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Pinal County

SR 347 would be one of the beneficiaries of Prop 417, but the issue continues in the courts. (ADOT)

Maricopa and Pinal County are heading to Arizona Supreme Court.

Thursday, attorneys from the Goldwater Institute filed an appeal of a Court of Appeals ruling that favored the county’s regional transportation authority. The case, Vangilder, et al. v. Pinal County, et al., challenges Prop 417, a funding mechanism for a plan to improve Pinal County roadways.

Prop 417 was approved by Pinal County voters in November 2017. State Route 347 is among roadways on the improvement plan that was approved by voters in Prop 416 on the same ballot.

During the campaign, The Goldwater Institute, a conservative thinktank, had challenged the legal validity of Prop 417’s ballot wording. After its passage, the institute filed suit to stop its implementation.

Despite the lawsuit, with the approval of the courts, the RTA has been collecting the tax since April 2018. According to Pinal County records, the account holds $33.4 million as of the end of February.

Arizona Tax Court agreed with Goldwater in ruling that Prop 417 was “an unconstitutional special law” that exceeded county authority. The appellate court, however, overturned that decision in January, finding the tax to be valid.

The Court of Appeals judges felt the Goldwater attorneys were wrong on some facts of the case. They also stated Braden v. Yuma County Board of Supervisors, which Goldwater tried to cite as precedence, did not apply to the Pinal County case.

The case involves 12 law offices, from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to private law firms representing friends of the court.

Pinal County, the RTA and Arizona Department of Revenue or direct defendants in the case. The Pinal Partnership and the municipalities of Maricopa, Coolidge, Queen Creek and Florence are amicus curiae. Arizona Tax Research Association, which had warned Pinal County about its concerns about the ballot issue’s validity months before the 2017 vote, also remains attached as amicus curiae.

Goldwater attorneys had until March 19 to file briefs with the state Supreme Court and filed on the deadline day. The parties now wait to learn if the judges will hear the case.

On the ballot, the question read:

PROPOSITION 417 (November 2017)
(Relating to County Transportation Excise (Sales) Taxes)
Do you favor the levy of a transportation excise (sales) tax including at a rate equal to one-half percent (0.5%) of the gross income from the business activity upon every person engaging or continuing in the business of selling tangible personal property at retail; provided that such rate shall become a variable or modified rate such that when applied in any case when the gross income from the sale of a single item of tangible personal property exceeds ten thousand dollars ($10,000), the one-half percent (0.5%) tax rate shall apply to the first ten thousand dollars ($10,000), and above ten thousand dollars ($10,000), the measure of tax shall be a rate of zero percent (0.0%), in Pinal County for twenty (20) years to provide funding for the transportation elements contained in the Pinal Regional Transportation Plan? Do you favor the levy of a transaction privilege (sales) tax for regional transportation purposes, including at a variable or modified rate, in Pinal County?

YES _____
NO _____

(A “YES” vote has the effect of imposing a transaction privilege (sales) tax in Pinal County, including at a variable or modified rate, for twenty (20) years to provide funding for the transportation projects contained in the Regional Transportation Plan.)

(A “NO” vote has the effect of rejecting the transaction privilege (sales) tax for transportation purposes in Pinal County.)

Arizona Supreme Court

Jeffrey McClure

A Saddlebrooke resident is now the only Republican nominee for the District 4 seat on the Pinal County Board of Supervisors.

Jeffrey McClure, a member of the Oracle School District Governing Board, was the first to declare his candidacy for the post, which will be vacated at the end of this year when Anthony Smith’s term ends. Living in an area just north of the Pima County line, he’s had a lot of miles to cover to campaign in District 4.

He said he has a heavy base in Saddlebrooke because of his five years as president of the school board. He’s built a support network in the eastern portion of the district and done outreach in the most populous area of the west side, which is Maricopa.

The school board was his first foray into elected office, though he had been president of the local Republican precinct in Saddlebrooke, an unincorporated community that comprises two large retirement communities and is heavily GOP. McClure said he considered running four years ago.

“I’m not sure that all decisions are as fiscally responsible as they should be,” McClure said of the current board. “I see a lot of rush to movement.”

In particular, he felt the push to build county annexes in communities like Maricopa were fast-tracked. “It seemed to be awfully fast,” he said, “like a rush to judgment.”

Watching county budget hearings, he also noted duplicate requests for vehicles from departments and from fleet management. Unnecessary expense was one of the reasons he ran for school board when asked by fiscal conservatives. He said there were similar issues at the school district.

“It’s efficiency of operation that makes it work well. If it’s inefficient it burns money,” he said. “I’m all for spending money, but I want to spend it efficiently. I don’t want to keep taxing people more and more and more. I want to keep the tax rate low.”

He said he’s the best person for the job on the Board of Supervisors because he’s a uniter.

“I am a good team-builder, a consensus-builder,” he said. “I’m willing to see different sides to the same story.”

McClure said that has helped him succeed on a school board that is nonpartisan but where political leanings are known and play a factor in issues.

“I also have a lot of Dems that will vote for me because I support education,” he said. “They say, ‘You’re a Republican and you like education?’ ‘Yeah, I want smart kids.’ I’m not here to destroy it; I’m here to fix it.”

McClure is an early retiree. He sold his manufacturing company of tools for the wallpaper trade and retired at age 50 before he and his wife Barbara turned into RVers. He said they saw friends working toward retirement suddenly having serious health issues and older friends who had retired but could not do what they planned to do because of physical ailments.

After 29 years of self-employment, he dropped it all and hit the road. The McClures saw 43 states in 11 months, seeking to answer the question, “What’s the weirdest thing in this state?” They knew they would ultimately settle in Arizona once they were RV’d out. They looked at several communities before settling in Saddlebrooke in 2008. Barbara was the first to be publicly political. She had already been on a precinct committee in Seattle, Washington.

They have been married almost 38 years and have three sons and a grandchild.

McClure’s approach to government is very similar to his approach to business. When the Oracle School Board presented students as clients who deserved all the money they could get for them, McClure said the students were instead the product of the school.

“I’d say, ‘We’re a manufacturing company. We are putting out a product.’ They’d say, ‘The kids are our clients.’ I’d say, ‘What are they paying for? Your clients are the taxpayers.'”

He touts the fact the school passed a bond and an override in 2019 with a 20% margin in an area that is 43% Republican and receives 76% of its property tax revenue from retirees. He said it was about honest communication and talking directly to people about the issues.

Oracle gained a tech academy, robotics and Chromebooks. It brought in music education and restored the art program. McClure said that happened with “a different way of spending money. It’s about being very, very careful with how you spend money and the way you use the carryover budget.”

Though a conservative Republican, he’s not starry-eyed over the current economy.

“Right now we’re in this great catbird seat where we’re bringing in more than we’re spending. That’s really cool,” he said. “What happens when your balloon goes up and pops? I’m all for the Trump economy, but you can only go so high and something is going to happen. It doesn’t take a lot to trigger a recession.”

He said the county’s hot-button issues of water, employment and roads are really all the same issue. As the county works to bring in commercial development, it is bringing in more people to work at new businesses. That leads to troubles with infrastructure like water and roads, he said.

“You can’t build a city on houses and small retail,” McClure said. “You’ve got to have the roadways to attract the larger companies.”

He said he doesn’t have the answer but knows increasing fixed costs is not it.

The main municipality in the district, the City of Maricopa, is doing fine promoting its own causes with Mayor Christian Price at the helm, McClure said, and as county supervisor he would likely just stay out of the way.

McClure was unhappy with how the county’s justice courts were redistricted and also felt the legal wrangling over Prop 417 was not handled well. He was on the committee to redistrict the courts to account for growth while being more efficient. He complained that one plan they presented would have had all county residents within 45 minutes of a JP court, but it was shot down by the board because it did not align with the supervisors’ districts.

“Now some old people have to travel an hour and 15 minutes to go to court,” he said.

As for Prop 417, the funding mechanism for Prop 416, which created the Regional Transportation Authority to improve road around the county (including the Pinal portion of State Route 347), McClure said the county approach wasted taxpayer money. He said when the Goldwater Institute first complained about the ballot language of the issue, the county should have pulled it off the ballot, rewritten the offending language and then taken it back to the voters.

“They said removing it from the ballot would cost money,” he said. “Well, so does a lawsuit.”

The county lost Goldwater’s lawsuit, Harold Vangilder et al. vs. ADOR/Pinal County et al., in tax court but then won in the Arizona Court of Appeals. Now Goldwater is trying to get it before the state’s Supreme Court, which granted its attorneys an extra month to file its petitions. If Goldwater does not file before March 19, the suit could be dismissed.

Dan Frank withdrew from the Republican primary for District 4 supervisor. McClure and independent Marlene Pearce of Maricopa are the only candidates to file statements of interest. District 4, as of Jan. 6, is 33% Republican, 25% Democrat and 34% other or independent.

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Dan Frank

Dan Frank of Maricopa is ending his campaign for Pinal County District 4 supervisor.

The president of the Maricopa Flood Control District Board, planning and zoning commissioner and former city councilmember made the announcement to supporters Tuesday. He was vying for the seat to be vacated by Anthony Smith, current chairman of the Board of Supervisors.

“I simply do not have the time necessary to devote toward the campaign or the obligations of the office,” Frank said in his announcement. “I appreciate all of those who have supported and encouraged me to this point.”

His departure from the field leaves the Republican nomination open to Jeffrey McClure, a Saddlebrooke resident. Maricopa’s Marlene Pearce has announced her intent to run as an independent.

“I wish the other candidates well in their endeavors,” Frank said.

 

Jill Broussard, Pinal County superintendent of schools. Photo by Kyle Norby

Jill Broussard grew up in Ohio two towns away from Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer and now works out of a former grocery store that is the Florence offices of the county superintendent of public education. She sat down to talk with InMaricopa about working with Pinal County’s 19 school districts, the Legislature and test scores.

Jill Broussard
Title: Pinal County superintendent of public education
Age: 41
Hometown: Westerville, Ohio
Residence: San Tan Valley
Pinal County resident since: 2004
Family: Husband Dan and two teenage sons
Education: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education and teaching from Arizona State University; master’s degree in educational leadership and administration from Northern Arizona University
Politics: Elected to current post as a Republican 2012, reelected 2016, seeking reelection 2020
Previous work: Taught sixth grade and kindergarten
Worst-kept secret: Has fostered dogs for Great Dane Rescue Alliance of Arizona

Please remind us of your background.
I came to Pinal County in 2004 and we moved to San Tan Valley. I had taught for a couple of years. My husband joined the Arizona Army National Guard, and I decided to stay home with the kids since we weren’t really sure what his schedule was going to look like. After staying home for a couple of years, I was speaking with some other community members, and they encouraged me to run for county school superintendent. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Were there issues that caused you to run?
I just have always wanted to do. I’m a doer. So, if I can do something to help improve education in Pinal County, and having a horse in the game with my two boys being in education in Pinal County, I just was motivated to start thinking outside the box and doing things a little differently.

What is a typical week in the life of the superintendent?
A typical week is really all over the board. I don’t even have a typical day. In order to explain that, let me tell you what our duties are as county superintendent. It’s laid out in state statute. We are in charge of the fiscal services for the 19 districts here in Pinal County. We help them with balancing to the treasurer, the distribution of federal grants, state grants, and their checks are printed through our office. Then we also do professional development for all of the teachers and staff. We work really closely with the superintendents, the principals and the teachers as far as identifying what areas they need support in. But we also, through our Education Service Agency that does professional development, we also help with different consortium. So, anything that we can help with maybe banding together and getting lower rates, lower costs on somethings just to help them save money. I also do the juvenile detention center and the education at the jail. We also do a GED program at the jail. We have an accommodation district, Mary C. O’Brien Accommodation District; it’s down off 11 Mile Corner near Casa Grande, the elementary is. And we have a high school that is down in Toltec, and it’s an alternative high school. We top out at 125 students. Both of those schools provide a specific education that maybe no other school in the county can provide.

There’s a local charter school that requires their parents to volunteer 40 hours a year in the classroom or for the teachers. We can’t do that as public schools.

What is an accommodation school?
Historically, it began as an unincorporated area outside the boundaries of any other district. It was mostly farmland, and it would swell with migrant workers at certain times of year. Well, their kids need to be educated, so that fell under the county school superintendent’s responsibilities. Then for a number of years it became a special-education school and program. Then the districts started to take their special-ed kids back, which is a great thing, and we opened it up as a regular elementary school. Now under the direction of my associate superintendent and the principal over there, they’ve done great things with the staff and they are getting some of the top scores in the county and the state.

Why do you think that is?
It helps that they’re a small school and the teachers are very skilled. We have very little turnover there. Really when somebody retires, that’s when we have turnover there. We have one teacher per grade level. Some of the classes are pretty small because, like I said, we top at 125. We usually leave a couple of spots open because if anybody moves into the district, we don’t want to go over that number. They just really developed some great programs, reading programs where the whole class goes into reading lab, small groups, one-on-one, and now we’re doing the same thing with math instruction. Just having that personalized instruction and that ability to do that small-group work really goes a long way.

What are successes you’ve had in office so far?
When I first came in, we worked really hard with the juvenile detention facility to revamp that program over there and really work in some transition skills so those students have some skills that really apply to real life when they get out. Yes, we’re working on getting them credits and catching up. We’re trying to get them graduated from high school, but we’re also teaching them how to budget, how to interview, how to research and investigate different avenues they can take when they get back out on their feet.

Another one, we had Justice Sandra Day O’Connor come, and she spoke to our superintendents and students about her iCivics program. That was just really fun, and to be able to get your picture with an icon like that and have her come and speak to our kids and inspire them was really amazing.

We had a number of counties that had to close their juvenile detention facilities because you have to provide an education and they didn’t have enough money to pay teachers and staff to keep those doors open.

We have a business and education partnership that we started with Pinal Partnership. We do a summit every year and we highlight different programs that are happening between businesses and schools in the communities as well as different things we need to focus on as a community. So, Center for the Future of Arizona has the progress meters. We’re working on progress meters here in Pinal County as well with a committee and when we bring those up when we have our summit, we’re able to address those issues with the rest of the community and say, ‘Here’s where we are and here are the things that we’re doing to help improve those numbers.” I’ve also worked on some legislation with our Arizona Association of County School Superintendents and gotten some legislation through. Most recently was the funding for our juvenile detention facilities. The funding levels for the juvenile detention facilities, for the education in there, was very low. We had a number of counties that had to close their juvenile detention facilities because you have to provide an education and they didn’t have enough money to pay teachers and staff to keep those doors open. We had five other counties begin sending their students to our facility here in Pinal County. That was Apache, Navajo, Graham, Greenlee and Gila. We still just had a principal/teacher, a paraprofessional and an administrative assistant running that with all those counties sending their students. What we did was we ran legislation to increase funding from $25,000 a year to $100,000 a year, which will pay for an additional teacher for us, and instead of $15 a day, $25 a day. A good majority of those students are pretty far behind academically and have some other issues that they may be dealing with, either emotionally or academically, and they need that additional support. It is pretty costly to educate those students. So, with that, we’ve been able to hire a couple more teachers and have a really great, strong program happening there.

What are some things you’re struggling with?
One of the things I do struggle with actually in this position is really I don’t have the authority over the districts. I’m not saying I need authority over the districts. It’s just when I see a great program working somewhere else and I would love to see it in our districts here, it can’t always be done. They may have something else in place; they may just have a different vision than I do. But what really kind of haunts me, and it’s a question that’s asked me all the time, is how do we get our parents involved and engaged in our students’ education because that makes the largest impact on a student’s success. Knowing that Mom and Dad are supporting them, knowing that Mom and Dad find value in education and so they need to be doing their best and being encouraged and helped goes a long way.  How I do that from the county position of county school superintendent, I haven’t figured that out yet. That’s something where I lay awake and try to think of ways to do it. But there are 19 districts, so what’s going to work in San Tan Valley may not necessarily work in San Manuel. We have such a wide variety of schools and situation in Pinal County.

There’s a local charter school that requires their parents to volunteer 40 hours a year in the classroom or for the teachers. We can’t do that as public schools. We take whatever students come; we take all their baggage with them and that’s not necessarily the case with charter schools.

What is your relationship with the Legislature?
Over the years, that’s been a focus, and I’ve gotten a little better each year. I really do feel like I am in a position where I can advocate for the districts of Pinal County. Because I’m not necessarily on a campus every day like our other superintendents are for our districts, I feel like I can be their voice up at the state Legislature. I also go once a year to D.C. and I meet with our congressmen and -women up there. I talk to them about what’s happening in rural Arizona. And I have developed those relationships over the years. It’s really nice because sometimes I get emails that their reaching out to me for information from our districts whereas I was just constantly feeling like I was knocking on their door, making requests of them. But they’re listening, and I’m seeing that.

When you talk about having resources for fiscal management, what do you have available for the schools if they’re having issues that way?
For fiscal management, that’s this office here in Florence. We have our accountants, and whenever there’s questions from the districts, they’ll ask our accountants, and we will do research for them on whatever their fiscal services questions are, payroll, withholdings, even funding. We’ve had a couple of times when business managers have either left unexpectedly or been ill, and I have accountants that will fill in for them temporarily until they find a replacement. We’ve helped with some training of some new business managers as well.

Where I’ve seen the most success for districts is when they get out into the community and they really discuss the needs and the reasoning behind going out for a bond and override.

Across the state, lots of schools had bond issues and overrides on the ballots. Many of them did very well; Pinal County really struggled. What was your reaction to that, and do you have any advice for them in the future?
Historically, the bonds and overrides, when I first came into office, they weren’t passing then either. Then we had a little stretch where we had some good passage and support. This time was not as great. It is a little disappointing to see, coming from a state where anytime a bond or override came onto the ballot it was just the culture to just say yes to whatever. I think our voters here are a little more discerning, maybe a little more concerned about how the money is spent. Where I’ve seen the most success for districts is when they get out into the community and they really discuss the needs and the reasoning behind going out for a bond and override. So when you get out into the community and you say, “Look, this is to build a new gym because the other one’s full of asbestos and mold. We have a bus fleet of six buses, and three of them are broken down and two of them are on their last legs and these buses cost over $200,000 and that’s not money we have in our coffers right now. We can’t fund another four buses at the moment.” Technology is a huge one. We have an eRate consortium, and we’ve received a grant for $33 million to do a broadband initiative in the county. We’re bringing broadband to every school and every library in the county. Suddenly, these schools that were a little more remote, maybe, and didn’t have access to that fiber cable, now they do and now they can bring that technology into the school. And that’s a huge cost as well. Every district is going out for their bond and their override for different reasons, but I’ve seen the most success when they go out and they communicate with the public on that.

How long did it take you, moving here from Ohio, to get up to speed on how things operated in the education differently?
I went to school at ASU, so I was educated here, but I really had to get into the system to really see that there’s a difference. We don’t have as enormous of a retirement population as in Arizona. There’s some wonderful things that come with having a huge retirement population here in Arizona. And there’s some not-so-great ones, like, “I don’t have any kids in the school system, so why should I pay for your kids to go through?” I have a great argument for that – somebody paid for their kids and paid for them to go to school – but as far as getting up to date I was definitely in this office before I really had a good grasp on what it looked like here in Arizona. It’s huge. It’s vast. I’m learning something new everyday in this position. I even went back to school once I got this position for my master’s in educational leadership because I really thought that would help me understand more and also lead an organization. It’s intricate, especially school finance. That’s a tough one. I will be a lifelong learner of school finance. I will never know everything there is to know about school finance, but I learn more every day.

And a note to anybody who applies – if you don’t mention kids in your interview, you really don’t have a chance of getting appointed to a school board. But it happens all the time.

One of the “fun” things you get to do is, when there is an opening on a school board or the college board, you get to make that selection. What is your thought process?
Pinal County’s the size of Connecticut. I can’t know the inner workings of every community. And we all know that there’s some inner workings in every community and history that’s there. So, typically I reach out to the superintendent and let them know that I will take up to two recommendations from the board once we get all of the applicants. I interview all of the applicants. I listen to them. I make a selection based on what that board needs. A recommendation from the board goes a long way. When I do the CAC governing board, I tend to form an interview committee or panel. I try to make sure I have, I may possibly have an elected official, I’ve had one or two employees of CAC, I try to have community members, business members. I try to represent many facets of the population in that area. And then I have them help me with the interviews. That ones a tough one because it affects the tax rate for the entire county. I think it’s important to have that input. I haven’t been as lucky with getting panels together for some of our districts just because it’s a smaller community and sometimes difficult to get… without bias, someone open-minded. That’s why I think talking to the superintendent, talking to the school board, really helps me get a view of what the district needs, what the school board needs, and then I try to put somebody in there.

And a note to anybody who applies – if you don’t mention kids in your interview, you really don’t have a chance of getting appointed to a school board. But it happens all the time.

What would you like to see happen with public education in this county?
Well, test scores are not everything, but it is a good indicator as to how our students are performing with other students around the state and even in the country. So, we really want to help promote mastery in teaching when it comes to ELA and math. That’s huge. But I think another huge thing is preparing our students for the jobs and industries that are coming to our county. Looking ahead at what skills they’re going to need for that and that they can be adaptable because they’re probably not going to wind up in a job that they’re going to sit in for 40 years. We’ve seen that trend happening for a few years now. We have these great industries coming to Pinal County and wonderful opportunities. So, to be able to set them up with more career and technical education and even starting at a younger age would be great – having those options open to them, internships. It’s hard for me to narrow it down because the sky’s the limit when it comes to our kids. I’m on the State Board of Education, and getting to hear and see some of the innovative things that are happening across the state is really exciting. I’m on the executive council of a national organization called Association of Education Services Agencies. I get to see what’s happening across the United States. That is really exciting because I can bring that back to our school here in Arizona. Rural Arizona can have those same opportunities that are happening in Chicago, Illinois, and that’s exciting. Just providing the same quality of education in rural Arizona that some of the big cities and affluent neighborhoods are getting is exciting for me, and I want to continue to bring that to the doors of our students.


This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

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Dan Frank is one of two Maricopans running for the Pinal County Board of Supervisors. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa Flood Control District Board President Dan Frank already sees some of the big issues shaping up in the campaign for Pinal County Board of Supervisors.

As a civil engineer, he said a driving force for him “is being able to build a city or a county or infrastructure. I just feel like this is a good way for me to use my skills and talents to kind of move that forward and be part of building a better Pinal County.”

He is running for the District 4 seat currently occupied by Anthony Smith. Others who have opened their campaigns include Jeffrey McClure, a Republican from Saddlebrooke, and Marlene Pearce, an independent from Maricopa. Smith is not running for reelection.

“The board is doing a pretty good job now attracting businesses, and pretty good businesses now to Pinal County,” Frank said. “So, some things are heading in the right direction. I still think there’s a lot of work we can do.”

That work, he said, will be topics that will likely drive the campaign – transportation, water, floodplain and workforce.

“One of the key things we need to do better in the county is our workforce development and retention. It’s probably that retention that is the bigger thing,” he said. “The last thing we want to do is to train up a workforce in any industry and then have them get frustrated with something and leave and then go work up in the Valley.”

That “something” could very well be roads and infrastructure.

He would like to see Pinal County transform from a bedroom community with few high-paying jobs to a community where people want to live and work for generations. He sees the issues directly in District 4, which stretches from Maricopa, where many residents work in Maricopa County, to the Oracle area, where many residents work in Pima County.

Frank was an appointee to the Maricopa City Council to fill out a vacant term before being elected to the Flood Control District.

“I say we have a water problem because we have too much water in the wrong places and not enough water in the right places,” he said.

The position of so much of District 4 in the floodplain has stymied a lot of potential development. And the district remains at high threat for floodwaters.

He watched carefully as the Arizona Department of Water Resources reported its water-supply modeling for the county that showed a shortage in less than a century. He said he feels ADW is “trying to do a good thing and watch out for the public.”

As an engineer, he had projects put on hold because they could not get assured water supply based on the ADWR model.

“Could they account for things differently, like the groundwater recharge? They probably could, but that’s all something we need to look at,” Frank said. “I want to make sure, first and foremost, the citizens are protected and we do have water down the road. Otherwise we’re going to have some big issues.”

He is fully supportive of a committee that was formed by Pinal County to look at water future for the county and maybe find a middle ground.

While he calls county politics his biggest learning curve, he thinks his biggest strength is his engineering background and innate understanding of infrastructure involved in development, transportation and water.

“I think the current board got a little blindsided by the ADWR model,” Frank said. “They may not have been fully aware of the impacts of that. I don’t think anybody was expecting the results that came from ADWR unless they were somehow behind the scenes with it.”

He also knows the nature of his work could involve conflicts of interest as the county grows. He said he removes himself from those situations. Because he on the local flood control board, he said, he is very cautious about taking any flood-control projects in Maricopa.

He knows a big issue in the campaign and the county is transportation. For Maricopa, that is primarily State 347, though plans for the East-West Corridor to Casa Grande are also in the making.

Frank said the studies for solutions on the SR 347 should have been done years ago but likes the current model of collaboration among Maricopa Association of Governments, Pinal County, Maricopa County, Arizona Department of Transporation and Gila River Indian Community.

“Hopefully, we have the funding mechanism in place,” he said. “That’s going to be one of the biggest challenges. It’ll be really interesting to see what the ultimate solution is as far as what’s recommended.”

City and county officials turn dirt at the site of a future county complex.

 

About a month later than anticipated, Pinal County broke ground on a new administrative complex in Maricopa Friday.

The project expands current court facilities, which house Western Pinal Justice Court and Maricopa Municipal Court, a creates satellite offices for county services like the sheriff’s office, clerk of the court, assessor’s office and the recorder’s office. It will also provide space for the District 4 supervisor.

Current District 4 Supervisor Anthony Smith led the ceremony. He chairs the board of supervisors this year, which will be his last on the board, meaning he will not benefit from the new offices. The former Maricopa mayor said he has a history of planting buildings if not opening them.

With Johnson Carlier as general contractor, it may take up to 14 months to complete the $9.9 million, 41,000-square-foot expansion. The address for the county complex has been changed to 20025 N. Wilson Ave.

“We look forward to working here,” said Johnson Carlier Senior Project Manager Tim Lewis. “We look forward to building a quality product that everybody is proud of.”

Judge Lyle Riggs is both the city magistrate and the county’s justice of the peace for District 4. He said though the courts were already collocated when he took office, but the agreement that made it so was “pretty one-sided in favor of the City.”

A new deal struck between the City of Maricopa and Pinal County for the collocation saves both entities money, he said.

“In my own estimates hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are being saved,” Riggs said. “While some of that goes to the county and some of it goes to the City, bottom line, it goes to all of the taxpayers, who now pay less to get the services they have the right to receive.”

He said Maricopa Police Department and Pinal County Sheriff’s Office are also already doing “some amazing things” to be efficient. Instead of a police officer leaving his patrol to transport a defendant back and forth from the municipal court to the county jail in Florence, PCSO brings defendants over once a week.

“This building will be a manifestation of that cooperative spirit that often is absent where governments cross,” Riggs said.

 

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Marlene Pearce is District 4 administrator. Submitted photo

The race to replace Anthony Smith is widening. Three candidates have now announced an intention to run for Pinal County supervisor in District 4.

Marlene Pearce, who originally intended to run for Maricopa City Council, is now seeking the nomination for supervisor. She has been the district administrator eight years.

“I have worked with Supervisor Smith since taking office in 2013, and have been instrumental in the progress we have made in providing the best in services and resources for our constituents,” she said in a statement released Thursday.

District 4 extends from Maricopa in the northwest to Saddlebrooke in the southeast. She joins Jeffrey McClure and Dan Frank. Only McClure, a Republican, has a statement of organization on file.

Pearce has the endorsement of Smith.

“There is nobody better suited to be the next County Supervisor than Marlene Pearce,” he said in a statement. “Marlene is a natural problem solver with a vast knowledge of county government and will do what it takes to see that the county reaches the next level of opportunity. Marlene Pearce gets my endorsement and I hope she will get yours.”

Had Pearce continued her campaign for city council, a nonpartisan race, one of her fellow candidates would have been incumbent Nancy Smith, Anthony Smith’s wife.

Pearce is on the executive board of United Way of Pinal County. She previously served on the Legislative Committee for the Western Pinal Association of Realtors.

Her job as district administrator was previously titled assistant to the supervisor but was changed in 2018, allowing  higher pay. In that capacity, she said, she has worked with county and municipal staffs, Arizona Department of Transportation and Bureau of Land Management “for road acquisitions and improvements across the district.”

Pearce has lived in the county 15 years.

“A key attribute that has always been important was to be accessible,” she said in the statement. “I have consistently been part of our Town Hall and Sessions with the Supervisor events. I pride myself in being the main point of contact for all our constituents’ thoughts and concerns.  The mantra for the District has always been “working to improve the quality of life for our citizens”, and I am committed to continue on that path.”

At this time, the only other county race with announced election competition is in the assessor’s office, where Michael Cruz is challenging incumbent Douglas Wolf in the Republican primary.

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Dan Frank

The Republican primary for county supervisor in District 4 just became a contest.

With Anthony Smith saying he will not run for re-election, Jeffrey McClure of Oracle quickly put his name in. Last week, Maricopa’s Dan Frank confirmed he, too, will seek the GOP nomination for the seat.

Frank is a member of Maricopa’s Planning and Zoning Commission and is president of the Maricopa Flood Control District. He previously served on Maricopa City Council as an appointee.

McClure is president of the Oracle School District Governing Board.

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Anthony Smith, left, and Pete Rios will head the county board of supervisors.
Beginning Jan. 1, Anthony Smith of Maricopa will be chairman of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors for 2020.
It is the second stint in the chair for Smith, who Republican represents District 4. His current term on the board ends next December, and he has announced he does not intend to seek reelection.
“This upcoming year will be one of building upon the momentum we have already generated these last few years,” Smith said in a statement. “I believe 2020 will see Pinal County and our communities break more records in job growth, share prosperity at all income levels with record low unemployment and increase the quality of life for all.”
The board also selected Pete Rios, a Democrat representing District 1, to be vice-chairman.
“My colleagues continue to be non-partisan on this board as I am,” Rios stated. “I sincerely appreciate their willingness to work as a team for the betterment of all the constituents in Pinal county. Our positive past record on economic development and attracting huge projects and jobs to the county is a result of that. We look forward to a great 2020 and more accomplishments for the people of Pinal County.”

Edwards Circle is Maricopa's public housing complex, but vouchers allow low-income families to rent private homes and apartments. Photo by Kyle Norby

By Joycelyn Cabrera

Public housing in Maricopa is nothing new, but private properties accepting subsidized vouchers give flexibility for low-income families.

The Pinal County Housing Department refers to Edward’s Circle as the “Maricopa property,” a 20-unit public housing complex for eligible, low-income families. Units falling under the Housing Choice Voucher Program would provide more flexibility for a family’s needs if local properties accept the vouchers.

Some rental homes in Maricopa, for instance, have accepted the subsidized vouchers since the beginning of the program. Recent housing studies indicate Maricopa needs more low-income housing.

Rolanda Cephas, Pinal County Housing Department operations manager, explained how subsidies work in local public housing units.

“We operate and we receive subsidies from HUD [Department of Housing and Urban Development] to serve low-income families,” Cephas said. “So, we own the properties, we take care of the properties, we manage the properties. The subsidy is actually attached to the units, so if someone moves out of our public housing, they don’t take the subsidy. The units are what’s subsidized.”

Maricopa does not have private apartments yet. The developer of a proposed apartment complex has stated the project will have tax subsidies but not rent subsidies.

In Pinal County, there are 139 current public housing units, according to Cephas, and 419 Housing Choice Vouchers in use out of a total of 584.

Maricopa has a total of 20 public housing units and 21 Housing Choice vouchers (Section 8 vouchers). Eligible families and individuals occupy the public housing units after a wait-listed period.

Other residences in Maricopa are inspected by the Pinal County Housing Department to ensure the property falls under Section 8 guidelines for those 21 vouchers.

“Section 8 vouchers are vouchers attached to the individual person or individual family,” Cephas said. “So, if someone applies for Section 8 and their name reaches the top of the Section 8 wait-list, what they’ll receive is an actual voucher. They can take that voucher and move into any private rental unit where the landlord is willing to accept a Section 8 voucher.”

Vouchers under the program in Maricopa have the flexibility of choosing a unit to rent, followed by an inspection to determine if the unit meets the housing and rental requirements under the Housing Quality Standards provided by HUD. This includes reasonable rent charges.

According to HUD, the Section 8 program allows low-income families, the elderly and those living with disabilities to afford “decent, safe and sanitary housing in the private market.”

“The subsidy is attached to the voucher on behalf of the family,” Cephas said. “So, if someone finds an apartment … what they would do is go over there with their voucher and paperwork packet; the manager or owner … would fill out their paperwork and give us the information on the actual unit, and then that paperwork is submitted to us.”

The family or individual would pay the difference of the rent charged for the property and the subsidy paid to the landlord on behalf of the family or individual, according to HUD.

Cephas said private properties have the choice of accepting Housing Choice vouchers, but this choice is up to property management or ownership.

The Pinal County Housing Department estimates the number on its Section 8 waiting list to be around 600, while the waiting list for general public housing is approximately 5,000.


This is an updated story clarifying an planned apartment complex’s future subsidies.

Photo by Kyle Norby

Pinal County Animal Care and Control hosted a pet-adoption event Saturday at Raceway Grill during lunch. Earlier this month, the organization announced it was full because it had taken in 94 dogs in eight days – of those, 27 were surrendered by their owners and 48 were strays.

'There’s some major projects I hope to be able to announce in the spring in the area of the city of Maricopa'

Pinal County Supervisor Anthony Smith. Photo by Kyle Norby

Anthony Smith
Title
: Pinal County Supervisor, District 4
Age: 66
Maricopan since: 2003
Family: Nancy (wife), five grown children in blended family with seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren
Education: Bachelor of Science, Purdue University
Professional background: Project Management Professional, worked at Motorola 10 years
Previous elected office: Mayor of Maricopa, 2008-2010, 2010-2012

Anthony Smith is entering his last year as Pinal County supervisor for District 4, having previously announced his decision not to seek reelection. He has been supervisor since 2013 after serving two terms as mayor of Maricopa.

He sat down with InMaricopa to talk about activities in Pinal County in 2019 and what may happen in 2020, his perspective of Maricopa, Interstate 11, transportation, future concerns for the county and more.

Remind us of your background:
I came from Illinois. I was born in Indiana and raised there. I raised my children in Central Illinois. In 1997 I came to Arizona to work for Motorola and did that for 10 years. I’ve been married to Nancy Smith, who’s a city councilmember for the City of Maricopa, for nearly 20 years now. So, we came to Maricopa in 2003 because, just like a lot of people at that time, we were looking for affordable housing. This was at the time about 15 minutes away from our Motorola plant at Queen Creek and Price Road. It’s not 15 minutes’ drive time any more. It was a place that was convenient, and it gave us a community that we felt was evolving. We were very excited about those first few years. To my amazement after less than five years they gave me the opportunity to serve them as mayor.

Since you were mayor, how has Maricopa changed?
Well, during that time in which we were trying to figure out how long is this recession and how deep is it going to be, fortunately the previous city councils had put aside a lot of that one-time money received from growth that gave our city councils the ability to, once the prices dropped on land, we were able to make some very important strategic purchases. The purchases such as for the city hall, that large complex came from basically a fire sale on some properties that had finally dropped to the point that we could buy them at a reasonable rate. The same thing with Copper Sky. All that land for that beautiful park on the southern side of the city was all purchased at one time with the idea that we would keep the frontage so that we could get commercial development. Fast-forward 10 years and that is finally happening with the prospect of hotels and retail and other things. During that time we were sustained by important projects. I think in 2009 came the Walmart. It added to the tax base. We needed that influx of money. Central Arizona College put their stakes in the ground and started the Maricopa campus. In addition, we were able to attract some healthcare with Banner and then others coming to town. That provided some of the ingredients for the community we have today. Now, there’s been a lot of building since that time, and, of course, the overpass played a very, very important part of that. But we started working on the overpass, just like Mayor Price and those current city councils, but it’s been a long haul, and we made our trips to Washington, D.C., to lobby for that and ADOT meetings, etc. It’s been a whole community effort by its leadership in order to make it happen, but we’re very glad to see the results.

Did it surprise you it’s taken this long to break ground on a hotel?
Absolutely, it has. We did everything we could to help a hotel take hold. But it was a tough sell at a tough time. There was very, very much limits on capital investments at that basis. So, I think we just basically had the wrong dance partner. We did everything we possibly could to make it attractive for a hotel to come into the city of Maricopa. But it must not have been the right timing. And now I think we’ve have the prospect of not only one but two hotels. I’m pretty excited about it. I think it adds to our community. A lot of the people are wanting to visit people, plus also the number of hotel stays we have by the various car test facilities, Nissan, Volkswagen. We miss so much in revenue from hotel tax by not having a hotel in the city.

Has your political perspective changed since you became a supervisor?
There certainly is a learning curve to find out what works and what doesn’t work. One thing I found to my amazement is that my skillset in project management was a very good fit for the City of Maricopa, a new city in which about 80 percent of what we were doing was new projects. It made perfect sense to me as far as how to drive them along. Now, being a project manager, especially in the expertise of a planner scheduler, I spent my career trying to get things done as fast as possible and under budget. Well, it takes a lot of patience in government. You can’t move at the pace of the private world, and that’s oftentimes for good reason, because you have to engage the public, you have to have a lot of input and it moves at a slower place probably for good reason. I’ve learned that as the mayor of Maricopa, and it’s been reinforced now as a county supervisor that local governments move at a pace that may be frustrating for a lot of people, but oftentimes the end result is very good.

Let’s look back on the past year. What are the biggest successes you think the county’s had?
One of the big deals is that when ADOT selected the [Interstate 11] route that is south of the city of Maricopa, comes from the area in Hidden Valley, comes through the south of Maricopa, swings over about the Barnes Road alignment and then goes and connects to the I-8 near Casa Grande, when they selected that as the recommended alternative, that was a big deal. Because the other alternative went down State Route 85 at Gila Bend and then on I-8. It did nothing for Pinal County. It did nothing for the city of Maricopa and its growth. With that new road, not only do you get economic development associated with what you might find along the 101 or the 202 in the metro Phoenix are, but in the big picture it provides a commerce corridor that connects one of our main trading partners, Mexico, to Arizona and points northward but it also, as we develop additional manufacturing and high-volume employees opportunities in the Casa Grande area with the Lucid project and the Nikola project, those will give access to those jobs in about the same drive time or probably even less than what you would traveling to the metro Phoenix area. It also takes a lot of traffic off the 347. Of course, we have what we are still moving through the courts, the Regional Transportation Authority that the voters approved two years ago. I’d like to see that be successful in the courts. But that includes the widening of 347, and that coupled with the future I-11 I think will help in order to better manage traffic and transportation in this area and give people who live in the city of Maricopa an alternative for traveling into the metro Phoenix area. We want to keep them in Pinal County to those jobs that we have in the Casa Grande area and the I-8, I-10 area. So, that is a big deal. It’s not done. It’s years away from being built. But it’s an important thing, just like when I travel on the 101 and 202 today, I’m glad that there were people who had the guts and stood up and put the lines on the map, and now you see hospitals, you see retail, you see auto dealers, you see addition of employment opportunities in that area. Someday we’ll have that just south of the city of Maricopa and really quite available for our uses.

Another thing that I’m very happy that we’ve accomplished in 2019 is the finalization of a new county complex for the city of Maricopa. This was very important because currently a lot of people in Maricopa and Western Pinal drive to Casa Grande and even Florence in order to get county services. We’ll be bringing those services to this area, and some of those services are things like the recorder’s office, the assessor, planning. We’ll be expanding the justice courts, and of course the justice courts are associated with the county and municipal court is associated with the City of Maricopa. Also included in this location that is in the Heritage District in the area near the post office but around the existing justice court is a sheriff’s substation. Now, that is going to be a big deal for your local police because it’ll have holding cells. Currently, if there’s a person arrested and needs to go to jail they are transported by Maricopa Police to Florence. It takes the Maricopa Police off the streets as they do these transports, and it’s also very costly. So, there will be holding cells at the sheriff’s substation, and they will be able to transport the prisoners at a time in which it is more appropriate and saving the City of Maricopa lots of money. This project will probably break ground in January. We’re out for bid for the entire project right now and we hope to complete it in October of 2020.

Dec. 2 we’re going to break ground for the Lucid electric car manufacturing project. That’s going to be about 2,000 employees. They’re already hiring certain critical positions at this time. But it’s going to be  a big deal for the city of Maricopa because in the plan for workforce recruitment they are hoping to get 25% of their workforce from folks in the city of Maricopa. That again takes some of the pressure off 347, redirects them into another location and it also provides a much quicker drive time from what they currently experience. These are high-tech jobs and this is very comparable to what you would get at Intel and some of the other high-tech jobs you would have in Chandler and Ahwatukee area.

We had a change in leadership. We had a very good county manager in Greg Stanley. That was about five to seven years that he was there giving us leadership. He provided great leadership during the time period, but anytime you have a change of leadership at the top, you hope for the best. With Louis Andersen taking the helm, I have confidence it will continue in the direction of strong economic development, putting an emphasis on providing quality service to the people of Pinal County communities and continue our prosperity.

One of the things I continue to be very thankful is the strong financial position Pinal County is in. Pinal County was the first county to regain all the jobs that we lost during the recession. We have a very favorable tax rate. In fact, we lowered our tax rate once more. We intend on lowering it, assuming the revenues are sufficient, again next year. We actually have a strategic goal of lowering it to 3.75, and in two more years, we will achieve that goal. It’s important when you do a lot of recruitment of companies that you have a favorable tax rate, a low tax rate. Plus, also, a lot of entrepreneurs, small businesses, they need the lower tax rate in order to help with their bottom line also. So this is strengthening the financial position. We have plenty of moneys in reserve. We are able to deliver about the same amount of service or maybe a little bit with the same number of employees that we had about eight years ago.

In looking at the county numbers, we found that for a four-year period, 2014-2017, there was a steady rise in home prices and housing prices in general, whereas wages seemed to go up and down and overall were stagnant. Is that a concern?
We’re in a transitional economy. In fact, Pinal County is in a big transition. We’ve got historic industries such as agriculture and mining that have been very good for Pinal County and Arizona for decades, but we’re slowly making that transition. We certainly didn’t want to be communities that were bedroom communities to Tucson or Phoenix. We wanted to attract our own workforce. When I first became supervisor, I was astonished that over 50% of our workforce leaves Pinal County every day in order to work in Maricopa County or Pima County. We’ve certainly made great instrides on that and will continue to make that. With the city of Maricopa and San Tan Valley, those numbers are even higher; this 70%, 80% of the workforce leaves every day. We’re strengthening our transportation system out in the central area. We’ve got the North-South Corridor, which is not the same as the I-11, which connects around the Mesa Gateway Airport and goes truly down the middle of Pinal County all the way down to Picacho Peak and connects with the I-10.

We had the tiff between Apex and Atessa. How often does that occur and do supervisors have to wade into that?
I think that was a rarity. At the time when it happened, I thought, ‘Well, I think this is kind of crazy. Why can’t we have five racetracks? Why can’t we become the center of automobile manufacturing and tests and entertainment in the auto industry?’ I try to be more broad-ranged in my thoughts and not be so strung out on competition and trying to eliminate your competition. I very much supported Apex, and I very much supported Atessa, but when they got into that battle, I certainly was very supportive of where I live, my hometown, the city of Maricopa for the Apex project. And, of course, that’s turned out super. They’ve, I think, gone beyond what they thought they would on their success and their recruiting and membership. I’m wanting that the Atessa project overcomes their deficiencies in their water that they are working through the state and are able to put something special in that area, which is just south of I-8 near Bianca and Montgomery roads. Those are important project. Again, it brings more employment to Pinal. But we work very well with our communities. contrary to what might happen in Maricopa County. They oftentimes have pitched battles between the communities. We try to rally around all the communities in Pinal County. For now we’re working very well, tighter, and complement each other, whether it’s a project in Casa Grande with Lucid working hand-in-hand to make the project a reality, working with Coolidge and Eloy regarding the Nikola project, and of course there’s some major projects I hope to be able to announce in the spring in the area of the city of Maricopa. We continue to be a very attractive place because we have an availability of land, we have a workforce and we have a favorable tax rate. And we’re having a lot of interest from around not only Arizona but in other states and around the world.

As healthy as the county is right now, what red flags would you warn your successor about?
There’s certainly the concern about water. We have some conflicting information. We have certain forces that say we only have 80% of our supply that we’ll need in a 100-year time period. You’ve got others, including our local experts at Global Water, that say that’s inconclusive data. The information that they have, and I think if you manage it correctly, that you’ll have an adequate amount of water. I’m a person, coming from the Midwest in which we have water management up there, we need to remember that we live in a desert. I’d like to see more reuse, more conservation of our water resources. I think that comes down to planning and planning out developments. I think we sometimes need to rethink how we are using and managing our water, and I think that’s part of the formula for moving forward. We’re fortunate that we got money from the state in order to rejuvenate and renovate some of our groundwater wells. We’re going to have to manage that transition away from the CAP water resource to our wells to just make better use of our water. Again, it just comes down the reality that you live in a desert, and I think there’s going to be an adequate amount of water, it’s just that we’re going to have to manage it better than we’ve ever done before.

If ultimately the courts rule against the RTA, what next steps do you foresee taking?
Well, my term ends on Dec. 31, 2020, and we anticipate all court challenges will be done by the fall of 2020 and we’ll make those decisions. It would be my hope that we continue. It’s unfortunate that counties and communities have had to go forward on their own in order to fund road improvements rather than being able to rely on the state or the federal government in order to provide for these needed improvements, but we did. It was, I think, the right thing to do. I look forward to the success. I think we’ve got a good case and we’re going to win. It is frustrating for me and I think for many people who drive the 347 every day that we are still paying lawyers and court fees on something that we could be building roads. I know the county has spent over $1 million in legal fees. Those moneys could have been used to build roads. It’s frustrating when you get those delays, but more importantly there are people seriously injured, sometimes even killed, along those roads and that is just, I believe, inexcusable that we’re tied up in court on something that we could correct if we’re given the chance. The good news is the courts continue to let us collect the half-cent sales tax, and we have somewhere around $23 million, $24 million already collected. When we win our lawsuits, because I’m an optimist and I believe we will win our lawsuits, we should be able to get in the final design and construction very quickly. The good news for the city of Maricopa is that two of the high-priority projects are in the city of Maricopa, basically – the widening of 347 and the construction of the East-West Corridor. The East-West Corridor connects Maricopa with Casa Grande and gives us an alternative way to get over to I-10. More importantly, when Lucid is in their manufacturing, it gives the people of Maricopa a very convenient and expedited way to get over to that job market.

What are you looking forward to working on in 2020?
I think there is a great opportunity to continue with more economic development wins. We want to see the Nikola project break ground, and I have no doubt that it’s going to break ground. There are other big projects I would love to be able to mention today, but they’re not available and we don’t want to have loose lips that sink ships type syndrome. I think it’s going to be a 2020 that’s full of additional wins for economic development. Plus, once those manufacturing companies get into operation, we’re going to be very aggressively going after the supply chain. I think the supply-chain services and providing for those manufacturing is a great opportunity for the city of Maricopa and other communities to have those local businesses in there. I believe that it’s going to be very important to follow the future Interstate 11. We’re working on the federal legislation in order to have it designated from Wickenburg all the way down to Nogales a single route. Once the federal designation is given by federal highway I believe that’s going to cement into that route and we’ll be able to move forward with design and construction.

That’s been kind of a political fireball for you in Hidden Valley. They pretty much mind their own business until they feel threatened by something. Is that something you would tell your successor about and give them guidance on how to deal with the situation?
I certainly believe that you have to represent the people. I understand where the people from Hidden Valley and Thunderbird Farm and those areas out in there are coming from. They have moved out there oftentimes to enjoy the solitude and the quietness of the country. I appreciate that. But I’ve been quite a proponent for projects in that area. I campaigned on those. When people put me into office for things that I campaigned on, I don’t feel necessarily it’s the right thing to do to change course. I truly believe it’s going to work for the best. When it comes to noise and pollution, most of our cars they predict in the future are going to be electric. I don’t know that they’re going to hear anything, maybe a hum would be at the most. I’ve also been a big proponent of Palo Verde Regional Park that is on the western edge of Pinal and Maricopa County. When we’re competing with states like California, Texas, Colorado, Washington and Oregon for jobs, a lot of those have workers that participate in outdoor activities, whether it’s hiking or mountain biking, etc. This is a park that, when it gets into operation some years down in the future, will be about three times the size of South Mountain Regional Park. That will provide a great opportunity for people in this area to get that good outdoor recreation. We want to create healthy counties, and one of the ways you create healthy counties is providing an abundance of recreation opportunities. We have a beautiful county, a beautiful state, and why not get out an enjoy it.


This story ran, in part, in the December issue of InMaricopa.

County attorney says opioid makers 'lining their pockets'

Pinal County is taking pharmaceutical manufacturers, pharmacies and doctors to court over addiction and overdoses.

There have been 308 reported opioid overdoses in Pinal County in the past two and a half years.

Pinal County is taking on big pharmaceutical companies over opioid addiction. The law firms of Fennemore Craig and Theodora Oringher filed suit for the county in Superior Court Sept. 25.

“We know how many pills were forced into our county,” County Attorney Kent Volkmer said. “Every pill is tracked by the federal government. Needless to say, it falls far outside of appropriate norms.”

In suing many large drug manufacturers and all pharmacies that do business in Pinal County, Volkmer said his office is not as interested in getting a monetary award from the case as it is the opportunity to litigate it in the public forum.

Among the 50 defendants named in Pinal County vs. Actavis LLC, et al. are American Drug Company, Costco, Walgreens, Osco Drug, Walmart, Bashas’, Johnson & Johnson, Mallinckrodt LLC, Safeway, Par Pharmaceuticals, Smith’s Food & Drug, Sun Life Family Health Center and Watson Laboratories. The suit also names eight members of the Sackler family, who Bloomberg estimates to be worth $13 billion collectively.

By filing suit at the county level rather than joining the many federal-level lawsuits, Volkmer said, there is a better chance of getting the evidence known. Ongoing suits against the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, brought by states and other levels of government, will likely be filed into a national settlement. At the federal level, a U.S. bankruptcy judge paused those lawsuits against Purdue Pharma in October.

But Purdue and the Sacklers are only part of the Pinal County suit.

“We are prepared to litigate it. We want a jury to hear what they did and to determine a remedy,” Volkmer said. “We’re confident they acted badly. We want the public to know. The best way to get that is to try the case.”

The complaint does not cite a number for the monetary damages the county is seeking from the 50 defendants named. It seeks “to recover all measure of damages permissible under the statutes identified herein and under common law, in an amount to be proven at trial.”

“We’re confident they acted badly. We want the public to know. The best way to get that is to try the case.” – County Attorney Kent Volkmer

Volkmer said opioid addiction has cost the county manpower in law enforcement and health. And it is removing once-productive people from the economy because they can no longer work, shrinking the tax base that helps pay for the services impacted by opioid addiction.

Patients who could no longer afford an opioid prescription sometimes turned to heroin, causing more impact on law enforcement, the medical examiner’s office and county health resources. “And all of this cost was foisted on the county,” Volkmer said.

“Janssen fully recognizes the opioid crisis that exists in this country. But one thing is clear: Janssen’s medications did not cause or contribute to that crisis.” – Janssen Pharmaceuticals

The county complaint opens with the statement, “Opiates are killing people every day in this country and Arizonans have not been spared. Each of the [d]efendants in this action engaged in an industry-wide effort to downplay the dangerous and deadly potential effects of the misuse of prescription opioids. The opioid epidemic has hit every community in Arizona hard, including Pinal County.”

One of the defendants, Beverly Sackler, died Oct. 15 at the age of 95. Purdue filed for bankruptcy in September.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Drain gave Purdue Pharma, the Sacklers and the government entities suing them until Nov. 6 to reach a disclosure plan that would show how much the company earned from OxyContin sales.

Fennemore Craig was hired by Pinal County this summer specifically for this case against Big Pharma. Its attorneys claimed the actions of opioid manufacturers were “a sophisticated, manipulative scheme” particularly designed to be effective in places like Pinal County because it “is home to a multitude of economically and medically vulnerable populations that defendants knew were uniquely predisposed to opioid addiction, including the elderly.”

Big Pharma companies, Volkmer said, are “lining their pockets” as a result of front-end and back-end domination of a field they created. Some of the same companies that make the opioids also make the overdose antidote naloxone, he said.

Those companies include Hospira (acquired by Pfizer) and Mylan, both named in the suit, which describes both as “a top manufacturer of fentanyl, oxycodone, morphine and codeine in Pinal County.” Mylan is further accused of withholding ingredients to treat “opioid-use disorder and opioid addiction” from its competitors.

Pinal County also accuses Janssen Pharmaceuticals and its parent company, Johnson & Johnson, of pushing “bogus research” to promote opioids.

It is similar to claims made in other cases against Janssen in Oklahoma and Ohio, where Janssen denied wrongdoing, stating in court papers: “Janssen fully recognizes the opioid crisis that exists in this country. But one thing is clear: Janssen’s medications did not cause or contribute to that crisis… Janssen will prove that its marketing was and remains supported by scientific medical evidence, offered in good-faith and without a scintilla of fraudulent intent.”

In the mid- to late-1990s, physicians started classifying pain as a “fifth vital sign.” That was allegedly pushed by the American Pain Society and resulted in pharmaceutical companies putting more attention on creating and marketing pain medication. Recent lawsuits from 23 states, as well as Pinal County’s suit, characterize the pharmaceutical companies as “pushing” drugs and turning up the heat on doctors to prescribe more.

Prescribed opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone became commonplace.

“They said opioids addressed and alleviated pain. It was a miracle cure, supposedly,” Volkmer said.

He said, despite a lack of public research, opioids were marketed as addiction-free. Doctors who did not prescribe opioids to help their patients overcome perpetual pain virtually were “accused of malpractice.”

In Massachusetts’ claim against the Sacklers, they were accused of hiring hundreds more sales representatives to pressure doctors. “They directed reps to encourage doctors to prescribe more of the highest doses of opioids. They studied unlawful tactics to keep patients on opioids longer and then ordered staff to use them,” the Massachusetts’ complaint reads.

After the medical community started to acknowledge people were becoming addicted around 2010, the number of prescriptions began to decrease but the amount prescribed increased.

Harinder Takyar is the only physician named in the suit while other local doctors are grouped as so-called “John Does.” Takyar was a Florence-based doctor who was charged with 42 counts of prescribing opioids to his patients without medical need in 2014.

Gov. Doug Ducey declared a statewide emergency in 2017 after a health report found 790 Arizonans died of opioid overdoses the previous year. State tracking showed 431 million opioid pills were prescribed in 2016, “enough for every Arizonan to have a 2.5-week supply.”

Since the emergency declaration, between June 15, 2017, and Oct. 10, 2019, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 3,633 deaths that were suspected of being opioid overdoses.

Volkmer said while the Pinal case is “very, very similar to Big Tobacco,” immediacy is the difference.

“If you smoke, in 20 or 30 years, you could get cancer,” he said. “Opioids have an immediate impact. It renders people unable to work. If one of my employees goes outside for a smoke break, they can come back to work. If they go out to pop a Percocet, they won’t be able to do that.”

Volkmer said he is “fairly optimistic” the case can be in court in 18-24 months.


This story appears in the the November issue of InMaricopa.

Pinal County Manager Louis Andersen

 

LOUIS ANDERSEN
Title: Pinal County manager
Hometown: Snoqualmie, Washington
Education: MBA from City University of Seattle
Military: U.S. Air Force
Worked for Pinal County since: 2013
Previous bosses: Seattle Housing Authority, Town of Gilbert

Louis Andersen became county manager in October upon the retirement of Greg Stanley. Previously the director of Pinal County’s Public Works Department for six years, Andersen was selected by the Board of Supervisors from three finalists that also included Assistant County Manager Leo Lew and Chris Keller, a chief deputy in the County Attorney’s Office.

Andersen estimates the county will need 15,000 workers in construction manufacturing over the next two years because of pending economic development.

What is your background?

“I was born in Snoqualmie, Washington. Mostly my family worked in the forestry industry. My father transitioned from logging to brick masonry. He also held a G permit (trash-collection permit) for the Snoqualmie Pass areas. My mother was a medical assistant. She lives part-time on Shaw Island in Puget Sound and partly in Bellevue, Washington. My father and two brothers reside in Arizona. My first job was a hod carrier for my father, then joined the Air Force. Following the Air Force, I worked at Seattle Housing for 11 years. My final position was the special service manager, which was Enterprise Operations i.e. Waste Management, Fleet, Hazmat. I moved from the Seattle area to Ellensburg, where I built a 1,300 gala apple tree orchard. In 2003, I moved to Gilbert and was the environmental services manager for the town. In 2013, I accepted the public works director position at Pinal County.”

Why did you want to be county manager?

“We have a good group of elected officials with vision. I also felt the timing was right for my career based on my experience, leadership and knowledge. [I worked] with Mr. Greg Stanley closely for the past six years along with great staff here at the county, assisting our citizens and seeing businesses thrive.”

What is looking up for Pinal County for the next five years?

“The continuation of economic development, manufacturing, jobs and growing our workforce. Plus, building the East-West Roadway Connection from Maricopa to Florence, the North-South Connection and the 24 Extension.”

We want to further develop the Arizona Technology Corridor as well as give continued focus to living-wage jobs.

What challenges is Pinal County facing?

“Water. Pinal AMA’s (Active Management Area) fifth Management Plan’s effects on growth and our county for both municipal and agricultural use. We have challenges with available private lands, San Tan Valley size and the service needs.”

What are your top three priorities?

“Economic development is a priority. We want to further develop the Arizona Technology Corridor as well as give continued focus to living-wage jobs. We want our citizens to ‘Live, Work and Play’ in Pinal County. I want to continue the collaboration with towns, cities, State Land and Tribal Communities. Also, get to know the staff and departments; get a perspective on services we provide.”

Pinal County cannot currently use funds collected by Prop 417 for road improvements (like State Route 347) because of the Goldwater Institute lawsuit. What is the status of Prop 417?

“We are feeling very positive. We should hear back within six to eight weeks (from mid-October) from the Appellate Courts. We hope then to start building the much-needed roads that our citizens voted for us to do.”


This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

 

Thirteen of 14 food establishments in the Maricopa area inspected by Pinal County health personnel from Aug. 16 to Sept. 15 received top marks.

The exception was a slight markdown for Rob’s Convenience, a store on Papago Road that did not have adequate hot water pressure in the hand-washing sink or its three-compartment sink.

EXCELLENT [No violations found]
Central Arizona College – Café
Central Arizona College – Culinary
Dollar General
F.O.R. Maricopa
Gyro Grill
Legacy Traditional School
Maricopa Elementary
Sequoia Pathway Academy – K-6
Sequoia Pathway Academy – Secondary
Shell – Dairy Queen
Shell – Food Mart
Sonic Drive-In
Wendy’s

SATISFACTORY [Violations corrected during inspection]
Rob’s Convenience

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT [Critical items noted during inspection cannot be corrected immediately requiring follow-up inspection]
None

UNACCEPTABLE [Gross, unsanitary conditions necessitating the discontinuation of service]
None

Talks about prosecution philosophy, plea deals, marijuana and the challenges of the office

Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer talks about his time in office. Photo by Kyle Norby

Kent Volkmer, a Republican, was elected Pinal County Attorney in 2016 after several years in private practice. He sat down with InMaricopa to talk about criminal justice and some of the issues his office is tackling.

What is a day in the life of the county attorney?
A lot of meetings, as opposed to being in the courtroom every day. I would say any given day, probably three or four different meetings with various entities, various agencies. Typically, Monday is my most consistent day getting kind of caught up on stuff that happened on the weekend. On every Monday afternoon for about two hours, I meet with my chief of criminal, my chief deputy, my chief of staff as well as my head of civil, and we talk about kind of issues that are upcoming issues and preparing for what’s going on.

You rarely do appear in court. How many attorneys does your office have?
I believe we have 45 current attorneys.

In what circumstances do you go to court?
Honestly, there’s very, very few reasons. I actually am handling a trial coming up soon simply because it was a very unique situation. I felt comfortable handling the matter and didn’t want to put somebody else in that position just because of the unique circumstances surrounding it. Otherwise, it’s normally just saying, ‘Hi,’ to people. Actually, formally appearing on the record, I can’t tell the last time that happened.

Pinal County General Fund distribution

A giant chunk of the county budget (63 percent) goes to law enforcement, courts and prosecutions. What are your office’s costs?
Personnel. Ninety percent is just people.

What are your opportunities for keeping costs down?
There are some. Oh, yes, we absolutely do have grants. We have the JAG Byrne grant [Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant], which is federal prosecution grant. We have a number of other grants that come forward. Actually, in this current budget cycle here, I was able to request, and our Board of Supervisors gave me, a grant coordinator, so we’re actually going to have a dedicated person in our office that’s looking at those costs to see if there are any grants available. There are a number of federal grants. A lot of time when you do a pilot program or you do programs that other people aren’t doing, the government’s willing to give you those resources to get kick-started. That’s kind of how we kick-started our diversion program. The state gave us about $400,000 to really offset the costs to the taxpayer and then try to make the program sustainable.

How is the Diversion Program working?
I’m thrilled with it. About 2.5 percent of our felony cases are diverted and a bunch of our misdemeanor cases. So about 600, 650 cases in a given year are diverted. What that means is people that we identify as not being a danger to society but made a dumb decision, a poor decision, are given the opportunity to complete consequences, do a risk assessment, hopefully fix whatever caused them to make that bad decision in the first place, and then the charges are ultimately dismissed, so there’s no conviction on their record.

What are you enjoying most about your job so far?
That’s a good question. I think the ability that it gives me to really effect change in our community. There are a lot of different things I’ve been able to do, one of the things I’m very proud of is, under Arizona law when we’ve talked about marijuana specifically, prosecutors are given the opportunity to charge it either as a felony or as a misdemeanor. It’s sort of our decision. What I discovered is my office is making these decisions often without the input of law enforcement, without the input of the people who are on the ground interacting with these people. One of the things that we did is we flipped that and we allow the officer at the scene to make the initial decision and then we sort of review it on the back side. What we’ve discovered is that’s reduced about 750 felony charging of marijuana year-over-year. The other thing that does is significantly reduces the bookings at the jail, which is a huge cost savings to everyone. Just those types of things where we get to sit back and ask, ‘What’s the right thing to do? What’s the best thing for our community? What’s the safest thing we can do?’ This job gives me that opportunity. It’s a powerful position, but it’s also a humbling position and I love it.

Speaking of marijuana, if recreational marijuana were legalized in the state, how would that impact your office?
At the felony level, it would not have nearly the full impact. I have not had the opportunity to review all of the proposal, but I do know that they limit the amount of personal possession to one ounce, which I do like. Two and a half ounces is about a hundred joints. To say that’s personal possession has always kind of struck me as a little bit odd. So, they’ve reduced that number. There’s still going to be a gap between 18 and 21; I’m not sure how they want to treat that. There’s also still going to be above that threshold, how they’re going to handle it. Most of the time, when we’re prosecuting at the felony level, it’s going to be the sale amounts; it’s going to be the huge amounts. Depending on how that law is actually written, whether it’s passed, it’ll have some impact but not the impact it would have had, say, three or four years ago.

What is your philosophy when it comes to plea deals in cases of violent felonies?
Pleas are a necessary evil. About 98 percent of our cases resolve via plea. And that’s for a number of reasons, one of which is, frankly, the financial aspect of it. You mentioned most of our county budget goes to law enforcement. Our budget’s about $12 million of taxpayer dollars that we receive. If we were to try many more cases, that number would necessarily have to increase correspondingly. It’s not necessarily a dollar-for-dollar increase, but it would have to go up. So we do have to use those pleas. I’m much more comfortable using them in the non-violent cases. It’s the violent ones that are much more difficult, because part of my obligation is to make sure that I keep this community safe. I’m not going to say we don’t offer pleas, but typically on those murder cases, those real high-end cases, all of those pleas are normally staffed. That means the attorney assigned has reviewed it along with their supervisor and then usually my chief deputy and myself and the team to look at those and figure out what an appropriate resolution is.

In the violent cases, would it that state feels there’s a vulnerability in the case more than the cost?
It’s not a vulnerability in the case; it’s typically a vulnerability to the community. The law gives us the ability to put people away for a really long time. The issue is if someone has a violent propensity and they commit this offense, the law says, ‘Well, presumptive sentence, for example, is 10.5 years.’ And we say, ‘We’re going to give you 3.5 years.’ My concern is if that person gets out in 3.5 years and then commits another violent offense, how do I look that victim in the face and say, ‘Yeah, I know the law told me this is what I was supposed to do, but it was really expensive, so I put finances above your safety.’ Sometimes it does have to do with vulnerability of cases, but typically it’s what do we really need to do to make sure our community’s safe, and what does this person really need? Is this somebody who, again, maybe has a drug addiction, maybe has some violent tendencies? Is this somebody that we can put in prison and have them come out on probation to give what they need to return to our community, or is this somebody that we have to put away because we can trust them to follow our societal laws to keep us safe?

What have you accomplished so far and what would you like to accomplish before the end of this term?
Seems like I should know the answer to that question. I think the things that we’ve done have really been incremental. I don’t know that there’s been a lot of wide-sweeping, giant modifications that we’ve done. One of the things we’ve done is we’ve tried to streamline the process. I think my greatest accomplishment is, I believe, that my office is looking at each case as an individual case. We’re not looking at it as numbers. We’re not looking at it as paperwork, but these are humans that we’re trying to make an individualized decision on, to do what’s best not only for that person but for the community as a whole. That’s a mindset. It really is, because it’s easy to say, ‘No, no, this is what we’re going to do, and we can just run through these cases very quickly.’ It takes more time, it takes more willpower, it takes more emotional investment to look at an individual case and say, ‘Yeah, I know that these are both burglaries, but we need to treat these different because of the impact on the community, because of the impact on the victim, because the actual sort of criminal mindset that’s involved.’ I think my office is doing an exceptional job of carrying out that mission.

Did you have anything that you’d specifically like to accomplish by the end of this term?
I don’t know that I do. Our job is to see justice done. It’s not to gain convictions. It’s not to have a trial rate or put so many people in prison or put so many people on probation. Our job is to do everything we can to keep this community safe. Our community, we’re safer than any of the other big communities. The likelihood of one of our residents being victimized is about half the rate it is if you live in Maricopa County. It 2.5 times more likely in Pima County to be victimized. We’re safer than Yavapai County and Prescott, we’re safer than Yuma, we’re safer than all the other counties. My job is to make sure we keep that train headed in the right direction.

What has been your biggest challenge as county attorney?
The biggest challenge, I think, is finding the balance between what the law says we should do and what individualized justice is and figuring out what is truly in the best interest of our community. I’ll give you a perfect example. If you have two prior felonies and you’re caught selling drugs, let’s say a very small amount in hand-to-hand sales. You had half a gram, which is half an M&M, and you sell half of that amount to your friend for just the amount you paid for it. That’s a Class 2 felony. Under our laws, if you have those two prior felonies you should be serving 15.75 years in prison. I think most people would say 15.75 years is more than necessary. It’s sort of that ‘The strictest justice is the greatest injustice.’ But the question is, how far do you pull that back? What’s the appropriate amount? What’s really fair and just under those circumstances? Because, again, if somebody’s harmed or that person gets high and drives in a vehicle and kills somebody, it’s really hard to look those victims in the eye and say, ‘Well, I’m sorry, I took a chance and I was wrong.’ Maybe letting that person on probation isn’t right, but there’s got to be a balance, and I’m really trying to figure out what that balance is, what the community wants. I’m a representative of the community; I’ve been elected by the community to represent the will of the community. We are a representative democracy; we are a republic. We are not mob rule. So there is this delicate balance of trying to figure out what is really the thing that we should be doing for our community. What should we be doing that is in the interest of all the residents that are here? And then you also have that second sort of balance. What are other counties doing? Because we have a few different cities now that are sharing borders. We have Apache Junction that is on both sides. We have Queen Creek that’s on us both sides. We have kind of Oracle/Oro Valley/Catalina area there. We also have Marana who’s now growing. Depending on what side of the street you’re on should not make a huge difference in what your consequences are. You shouldn’t get probation if you’re on one side and prison on the other. That becomes justice by geography. That’s just as fundamentally flawed.


This story appears in part in the September issue of InMaricopa.

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County Supervisor Anthony Smith (District 4) in his Maricopa office. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Pinal County Supervisor Anthony Smith announced he will not run for re-election representing District 4.

“In 2008 when I was elected into my first public office, I had no idea I would have the pleasure of serving the people for 12 years,” he said. “As I examine where I am in my life and what opportunities I might have waiting behind the next door, I know it is time for me to head in a different direction. That said, I announce today that l will not run for re-election as county supervisor.”

Smith was previously a mayor of Maricopa, where he and his wife Nancy Smith, a city councilmember, reside.

Reflecting on the progress Pinal County has made in the last few years, he said, “The County is very different from when I started my county service in 2013. In 2013, we were still feeling the impact of the Great Recession. The unemployment rate had soared to 13 percent with hundreds of jobs lost in the housing, agriculture and retail businesses. Sadly, families were being disrupted, and economic growth was basically non-existent.

“Today, Pinal County’s unemployment rate is around 4 percent. In fact, Pinal County was the first Arizona County to regain all jobs lost to the recession. New job opportunities abound. Our economy is being diversified with thousands of new high-tech jobs in industries such as green energy, automotive, aerospace, tourism and many others.”

Forbes recently listed Pinal County government as one of America’s Best-in-State Employers for 2019. Smith said that is something Pinal County can be proud of.

When asked what he considered his biggest accomplishment as supervisor, Smith said, “In 2014 as chairman of the board I led the effort to re-think the county’s Strategic Plan. I believe much of the success we’re having today is a result of driving to a road map that’s focused on growing jobs, improving of transportation network, increasing our quality of life and achieving financial stability.”

Smith is thankful for the support he received during his time as a public servant.

“I especially want to thank Nancy, my loving wife, and my family for their sacrifice and sharing time to allow me to be a public servant,” he said. “In addition, many thanks to Marlene Pearce, our district administrator, for her professionalism and loyal service, too.”

 

Starting April 2, Pinal County Air Quality begin issuing only 3-day open burning permits. All permits will expire by May 1, and Pinal County will suspend the issuance of all open burning permits on April 27.

Burn permits allow for the disposal of plant material by open burning during limited daytime hours.

Additionally, State law prohibits open burning in Area A from May 1 thru Sept. 30. The Pinal County portion of Area A includes Apache Junction, Queen Creek, Gold Canyon, San Tan Valley and portions of Florence.

The annual cycle of rising temperatures will quickly dry seasonal vegetation, leading to an acute wildfire risk in the desert and upland areas of the County.

The suspension on burn permits will continue until the summer monsoons arrive and mitigate the dual risks to public safety and public health.

Additional information on the Pinal County Air Quality program can be found at www.pinalcountyaz.gov or by calling the Pinal County Air Quality Division at 520-866-6929.

 

Supervisor Smith talks county economy, development

Supervisor Anthony Smith talks with Hidden Valley residents. Photo by Jim Headley

Pinal County Supervisor Anthony Smith had a public meeting for residents of the Hidden Valley/Thunderbird Farms area Thursday afternoon at the Raceway Bar and Grill.

Topics of discussion included the flood in the area when Hurricane Rosa parked over the region for about 18 hours in October. Also discussed were roads, taxes, the Thunderbird Fire Department and the local economy.

Smith brought several Pinal County managers and department supervisors with him to Thursday’s Hidden Valley meeting.

During the Hurricane Rosa flood of 2018, the Hidden Valley area was heavily impacted with lots of water, particularly Vekol Wash.

“There was about an 18-hour period where it just dumped a lot of rain and a lot of water in that area,” said Chris Wanamaker, Pinal County Flood Control section chief. “In that storm, we got almost what we would normally get in a whole year. In one area, we measured near the county yard, it was close to eight inches over the full three months. During the storm it was closer to three-and-a-half inches.”

Wanamaker said Rosa was a 10-year storm event and it cause a serious damage to private and public property.

“We identified 48 damage sites, private property and damage in homes. Some reports had 20 homes with water in them,” Wanamaker said.

In the coming fiscal year, a study of the Hidden Valley area is being launched to determine its vulnerability to flooding.

“This is an area that has not been studied before. That is the first step to moving into construction projects to negate flooding in the future,” he said, adding the study will look at existing data, damage estimates, talking to residents, typography and drainage patterns.

“We are identifying where are the projects needs and what sort of projects can we do,” Wanamaker said. “There are channels and basins, combinations of those, bridges and such. The goal of the study is to get a list of projects that we can actually build to reduce flooding on private property and reduce damage to public infrastructure.”

Wanamaker said he already knew there was extensive damage to the Hidden Valley area from Rosa, but after talking to residents at Thursday’s meeting, he said, “We probably have more flooding damage out there than we were aware of.  Not everybody calls us.”

Pinal County Emergency Manager Charles Kmet said there was about $700,000 damage to the county’s infrastructure during the Rosa event.

“After the event is over part of what our role is, is the recovery of that community or jurisdiction,” Kmet said. “What we did specifically with Rosa is we gathered all the information from public works road crews as to how much it was costing them to repave roads, fix roads and clear debris. We were able to put a dollar figure to that.”

He said that figure of almost $700,000 was submitted to the state department of emergency military affairs and to the governor’s office. With a state gubernatorial emergency declaration, funding is opened from the governor’s emergency fund for 75 percent reimbursement.

“Each year the governor’s office has a pot of $4 million to handle disasters around the state,” Kmet said, adding the county applied for and was approved for the emergency declaration by the governor.

The matter is before the department of emergency military affairs for their analysis of the flood damage.

Meanwhile, Smith updated residents on the county’s financial status.

“Pinal County was the first county to come out of and recover from the recession,” said Smith. “We have tremendously reduced our poverty level and hauled in a lot of jobs. Our population keeps growing at a brisk pace and our growth rate is around three percent. We have some great projects that are happening in the county. There is going to be more happening in the Hidden Valley area once the overpass is completed because a lot of development interest are looking to the south.”

He said there is a lot of industrial expansion coming to the county. He said there is a coming factory for Lucent Motors going to be built in the county as well as an Attesa race and test track that will be four times larger than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The huge facility will be used as research and development for the auto industry.

“Lucent is going to be breaking ground in the spring. The Attesa track will be breaking ground in the fall. So those are just two of the big projects that will be coming to the area,” Smith said. “We have a lot of good stuff happening in the county. We continue to find additional revenue that we are able to use to lower the tax rate.”

He said five years ago, Pinal County had the second highest tax rate in the state. Today, Pinal is fourth highest on the list of 15 counties in Arizona. Smith said the supervisors’ goal is to be in the middle of the pack.

“This year we will probably reduce our tax rate and the next year we will probably reduce our tax rate again. It helps a lot of the small businesses because they are not protected by what is called the 1-percent cap,” Smith said.

Photo by Jim Headley

Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb said participating in "60 Days In" was beneficial for his department.

 

When television producers first approached Sheriff Mark Lamb about doing a reality show, he was understandably hesitant.

It was early in 2017, and Lamb was still getting his feet wet as sheriff of Pinal County. But when Lucky 8 producers reached out again in the spring of 2017, Lamb was re-thinking the proposal.

“They wanted to show what a border-state jail felt like,” Lamb said.

Sneak Peek from Thursdays episode of 60 Days In

SNEAK PEEK! Don't miss Sheriff Lamb on Thursday at 10PM during the brand new episode of 60 Days In!

Posted by 60 Days In on A&E on Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Lucky 8 produces “60 Days In” for A&E TV, and it is the network’s top-rated show. Now in its fifth season, the show sends a handful of innocent people undercover into jails. Posing as inmates, they gather information about other prisoners and staff from a vantage point usually unavailable to administration.

Previous jails filmed for the series included Clark County in Indiana and Fulton County in Georgia.

Lamb said he realized Pinal County Sheriff’s Office could gain great information at no cost to taxpayers. Filming at PCSO adult detention began in the fall of 2017 after PCSO and the TV producers did background checks on their faux inmates from diverse backgrounds.

“One had been in prison for 15 years,” Lamb said. “One was a police officer.”

The new season of “60 Days In” is airing now on Thursdays at 10 p.m.

After filming, the sheriff’s office debriefed the “cast” members and found consistent information from all participants. PCSO was instituting changes within a week. That included a body scanner purchase after learning the details of how drugs were entering the detention center.

“We didn’t get paid for the project, but we used the information to justify the purchase of the body scanner,” Lamb said.

Drugs, gangs and jail operations were focal points for PCSO in agreeing to do the series.

Had PCSO paid for a typical audit of the jail, “we would never get the intel that we got,” said Navideh Forghani, PCSO’s public information officer.

She said the department had also participated in A&E’s “Live PD” in the same way, weighing the pros and cons and seeing the benefits once they found a way to make sure everyone was safe. “Live PD,” she said, helped with recruitment, while “60 Days In” helped PCSO improve the jail.

While jail staff was as oblivious as the real inmates to the undercover operation, the sheriff said he had no intention of using the project as a “gotcha” against employees.

“We have 12-hour shifts for employees,” he said. “We wanted to make sure the programs were worthwhile.”

Lamb said his top priorities for any PCSO decision are employees, the agency, taxpayers and the county. He said he did not want the show to cost the department money. Any staff overtime required was paid by the producers.

While there were some things that went awry on the production side – participants forgetting their “back story,” for instance – there were not major issues for PCSO.

Besides the body scanners, the sheriff said the department has changed protocol, including improving the ability to lodge complaints.

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Supervisor Anthony Smith

County officials from across the state honored Pinal County Supervisor Anthony Smith for his outstanding service as President of the County Supervisors Association (CSA) at the organization’s Board of Directors meeting in November.

“It has been an absolute privilege to serve as president of this outstanding organization over the past year,” Smith said. “The work of CSA is essential to supporting local county operations throughout Arizona, and I am thankful that by working together counties had a very successful year at the Arizona State Capitol.”

Incoming CSA President and Yuma County Supervisor Russell McCloud lauded Smith for strengthening the partnership between county elected officials and state law-makers, stating: “Supervisor Smith’s leadership contributed directly to CSA’s success during the last legislative session. He is passionate about county officials engaging in the legislative process. He knows it’s the best way to help legislators understand the impacts of state policies, like if a bill increases costs to the county tax-payer or impedes local ability to be responsive to our communities. We followed his lead and CSA had one of its most productive legislative sessions in many years.”

Under Smith’s leadership, CSA worked with the governor and state legislators to address important issues impacting county finances and operations. Most notably, the state provided Arizona’s counties more than $20 million in financial relief by addressing recession-era policies that diverted county tax dollars to fund obligations of the state general fund. Also, legislators substantially amended or rejected over 30 proposals based on concerns raised by county supervisors.

“Serving as CSA’s president was an outstanding learning experience,” Smith said. “I am grateful for what we accomplished and for the inspiring support I have received from my colleagues across Arizona. I am looking forward to building on our successes in the years to come.”

“Supervisor Smith is a passionate and dedicated public servant and it was a privilege to work alongside him this year,” CSA Executive Director Craig Sullivan said. “His leadership and drive helped counties forge a production partnership with the state and that really helps government better serve the people of Arizona.”

CSA is a non-partisan research and advocacy organization representing the 61 county supervisors leading Arizona’s 15 counties. CSA serves as a forum for county leaders to address important issues facing local constituents and as a critical liaison between local county officials and the state and federal governments.

ADOT

 

Both sides in a lawsuit against Pinal County over a tax to improve roads are now waiting for a judge to decide whether that tax can continue to be collected during appeals.

The Goldwater Institute’s suit against the county and the Arizona Department of Revenue remains alive after a Maricopa County Tax Court ruled against the county in the case, Harold Vangilder et al. v. Arizona Department of Revenue et al., earlier this year. The defendants are preparing to file an appeal in the Arizona Court of Appeals Division 1.

The tax-court judgment was officially filed Nov. 15.

“It’s unfortunate the county is going to waste taxpayers’ money appealing this case when they’ve already wasted taxpayer money on the issue they were warned was illegal before the election,” Goldwater attorney Timothy Sandefur said.

At the center of the argument is Prop 417, approved by county voters in 2017. It is the funding mechanism for Prop 416, which is a plan to improve several roadways in Pinal County, including State Route 347. The Goldwater Institute, a conservative thinktank that litigates public-policy issues across the country, spoke out against Prop 417 during the campaign.

Joseph Kanefield, attorney for Pinal County, asked Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Christopher Whitten to stay the enforcement of the tax-court ruling and allow the collected monies to continue to be put into escrow until the case is finally resolved.

Whitten took up the motion Monday.

“He’s a judge who takes his time to weigh all the consequences of his decision,” Sandefur said.

Sandefur’s stand is that Pinal County opted to ignore the appropriate method of collecting sales tax for a funding project and instead devised a “scheme” that would exclude big-ticket businesses like auto dealerships, farming equipment dealers and others selling items that would generate more than $10,000 in sales tax. Kanefield argued the proposition as voted on by the public was not in the form as presented to the tax court by the plaintiffs.

“We believe the tax court erred in his ruling in terms of what was presented to the voters versus the resolution originally proposed by the Pinal Regional Transportation Authority,” Kanefield said. “Ultimately, the way the tax was structured was within the scope of the state statute that allows the RTA to propose a tax at a variable or modified rate, which is exactly what they did.”

Kanefield said if Judge Whitten rules against his motion to stay the enforcement of the tax-court ruling, he will include that issue with his appeal to the higher court.

Collection of the tax has never been suspended.

“A general principal of tax law is you don’t enjoin or stop the collection of a tax that’s being challenged in court,” Kanefield said, “because the ramifications of that are pretty severe.”

Meanwhile, Sandefur has an appeal of his own after the court denied his motion to collect $12,000 in attorney’s fees from the defendants in the case.

Pinal County has until mid-December to file its intention to appeal. Kanefield said he may ask the appeals court for an expedited process. He estimated the briefings could be completed by spring, “unless we can get the court to act quicker.”

Photo by Bruce McLaughlin

This week’s damage caused by flash flooding in Hidden Valley, specifically through Vekol Wash, is still being determined. Flowing water blocked some roads and destroyed others. Land, homes and outbuildings were damaged. Ralston Road, Amarillo Valley Road and Louis Johnson Road all had sections washed out. Pinal County estimates 20 affected homes. The rushing water moved north and flooded Ak-Chin Southern Dunes Golf Course with “catastrophic” results, causing more damage and forcing the course’s closure until at least next week. Bruce McLaughlin of McLaughlin Air shared photos of what he witnessed, including Greg McLaughlin rescuing his 4-year-old Arabian colt from the corner of Warren and Papago roads, where the Vekol crested and flowed into homes.

Photo by Bruce McLaughlin
Photo by Bruce McLaughlin
Photo courtesy Ak-Chin Southern Dunes
Photo by Bruce McLaughlin
Photo by Bruce McLaughlin
Photo by Bruce McLaughlin
Photo by Bruce McLaughlin
Photo by Bruce McLaughlin
Photo by Bruce McLaughlin

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Stephen F. McCarville, presiding judge of the Superior Court in Pinal County, has appointed two Superior Court Commissioners to fill vacancies created by the gubernatorial appointments of Robert Carter Olson and Patrick Gard to the Pinal County Superior Court bench.

Barbara A. Hazel, a former hospital administrator who currently works as a principal attorney for the Pinal County Public Defender’s Office, was selected for one of the two vacancies left by Olson and Gard earlier this week.

Karen F. Palmer, who currently works for the Pinal County Attorney’s Office as deputy county attorney prosecuting major crimes, was selected to fill the other vacancy.

McCarville thanked McDermott, Kelly Neal and Megan Weagant, who were included in the five candidates identified by the Superior Court’s Judicial Selection Committee to move forward for the judge’s consideration.

Hazel and Palmer are expected to begin their new roles as commissioners Oct. 22.

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Former county officials Lando Voyles and Paul Babeu maintain the RICO funds were not misspent.

Former Pinal County officials are at the center of a report from the Arizona Auditor General that found their offices allegedly misused anti-racketeering funds and violated conflict-of-interest policies.

The report, published Aug. 20, focused on $2.4 million managed by the offices of former Sheriff Paul Babeu and former Pinal County Attorney Lando Voyles from January 2013 to December 2016.

Auditor General Lindsey Perry forwarded the report to the Arizona Attorney General’s Office for further review.


RICO Funds

Anti-racketeering monies are forfeited to law enforcement agencies and include cash and proceeds from auctioning forfeited properties.

Those funds are supposed to be awarded to nonprofit community organizations to support substance abuse prevention, education, and gang prevention efforts.

The report found Voyles allegedly did not always follow procedures to ensure the money was spent appropriately.


Expenditures not monitored

Of the 82 awards given to 225 community organizations during the time period, 77 did not provide a memorandum of understanding with the county attorney.

“Accordingly, the uses of the awarded monies could not be determined,” the report stated.

Additionally, half of all the awards did not have applications or written proposals from the beneficiaries and those that did, included incomplete or missing documentation. The County allegedly could not provide documents to show the Community Outreach Fund Committee evaluated the awards as procedure requires.

In a majority of those awards reviewed by the state, the county attorney allegedly did not monitor the organizations’ expenditures.

“For example, monies were spent on unauthorized purposes such as appreciation events for county sheriff employees and their families and construction for a church dance studio,” according to the report.

Current Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer said in a response included with the report that his administration took action to account for and document all requests for anti-racketeering money when he took office in January 2017.

PCAO now requires those requests be accompanied by applications. Applicants must submit a letter explaining the intended uses and goals of expenditures.

Voyles previously threatened Volkmer with legal action in 2016 when Volkmer spoke out about the previous administration’s handling of RICO funds.


Former sheriff’s staff did not disclose conflicts of interest

The report also alleges Babeu and his staff allegedly violated conflict of interest policies and often did not abstain from involvement in anti-racketeering award decisions.

The Arizona Public Safety Foundation received the largest number of awards out of any organization, equaling a total of $683,406.

County sheriff employees held officer positions on the foundation’s Board, performed accounting functions, approved transactions, held foundation credit cards in their names and allegedly initiated some of those funds on the foundation’s behalf.

In all, the report states the former sheriff and county attorney dispersed $151,645 of community outreach award monies for unauthorized purposes that benefited their own programs, such as Babeu’s morale, welfare and recreation programs.

“These included events such as golf outings, holiday banquets, a Diamondbacks baseball game and movie nights,” the report stated.

More than $60,000 was used to produce public service announcements for both offices, unrelated to substance abuse prevention, education and gang prevention.

Current Sheriff Mark Lamb said PCSO has separated from the Public Safety Foundation and instituted a new process for the review of anti-racketeering fund requests. A new committee was formed to review those requests, along with other policy changes.


Former county officials say report found no wrongdoing

Babeu and Voyles maintained RICO funds were not misspent, according to a written statement sent to InMaricopa Thursday.

“The violations noted are not laws or statutes of Arizona or federal government,” Babeu wrote. “They are policies and procedures put in place by the former County Attorney Lando Voyles, as guidelines.”

Voyles said he welcomed the audit and it proved his office and Babeu’s were compliant with state and federal laws.

“I knew the audit would prove what every independent audit said, that we’ve vastly improved policies procedures and reporting,” Voyles said.

In 2017, those policies turned to law, according to Volkmer.

House Bill 2477 amended state law and required authorized purposes for county anti-racketeering funds. The law also now requires documentation and information to request and award those funds.

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Pinal County Recorder Virginia Ross is reminding voters and potential voters that the midterm election will be soon upon us.

“Time is running out to register to vote,” Ross stated. “It’s important that if you have any questions about if you are registered or not, to give our Citizen Contact Center a call at (520) 509-3555 or by cell at 3-1-1.” Or check the status of your registration at Voter View https://voter.azsos.gov/VoterView/RegistrantSearch.do

If you would like to register to vote, you can find a voter registration form at most city, county and state offices or libraries. The Recorder’s Office will mail you a form if you call and request it at 520-509-3555. You can also go online to the EZ Voter Registration page https://servicearizona.com/webapp/evoter to complete a form electronically.

If you would like to be on the Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL), you can go to: http://www.pinalcountyaz.gov/Recorder/Pages/PermanentEarlyVotingRegistration.aspx and download a request. You can also fill one out at the Pinal County Voter Registration Office in Florence or at either Pinal County Recorder’s Office satellite locations in Casa Grande and Apache Junction.

Important dates for Upcoming Elections

Primary Election
July 14, Military & Overseas Registered Voters ballots are mailed
July 30, Last Day to Register to Vote
Aug. 1, Early ballots are mailed to the Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL) & absentee voters; early in-person voting begins at the three Recorder’s Office locations
Aug. 28, Primary Election

General Election
Sept. 22, Military & Overseas Registered Voters ballots are mailed
Oct. 9, Last Day to Register to Vote
Oct. 10, Early ballots are mailed to the Permanent Early Voting List (PEVL) & absentee voters; early in-person voting begins at the three Recorder’s Office locations
Nov. 6, Primary Election

Offices on the ballot for the Primary Election
Voters will receive a ballot according to political party affiliation (Republican, Democrat, Green or Libertarian), Independents choose which ballot and may select “Nonpartisan” which will have only city/town contests.
• Federal offices: U.S. Senate and U.S. Representative for Congressional Districts 1, 3, and 4
• Statewide offices: Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Treasurer, Superintendent of Public Instruction, State Mine Inspector, Corporation Commissioner
• Legislative offices: State Senate (one seat) and House (two seats) for Legislative Districts 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, and 16
• County offices: Clerk of the Superior Court, Justices of the Peace, Constables, Precinct Committee Persons (partisan only)
• Cities/Towns: Primary election for city/town council members and mayor. Runoff in November, only if necessary.
• Special Taxing Districts: There may be some that participate in the primary, but most will be on the November ballot.

Offices on the ballot for the General Election
All voters will receive the same ballot for a given precinct part – all candidates from all parties that won in the primary are listed.
Same offices as discussed for the primary, except cities/towns may not be included if they don’t need runoff elections.
Additional contests:
• County, city/town, school district, special taxing district ballot measures
• School district and special taxing district governing board candidates
• Retention of judges (Arizona Supreme Court, Arizona Court of Appeals and Superior Court)
• Statewide ballot measures

Candidates
If you are interested in who has qualified for the Primary Election, you can click on the following link: http://www.pinalcountyaz.gov/elections/Documents/UpcomingElections/PrimaryCandidates.pdf

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Gov. Doug Ducey, running for re-election, addresses the Pinal Partnership. Photo by Michelle Chance

Gov. Doug Ducey highlighted a major project in Maricopa during a Friday morning networking event in Casa Grande.

The discussion happened at The Property Conference Center June 1. The event was hosted by Pinal Partnership.

Ducey said he wants to bring “commitment for resources” toward infrastructure projects in the region like Maricopa’s future State Route 347 overpass.

“State Route 347 (overpass) is going to be traveled every morning and every evening,” Ducey said. “It can use some investment.”

The $55 million project was partially funded from the city, the Arizona Department of Transportation and a $15 million TIGER grant. The grade-separation is projected to transport motorists over the Union Pacific Railroad by 2019.

Ducey’s half-hour long speech touted legislative actions at the state level. On the top of the list were tax cuts and 160,000 new private sector jobs in Arizona since 2015, according to the governor.

“The last time unemployment was this low, you were renting your movies at Blockbuster,” Ducey said.

Education spending was also considered a victory.

Ducey approved funding for a 20 percent salary increase for teachers last month. One percent of that figure was dispersed to districts last school year.

“We just finished one of the most significant Legislative sessions in our state’s history. These are teachers that have earned this pay increase and they deserve it because Arizona children are improving faster in math and reading than any other kids in the country,” Ducey said.

Arizona is working to combat its challenges, according to its highest elected official.

Ducey outlined the state’s plan to combat the opioid addiction crisis that has stricken most of the country.

Tackling Arizona’s portion of the nation’s border security is an issue Ducey said requires a careful balance.

While combating human trafficking, drug cartels and illegal immigration at the Mexico border, Ducey said keeping a positive relationship with Arizona’s No. 1 trade partner is also priority.

“I don’t want to see us build a wall around the economy,” he said.

A low-cost rabies clinic and dog licensing event is this weekend.

 

Dog owners can purchase licensing and vaccinations for man’s best friend in Maricopa this weekend.

The Pinal County Animal Care and Control will hold the clinic May 26 at City Hall from 9-11 a.m. City Hall is located at 39700 W. Civic Center Plaza.

Saturday’s event will be the only clinic hosted in Maricopa this year. See others…

License Fees:
Unaltered Dog: $30 (Annual fee)
Altered Dog: $15 (Annual fee)
Three-year Altered Dog License: $35
Senior-Citizen Altered Dog: (Proof of age required)

  • 1-year license: $6
  • 3-year license: $15

Altered Dog late fee: $2 per month
Unaltered Dog late fee: $4 per month

Vaccination Fee:
Rabies: $9

Call 520-509-3555.

Supervisor Anthony Smith talks about a recovering economy in his State of the County address. Photo by Michelle Chance

The Maricopa Chamber of Commerce hosted its first State of the County address Thursday evening.

Former city Mayor and current Pinal County Supervisor Anthony Smith led the conversation May 18 inside Elements Event Center.

Smith touted Pinal’s progress since the economic downturn at the beginning of the last decade.

“We are the first county to recover all the jobs that were lost during the recession,” Smith said.

Pinal’s unemployment rate as the recession peaked was higher than 11 percent. It’s now 4.6 percent, according to Smith.

“That basically means everybody who wants a job, has a job,” Smith said.

Pinal tops the state in growth at 14.49 percent. Maricopa County is second. However, the rapid development brings to the county a fair share of challenges.

Smith said the county has included goals in its strategic plan to lessen tax burdens on residents.

By 2021, the goal is to have the property tax rate reduced to 3.75 percent. Smith said property valuations and state tax revenues are growing.

The biggest slice in the county’s budget, 62 percent of the pie, goes to law enforcement, the adult detention center and the judicial system.

Pinal County Sherriff Mark Lamb said since being elected in 2016, the county jail population has decreased by nearly 200 prisoners.

“It’s not because we’re not arresting people,” Lamb said. “We are protecting these communities, but we’ve been working well with the County Attorney’s Office and we’re reducing your cost for you, the taxpayer.”

Smith talked about problems the county plans to address in the Maricopa area, including State Route 347.

The solution in Smith’s eyes was, of course, last year’s two, successful RTA ballot initiatives that are meant to improve roadways across the county.

Smith often called upon the county’s “brain trust” to speak to the work county employees are doing to increase its job prospects, tourism and big business.

Those appearances featured presentations from County Public Works Director Louis Anderson, County Manager Greg Stanley, Economic Development Program Manager Tim Kanavel and Joel Millman, Workforce Development Program Management for Arizona@Work Pinal County.

A glimpse into Pinal’s ideal future included road improvements, solving chronic flooding issues, reversing the exodus of workers outside the county and local job creation.

Arizona House Rep. Vince Leach (R-District 11), Mayor Christian Price, Maricopa Justice of the Peace Lyle Riggs, Constable Bret Roberts and city council members also attended the event.


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County Supervisor Anthony Smith (District 4) in his Maricopa office. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

 

In what will be a first for Maricopa, a State of the County Address is scheduled for May 17, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce.

IF YOU GO
What: State of the County
When: May 17, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Elements Event Center at Ak-Chin Circle
Who: Supervisor Anthony Smith
How much: Individuals $35; table of eight $280
RSVP: MaricopaChamber.org

District 4 Supervisor Anthony Smith of Maricopa will talk about what’s happened in the past year and what’s ahead for Pinal County. Smith said outgoing chamber executive Terri Crain approached him about providing the update as a chamber fundraiser.

Though Maricopa is the second-largest municipality in Pinal County, Smith acknowledged many of its residents know more about what is happening in Maricopa County.

“We’re going to identify what kind of services we bring here, where the county offices are at the library/health department/HUD,” Smith said. There is a fair county presence in Maricopa, but we’ll eventually need more. It’s just a matter of growth.”

Smith is bringing with him several elected and appointed county officials, from County Manager Greg Stanley to Sheriff Mark Lamb. In fact, he’s set aside two tables for county personnel.

“I’m going to emphasize teamwork between the county and the city,” Smith said.

Atop that list is the successful campaign for the regional transportation authority. Though it is still in court on a lawsuit from the Goldwater Institute (and probably will be for the summer, Smith predicted), it saw a variety of Maricopa entities and individuals come together in support.

The teamwork of the county and local flood control districts and the Army Corps of Engineers, he said, will be crucial to Maricopa’s ability to grow.

He will also talk about the growing job market, predicting Maricopa will provide 25 percent of the labor for new projects in the county. Maricopa, he said, has a well-educated work force, “and that’s an advantage when recruiting for jobs.”

Smith said Pinal was the first county to manage its way out of the recession and continues the highest rate of growth (14.5 percent compared to Maricopa County’s 12.5 percent).

In his forays into District 4, Smith also fields concerns and complaints the county needs to address. Those include emergency-response time in rural areas, illegal dumping and code compliance.

Overall, however, he thinks Pinal County is on strong footing.

“Our finances are very solid,” Smith said. “We have a decent reserve. We balance our budgets.”


This story appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.