials and staff to develop strategies together that will help our small business owners be successful. There would be no cost as we would be utilizing the exceptional talent that we already have in the economic development office.

3. As a member of the City Council how will you balance quality of life projects with public safety needs? Would you be willing to raise property or sales taxes to meet the needs?

Raising taxes should be a last resort. It might seem like the easiest solution but certainly doesn’t mean it is the best for our community and its residents. Projects need to be looked at on an individual basis, reflecting what is required, needed or simply desired. Casa Grande is known for having the foresight to employ a team of staff who are educated, experienced and capable of providing quality research before bringing issues and projects before the city council. As a city council member I would also look at what other like communities have done to embrace similar quality of life projects. Looking at their successes, challenges and how they included public safety needs can only add to our decision making process. Lastly and just as important, I would always support efforts to include community input.

4. What are the top two issues facing Casa Grande over the next five to ten years and how will you help in addressing them?

First – I feel the city must take a look at our homeless population and how it is affecting our community. We can be a champion by utilizing our strong faith community to look at the issue of our less fortunate. We must look at ways to support local resources and programs that provide services and create realistic solutions to the issue that is not going to go away. We must realize this is a community problem, not just a city government problem. The issue expands beyond the individual – but to our local businesses, safety issues, economic development livelihood and reputation as a city.

Second – managing growth and addressing its impact on transportation, schools housing and infrastructure will need to continue. Our population has grown from roughly 26,000 in 2000 to nearly 51,000. Our community needs to balance growth without losing our “small town” feel. Many people moved here because of it. It is something to be proud of. Embracing existing businesses that have roots in our community means we must ensure they have the tools for growth and success. Their success is our success.

5. How would you stimulate Economic Development in Casa Grande, e.g., incentives, a moratorium on impact fees etc.?

The City of Casa Grande has a responsibility to provide quality services to its citizens. We have to stimulate economic development that brings quality jobs and revenue. While I have not had the opportunity to see how the past incentives and impact fees were determined, I do have an understanding of how to work within guidelines that create a unified, fair process. A formula should be used for funding economic development incentives. This will evaluate the merits of using public funds to subsidize certain costs. A scoring matrix can help both staff and council to determine the length of time and fiscal amount of incentives. It also provides a fair system for everyone. As a member of the council, I have a fiduciary responsibility to the people of Casa Grande to cast an educated, informed vote for or against the use of incentives. It will be my responsibility to incorporate research from staff while also doing my own in order to make an informed decision.

I am not in favor of a moratorium if existing residents bear the tax increase to offset the fees. Municipal impact fees are paid by developers to help fund critical infrastructure improvements such as roads, sewer and public safety. Suspending impact fees can result in project delays or require current residents to subsidize development by raising taxes or reducing services. We must look at all avenues to reach a successful conclusion that will benefit incoming development by having a clear picture of how it will affect our residents, whether it is on a short term or long term basis.

David Snider

1. Marketing Casa Grande.
I’m a strong supporter of expanding our efforts to market Casa Grande for economic development purposes. We do need to take charge of our message and messenger – and we need to be aggressive about getting our message out. Although I’ve heard parts of the proposal for this new organization, I’m not fully briefed on it: I have questions as to its mission, proposed audience, scope, proposed budget, etc. As to the question of funding, certainly the bed tax is an attractive vehicle since it (mostly) impacts non-residents staying in our hotels and motels.

However, our bed tax is already level with similar tax rates levied by neighboring cities so we don’t want to “price” our local hospitality venues out of the market. At present, each 1% increment of our bed tax would generate roughly $60-75,000 but I want to know more before I can make a sound decision on this funding mechanism. In the meantime, sharing the Casa Grande ‘story’ is a key component to bringing new industries and jobs to town – we have to be aggressive in these efforts.

2. Unaddressed City Needs.
The City’s departments have all, by and large, engaged in some long-range, strategic planning that resulted in various documents that help guide their programs and services. But the City as an organization hasn’t created a unifying planning document that enunciates the Council’s vision and values and that ties the various departmental plans into a statement of who we are, what we hold as important values, and where we want to go as a community. I feel strongly that creating this statement will give us a significant tool in our push to develop and diversify our economy. It will be a document that can be given to industrial prospects, prospective funding sources, etc.

Of course there are other needs that Council should address. Needs such as developing a plan for mass transit that’s feasible, fundable, and sustainable … needs like a viable plan to address our homelessness issues … a need to enhance and expand the City’s participation in events and programs that ensure that our veterans know that Casa Grande is a community that values their contributions and service. Obviously we cannot resolve all of these challenges overnight and some of them will cost money we don’t have. But through careful use of funding options that are available and a prudent financial plan, we can move our vision for a better Casa Grande forward.

3. Quality of life vs public safety & taxes.
Casa Grande and the Council have been supportive of our public safety departments for as long as I can remember. At times the financial resources haven’t been available to meet all the needs of those operations but by and large the Council has responded to meet those critical needs. The City’s philosophy on quality of life projects has been to seek voter approvals and support for many of those projects. The City’s responsibility for the public’s safety, health and well-being is clearly recognized by Council and memorialized in the Charter.

At the same time, the City has also recognized that in order to remain a sustainable, viable community that’s attractive to newcomers as a place to live, work, and raise a family, we need to construct and fund certain projects that residents want to use for recreation, cultural enlightenment, and enjoyment. Just as freedom is not free, government is not free either. I would certainly consider supporting an increase in taxes for these projects – but only after exploring all avenues of potential funding so that the best long-term options are used and not just an option that seems to be ‘convenient.’

4. Top 2 Casa Grande issues.
The City is on sound financial footing and has seen a solid, consistent 4% annual growth in our local economy. However, there’s no doubt that revamping and expanding our efforts to develop our economy by retaining our current industries while bringing in new industries and jobs is a top priority for the City. I have been involved in economic development as a staff person and as an elected official for some 35 years – I understand the process and how critical it is to be consistent, responsive, communicative, and persuasive all the while asking the right questions. It is truly a team effort and I’ve been there and stand ready to do so again.

The other critical issue is transportation related. We are poised to jump to the next level as a City in the coming decade with several really major projects that promise to employ thousands of people. Transportation systems and infrastructure (roads, airport, etc.) will be vital to the movement of commerce and people to and around Casa Grande. This includes the addition of a third lane on I-10 between here and Phoenix and at least a plan for mass transit in town. In 2006 helped lead Pinal County’s regional transportation initiative which now drives part of the I-11 vision and orchestrated the Pinal County Rail Accord with UPRR for Pinal County, Casa Grande, Eloy, and Maricopa. This is some of the expertise I will put to use for Casa Grande.

5. How to stimulate Economic Development.
In addition to a new, comprehensive marketing plan, we should consider imposing a one year moratorium on impact fees for industrial projects. We should also examine all policies and procedures connected to permitting for construction. I think a periodic evaluation of these critical processes will facilitate a “customer-friendly” atmosphere that encourages good construction projects. As we develop and implement our marketing plan, we should be “thinking like site selectors” and capitalize on our strengths, involve our existing industries for leads and evaluation of processes, seek out partners to maximize marketing impact and penetration – including our water provider to ensure we have an adequate and sustainable water supply for future growth and development.

Furthermore, as we develop our larger City vision, examination and inclusion of the City Airport as part of our economic development package is important. Please note: part of any successful community marketing plan must include “selling Casa Grande” to our residents. Folks living here and working here should be encourage to help sell Casa Grande. Positive attitudes about living here, working here, raising a family here when we interact with strangers in our stores, on social media, and elsewhere are powerful forces in a successful marketing campaign.