by Greg Stanley, County Manager, Pinal County
Pinal County is in the middle of one of its busiest times of the year – budget season. A decade ago, the county was entering the Great Recession. Today, revenues are up and people continue to move here for the lifestyle and affordability. There has been a steady rise over the past four years in building permits. In fact, we are currently 10 percent ahead of last year’s numbers. Our current population, according to Census estimates, have us at over 430,000 residents. In the year 2000, Pinal County’s population was 188,000.
The Pinal County Board of Supervisors recognized that transportation is a significant issue, and challenged staff to find ways to fund our transportation needs. The resulting Regional Transportation Authority is in fullswing, despite a lawsuit from the Goldwater Institute trying to stop the collection of a half-cent excise tax for major transportation improvements in the county. Collection of that tax began on April 1. In March, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Chris Whitten denied an injunction that would have stopped collection of the excise tax.
The RTA is going to make Pinal County a place where you can get there from here. It may seem like a long way down the road, but in 20 years Pinal County’s regional transportation will be able to handle the needs of a growing county.
We are grateful that Pinal County voters approved this measure. It’s a harsh reality that the county cannot depend on the state or the federal government to help us meet our needed transportation infrastructure. It’s interesting to note that the excise tax is estimated to cost each household about $7.33 per month. A monthly transit pass for the Washington D.C. area costs travelers $237.
We feel you are getting a bargain for what you are paying.
“To fail to plan is to plan to fail,” former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill said as his country was in the middle of World War II. Taking those words to heart, our Board of Supervisors has been charting a path for Pinal County. The Supervisors have led a strategic planning initiative since 2014. We are currently in the second round of that initiative.
It’s no surprise that the board still wants to focus our efforts on economic development in this second round of strategic planning. But there is more to put our efforts toward in order to make Pinal County successful.
Our key strategic priorities are:
- Vibrant communities
- Economic development
- Infrastructure expansion
- Financial health
The strategic goals within our priorities are:
- Dynamic live-work-play communities
- Business needs met to assure stability and growth
- Infrastructure that fosters growth and sustainability
- Sound and safe financial stewardship
- Talented employees that serve residents well
- Technology that results in safety and efficiency
All of these strategic goals are underway, and some are becoming close to seeing major portions of them finished. One goal under the “dynamic live-work-play communities” is completing special area plans for some Pinal County communities that are unincorporated.
The board recently heard an update to a current special-area plan for San Tan Valley. This study is taking a microscopic look at San Tan Valley. The purpose of this area plan is to examine the unique issues, concerns and needs of the San Tan Valley area to establish public policy and guidance for future growth. There have already been several community meetings held to hear feedback and to gather ideas that residents want to offer regarding the future they want to see for San Tan Valley. Over 700 people have attended these meetings and their input has been invaluable. It certainly indicates that the people of San Tan Valley have tremendous pride in where they live and a great desire to be involved in the development of their community.
Our second strategic priority is economic development. The county took some vital steps forward in this area in the first round of strwategic planning. For instance, goals were set to make Pinal County more business-friendly by streamlining the permit process and developing a business assistance program. All of these goals were accomplished. This second round of strategic planning has more of a focus on keeping the wheels rolling when it comes to our progress in economic development. We are aiming to increase the number of jobs coming to Pinal County, and we are also focusing on the development of a skilled and talented labor force.
While we could just focus on bringing jobs to Pinal County, we are more focused on bringing careers to the county. The Board of Supervisors strongly pushed the state to allow Pinal to have its own workforce development board. We were able to accomplish that and the results have been fantastic under the guidance of Joel Millman. Some of you may have already visited our Arizona@Work Pinal County Center in Casa Grande, located at 318 N. Florence St. It is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
The workforce development board is a group comprising local leaders and employers along with county employees, and its sole focus is connecting people who want a job to employers who need workers. There are regular meetings with local employers to gauge the need for talented employees and determine what skill sets are needed. One part I am most pleased with is the efforts of Arizona@Work Pinal County to reach our veteran population to find them employment and, if they need it, help with any issues they might have. Kim Rodriguez is a force of nature, volunteering with the nonprofit Honoring/Hiring/Helping our Heroes of Pinal County (HOHP). All veterans should feel free to stop by the center, as it offers assistance to help our veterans get a job, sort out their VA Benefits or just to have a cup of coffee and meet other veterans.
Central Arizona College (CAC) is changing secondary education in Pinal. It is both leading and partnering with a multitude of agencies on a new approach to developing the workforce of the 21st Century. CAC has pushed out more classes that focus on technical development and advanced manufacturing. With the jobs forecasted by economists and emerging businesses, we’re going to need a workforce that specializes in actually building the infrastructure, such as offices, roads, electrical distribution and more. The college is also reaching out to employers and finding out what skills they need and is working to develop programs that enhance our workforce’s abilities. Check out the advanced manufacturing academy for 7th to 10th grade students, a program that the Board of Supervisors is proud to sponsor.
As many of you know, the western side of Pinal County has been abuzz with activity when it comes to economic development. Attesa, a major motorsports and research complex, should be completing its plans and receiving permits to start construction. This one project is expected to bring over 10,000 jobs to the area. Lucid Motors, a startup luxury electric car company, is still working on financing its endeavor and we believe will soon get its manufacturing plant off the paper and onto the ground. Dreamport Villages, a 618-acre park, resort and retail complex, has submitted plans to the City of Casa Grande. This project will add 5,000 to 6,000 jobs for Pinal County.
On the eastern side of the county, Resolution Copper is investing $10 billion to develop one of the deepest mines in the world. At 7,000 feet, the company will have stateof-the-art equipment to tap into a large, rich deposit of copper. The miners will not be carrying picks and shovels, but college degrees as they mine the copper with robots, since the depth of the vein is too deep for humans to mine safely.
When you look at Pinal County’s Economic Development efforts, you see a focus on tomorrow’s technology. From Resolution Copper’s robot miners to the cars of the future being tested at Attesa and built at Lucid, Pinal County is beginning on a journey of being on the leading edge of technological revolution when it comes to jobs and cars.
A key component in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was the economic opportunity zone program, which is a new national investment program that brings private capital to low-income communities in America. In a nutshell, this allows investors a tax incentive to reinvest their unrealized capital gains into opportunity funds that will lower the tax on that money if the fund invests it into this program for a specified number of years. All the areas that Pinal County submitted to state and federal fovernment were accepted into the program. We are hoping to see the private sector work with us and the federal government to use this money to bring new investments and businesses into economically challenged areas of the county.
Looking at our objectives when it comes to Infrastructure Expansion, we are working hard to improve everything from road miles to air miles.
As I mentioned before with our RTA, we have a solid plan for road construction that also includes a public transportation element. When it comes to transportation, we know we must focus on a regional plan that benefits all of Pinal County from Mammoth to Maricopa. Our plan that was detailed in the RTA election shows that while we want to address a needed North/South Freeway, we also know that improving arterials from Kortsen/Kleck Road to State Route 347 is important to improve the quality of life for residents in those areas.
Our efforts at improving Pinal Air Park and its marketability as not only an airplane storage hub, but a refurbishment and repair center have been going very well. Our tenants at this county-sponsored airport have been pleased at many of the improvements to the facility. But we’re not done yet. We are looking at expanding the facility in the future to include space for hospitality and more buildings to house even more clientele that would be interested in using the air park for their aviation needs.
Looking at our financial health strategic goal. This year’s primary property tax valuation is higher than last year due to increasing property values and new construction. Through March 31, General Fund State Shared Revenue (sales and vehicle license tax) is up over 5 percent from the same period last year. Also through the end of March, General Fund County Sales Tax is up almost 8 percent from the same period last year, fueled by retail, construction and restaurants/bars.
The Board of Supervisors plans to meet the needs of the county in serving you, our residents, while reducing the primary property tax rate. In achieving these goals, it is very important to note that our numbers can be affected by the acts of the state legislature and the governor’s office. As always, it is our hope that our coffers are not raided by the legislature in an effort to balance their own books. It’s always a waiting game until the legislature declares, “sine die.”
One area we included on the strategic plan was employees. In order to serve you better, we know our employees must be educated, motivated and proud of their work.
Under leadership of Patrick Camunez, our Human Resources Director, Pinal County employees have been taking advantage of a myriad of programs from improving the workplace to training our future leaders. Recently, many of our directors took part in a seminar called “I Love Feedback.” While the overall goal is to encourage positive interactions between directors and our line employees, it also was a chance to learn more about our merit-based raises that will go into effect this year. We are looking forward to rewarding those employees who go above and beyond in serving you.
Our final strategic plan item is technology. In an environment that changes daily and even hourly, our information technology staff have their hands full in meeting the needs of our employees with the latest in equipment, software and communication technology. We recently completed a significant upgrade to the county radio system, switching from analog to digital. The new backbone system drastically improves the ability for all emergency service providers to communicate throughout Pinal County. One of the more difficult areas for IT is focusing on the broadband needs of the county, when it comes to online access for our employees to serve the people who need their help. Cybersecurity is a significant focus moving forward as we strive to safeguard all our digital information. Our information technology staff is working hard to keep ahead in a field that is ever changing.
In the words of our public works staff, “Whatever it takes,” our employees are working hard to earn and keep your trust as public servants.