SAN TAN INCORPORATION
Pinal county wears the label of the second fastest growing county in the country. At 80,000 residents, San Tan Valley has the largest population center. The fast growing community has experienced expected growing pains and now debates the possibility of incorporation.
At one time the Hunt Highway meandered past cultivated fields with very little to break up the horizon. Depending on who you talk to, in 2001 population hovered between 2-4000 people. Since then 1000 families move into the community every year and the population has burgeoned to 80,000 people.
People were lured by affordable housing and a low tax burden. That was then. Today many are victims of the housing bubble, thinking they would buy low and sell high. That has changed the dynamics of San Tan Valley.
“Before they were kind of passing through, make a buck and move on,” says Pinal County supervisor, Bryan Martyn. “Now they’re committed, and they’re going to make it home.”
Martyn represents the area, and visits with many residents who want to make the place homey, with parks and police and ammenities that go with urban development. He says the county provides rural services to the largely unincorporated area, and he's unable and unwilling to satisfy all requests.
“We’re still the second fastest growing county in America. We’ve got a lot going on, so incorporation allows SanTanValley to take care of just San Tan Valley, because I can’t do it, and I won’t do it,” Martyn says. “I can’t sacrifice other communities in the name of this community.”
Now San Tan Valley residents have assembled, forming a political action committee in February 2010 to petition for the right to vote for incorporation. Chairman Randall Lockner is chairman of the Citizens for San Tan Valley Incorporation, and he says ultimately this comes down to an issue of self determination.
“This comes down to allowing our citizens to call an election,” explains Lockner. “And to have a legal electoral process, that we can participate and speak our voice. We would like to have the opportunity, and through this petitioin and signature collection exercise and effort , I would characterize it as a movement.”
Where the average San Tan Valley resident is 32 years old, you can understand a desire for ball fields and libraries, fire protection and public safety. And as Tim Kanavel, the Pinal County Economic Development Manager points out, companies looking to relocate look more favorably on incorporated cities.
“Most companies are taking a look at Arizona. They’re looking for those same ammenities. The bottom line is the dollar, what it costs to make a widget and that can come about easier in a community rather than an unincorporated area,” Kanavel says.
Michael Timm doesn't buy that. He points out that the recession, rather than unincorporated area, has stalled development. And he worries that all those services come at a cost. Should San Tan Valley incorporate, citizens would have to agree on a method to pay for services. That prospect prompted Timm to activate the Pinal County Taxpayers Association to oppose incorporation. By his estimates, the proposed first year budget of roughly 27 million dollars would cost taxpayers between 1700 to 4000 dollars a year more in expenses. Those promoting incorporation have a more modest estimate, about 200 dollars a year. But Timm warns of what he considers an unnecessary burden on already stressed residents.
We have a potential of more foreclosures,” says Timm. “Insted of coming out of this housing recession, we could easily instigate more foreclosure with these marginal income families facing hardships due to increased taxes. And that’s just the first year, and that doesn’t even count the unseen expenses, the hidden landmines that I call them.”
Timm thinks the county has tried to shirk its responsibility and criticizes Martyn for shifting cost of service to the citizens of San Tan Valley.
“In our view, he wants to move obligations that the county has and place them on the checkbooks of the residents of San Tan Valley, and increase the cost of living in San Tan Valley in order to reduce the cost of operating the county budget,” says Timm.
The proposed first year budget relies primarily on State Shared Revenues, those monies collected from sales tax, income tax and vehicle license taxes, that the state distributes to municipalities, not counties. And while San Tan Valley residents pay into the kitty, their share of the revenue goes elsewhere. Complicating the picture, a state statute allows municipalities within a six mile radius of the proposed incorporation to vote on whether the people of San Tan Valley can hold their own election on the issue. According to Florence city council figures, the incorporation of San Tan Valley will deprive nine cities and towns, which represent more than 187,000 people, of more than six million dollars a year. Debate in those adjacent cities has been heated, but Martyn, a retired military pilot, says he has spent a career in the line of fire to defend people's right to self determination.
“I believe in people having the right to vote and Americans, we pay in blood for that right to vote,” says Martyn. “And when a group of citizens, in this case the city council, takes this myopic view that it’s only about them and not about the American right to vote, I have a prob with that and I pay for it.”
While Martyn plans to lobby the legislature to change the state statute, recent polling indicates that a majority of San Tan Valley residents support the possibility of incorporation. The Pinal County Taxpayers Association would like more accountability from the county and the state. But as Lynn Hurley, a member of the Citizens for San Tan Valley Incorporation points out, with 80,000 residents in the valley, it will never go back to the way it was.
“People will tell you that I came out here and there were tumbleweed. And I had so much freedom. But I don’t want governmet regulation and who wants another layer of government?” says Hurley. The question is, can you really go back in a time machine and turn it into when you moved here? You cannot. The reality of it is that this is a densely populated area and it requires a certain infrastructure.”
Previous efforts to incorporate San Tan Valley have failed before. Obstacles have already surfaced. On July 6, 2010 the Florence City Council voted 7 - 0 to disapprove the San Tan Valley incorporation proposal. But should this attempt succeed, the new city would become the ninth largest in Arizona.