It’s the end of another calendar year and a month of celebration, reflection, cerebration, and resolutions for the future. And in retrospect, 2012 has been a pretty momentous year.
The national and Arizona economies are said to have started their recovery after falling over the cliff in 2006. Depending on who you talk to around this part of Arizona, the start of a sustainable recovery is either right around the corner or still quite a bit off into the future. By any metric, the Pinal definition of success is still survival. Fingernails are getting stronger, but still being used to hang on.
2012 was also very much the year of Arizona’s Centennial with events throughout the year and all across the state.
The Ak-Chin Indian Community marked its 50th year as a formally organized and federally recognized Native American tribe in January with events and celebrations of Him-Dak and history throughout the year. In the same historic vein, the Casa Grande Dispatch published Casa Grande: A Century of Progress and the Casa Grande Valley Historical Society published Images of America – Casa Grande. And in October, St. Helen’s of the Cross Parish in Eloy celebrated its 60th Anniversary.
Western Pinal County continued to stand tall and do its best to recognize and thank the many veterans of our county and country for their service. The Pinal County Veterans Memorial Foundation finalized the design work on the memorial it intends to construct near the entrance to the Paul Mason Sports Complex. In addition to fundraising events during the year, outreach efforts were (and will continue to be) expanded to ensure that the memorial will honor all Pinal County veterans who died in the service of our country.
In the meantime, the annual Memorial Day ceremony at Mountain View Cemetery and the annual Veterans Day Parade keep on getting bigger, better attended, and more enthusiastic. And similar events in Coolidge, Eloy, Florence and Maricopa brought out the patriot in all of us. In Sacaton, the Gila River Indian Community’s American Legion Post 84 once again organized its annual Iwo Jima parade commemorating the anniversary (the 67th) of that historic flag-raising event in front of record crowds. 2012 was a year that found many more of us realizing how much we owe our veterans and their families.
At the county level, modifications to existing buildings and construction of two new facilities were accomplished using federal and state grant funds (ARRA and GADA). Pinal’s historic 1891 courthouse has been renovated, modernized while still paying homage to history and furnished using those sources of money and will house the new five-member Board of Supervisors and the offices of the county manager, clerk of the board, budget, internal audit and communications. Dedication is scheduled for later this month.
Not to be left out, the Pinal County Health Care District designed and built two new public health clinics (one each in Maricopa and San Tan Valley) in the last 12 months. These new facilities were completed and opened on time and under budget – the funding source was ARRA revenues.
Speaking of budgets, the Board of Supervisors adopted a FY 2012-13 budget that included a 20-cent reduction in the primary property tax rate and continued to shrink the cost of county government. During the last eight years, the Pinal County property tax rate was reduced every year but two: one increase (from $3.24 to $3.99) and one year with no change in the rate.
2012 was also a year of change for the county’s elected officials.
In April, District 2 Supervisor Bryan Martyn resigned his position and after a very public process, the board appointed Clark Smithson to complete Mr. Martyn’s term which expires on Dec. 31. Last month, the electorate chose four new supervisors and four new Constitutional officers – all of whom will take office Jan. 1.
As you undoubtedly know by now, I will leave office Dec. 31. There are a number of notable changes and accomplishments during these past eight years that I’m pleased to say took place during my watch. Some are:
• Accountability – We discovered the theft of taxpayers’ funds by former County Manager Stan Griffis and prosecuted the case. A thorough review and revision of policies and procedures was initiated and since completed, although the review process is ongoing. An internal auditor was hired (answerable directly to the Board) and a fraud/whistle-blower line was implemented.
• Regional cooperation – For the first time, countywide summit meetings were convened to focus on issues of regional transportation systems, health care, air quality, open space and trails and economic development. Strategic master plans were adopted by the Board in many instances, forming the basis for other changes in development plans and ordinances.
• Transportation planning – In the transportation arena alone, Pinal County adopted a plan for routes of regional significance (which incorporated local governments’ transportation plans) and a regional plan for transit. We are active in the group pursuing the I-11 project and the high speed/commuter rail project between Phoenix and Tucson.
• Long-range, land-use planning – The county’s comprehensive land-use plan was completely revised using an inclusive, public process that also produced a clearly enunciated vision of what Pinal County residents see as valued for our county in the future. The new plan also won awards and was hailed as a model plan and process – in fact, our plan was used as a foundational document for the preliminary concepts of the Sun Corridor.
• Economic development – Involvement by the county in economic development issues became a priority as we began to support and advocate for the Union Pacific Railroad’s Classification Yard project at Red Rock. We also became actively engaged in the effort to bring Resolution Copper’s project in Superior to fruition. The first steps toward the monumental Phoenix Mart project took place in the District 3 conference room as Pinal County helped create an EB-5 development district in western Pinal County.
• Railroad-community collaboration – An historic Pinal County rail corridor accord was negotiated and executed with an eye to securing enhanced UPRR support for grade separations (overpasses) at critical roadways in Eloy, Casa Grande, Maricopa and Pinal County. The railroad also agreed to expedite industry requests for rail spurs to facilitate economic development along its Sunset Line in our county.
• Emergency management – Area fire, police and government agencies are better prepared than ever to respond to large-scale, multijurisdictional emergencies as a result of training and partnerships formed during the last eight years.
• Animal Care & Control – As the county grew, so did the need to care for unwanted, unlicensed and stray animals. We have a larger animal shelter, more public hours for adoption and, I’m proud to say, excellent relationships with the rescue community resulting in an extremely low number of animals being put to sleep for want of a home.
• Customer service and access to information – Pinal County’s staff is better trained with a greater emphasis on serving customers effectively and competently as a result of an emphasis on training and coaching for improvement. In that same fashion, we have turned the Internet and our website into a comprehensive source for up-to-date information, saving our residents time and frustration as they seek to solve problems or access vital data.
• Public health – Pinal County had one of the lowest childhood immunization rates – hovering at just 43 percent prior to forming the public-health district in 2006. Today, our immunization rate exceeds the national standard of 80 percent.