Coun­cil can­di­dates speak at fo­rum

Yuma Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BY BLAKE HERZOG @BLAKEHERZOG

The six Yuma City Coun­cil con­tenders met Wednesday in a coun­cil can­di­date fo­rum where the ma­jor­ity of the au­di­ence-gen­er­ated ques­tions con­cerned bud­get-re­lated mat­ters, in­clud­ing spend­ing, taxes and sup­port for in­di­vid­ual items like po­lice salar­ies or parks.

The event was spon­sored by the Yuma County Cham­ber of Com­merce and mod­er­ated by Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor John Cour­tis. Each can­di­date was asked a dif­fer­ent ques­tion at ran­dom, given 45 sec­onds to an­swer, and oth­ers on the panel were given 15 sec­onds to re­spond if they used one of their three “re­sponse cards.”

Gary Knight, an in­cum­bent city coun­cil­man and deputy mayor, was asked how the city can cover the cost of rais­ing po­lice of­fi­cer pay and spend­ing on road main­te­nance, while not rais­ing taxes or dis­rupt­ing eco­nomic growth, which has picked up re­cently with an­nounce­ments of man­u­fac­tur­ers bringing new jobs to the area.

He said more growth is the so­lu­tion. “We’ve got to bring the busi­nesses here and we’re in the process, we’ve been do­ing that re­ally well for the last cou­ple years, ev­ery­thing we’ve been do­ing is fi­nally com­ing to­gether. We’ve seen a lot of new busi­nesses come here with new em­ploy­ees, our prop­erty tax rev­enue is going up, our sales tax rev­enue is in­creas­ing.

“And that’s the only way we can in­crease the city’s rev­enues so we can pay the first re­spon­ders more money,” he said.

Can­di­date Kristina Ro­jas McNair, a man­ager at Yuma Regional Med­i­cal Cen­ter, re­sponded there’s more to be done from within. “We do need to in­crease our tax base, that will ab­so­lutely help it, but there’s a lot we can do with­out even going that route,” she said.

“Look­ing through our city bud­get, there are some de­part­ments which have had bud­get in­creases over the last two years — 402 per­cent. What is that 402 per­cent, and why did we in­crease it that much? Let’s ask those ques­tions. Look­ing at some of these other de­part­ments, you’re see­ing in­creases of 31 per­cent, 26 per­cent. What is going on in two years?” She did not say which de­part­ments or how many dol­lars are in­volved with those in­creases.

Les­lie McClen­don, a for­mer two-term city coun­cil mem­ber in the run­ning after be­ing off the coun­cil for two years, said bud­get dis­cus­sions at the coun­cil level should be more in-depth than they have been in the past few years.

“I’d like to go back to where I had started in the be­gin­ning, where each depart­ment comes in front of coun­cil and dis­cusses their bud­gets, their de­part­ments, their needs, their wants, what we can make some changes and ad­just­ments with, but I want to be able to talk di­rectly to the de­part­ments. I feel that’s most im­por­tant in be­ing able to de­ter­mine a thor­ough bud­get plan,” she said.

The just-opened Pa­cific Av­enue Ath­letic Com­plex has the sup­port of all the can­di­dates who were asked about it, but Ken Ro­se­vear, for­mer ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the cham­ber, said he looks ahead with some trep­i­da­tion.

“Based on the pro­jec­tions, it’s going to be pretty good. But mak­ing pay­ments on a $14 mil­lion bond is a tough nut to crack. I am fully in sup­port of the pro­grams that are com­ing about with the PAAC and I’m op­ti­mistic that those num­bers will come about. That goes for any mea­sure, when we stretch a bond is­sue, we’d bet­ter be able to pay for it. And if it doesn’t hap­pen, we’re in big trou­ble,” he said.

Greg Counts, a re­tired Yuma po­lice lieu­tenant, said the city’s parks and recre­ation depart­ment will need to con­tinue mar­ket­ing the six-field soft­ball com­plex to tour­na­ments, but its lo­ca­tion is ideal for do­ing that.

“We are in the hub, be­tween San Diego and Phoenix, we have a great area to have a PAAC. I think re­al­is­ti­cally, this is a soft­ball mecca and a base­ball mecca. This is one of those places where peo­ple from San Diego who don’t want to travel all the way to Phoenix, but they’re going to meet teams here in Yuma, from all those other places.”

Can­di­date Karen Watts, a nurse-prac­ti­tioner and ac­tive vol­un­teer with Am­berly’s Place and Cross­roads Mis­sion, said she would not sup­port rais­ing the city sales tax to the state av­er­age and freez­ing prop­erty tax rates, a propo­si­tion sim­i­lar to one re­jected by vot­ers last Novem­ber.

“I’m not in fa­vor of a sales tax in­crease. I think we’re al­ready at the high­est sales tax al­ready, so no, I’m not in fa­vor of that, no,” she said.

Counts re­sponded that he would fa­vor a sales tax in­crease, which brings in rev­enue from both res­i­dents and visitors, and said Yuma’s is ac­tu­ally one of the low­est in the state.

“The to­tal sales tax, I thought we were at like a 10 per­cent, I thought that was ... no?” Watts asked. The cur­rent city sales tax is 1.7 per­cent, which when com­bined with state and county taxes adds up to 8.41 per­cent.

Other ques­tions touched on sub­jects not tied di­rectly to bud­get pol­icy, in­clud­ing the city’s ef­forts to es­tab­lish a “Univer­sity of Yuma” in Old Town South, to re­vi­tal­ize the downtown area and cre­ate more ed­u­ca­tional op­tions for res­i­dents.

McClen­don said she would rather sup­port the growth of Ari­zona West­ern Col­lege, which is of­fer­ing four-year pro­grams in con­junc­tion with the state uni­ver­si­ties.

“The pro­gram that they did at coun­cil be­fore was very in­for­ma­tive, but I can tell you I am not for that univer­sity. I truly be­lieve we can uti­lize what we have and work with (Ari­zona West­ern Univer­sity) and (North­ern Ari­zona Univer­sity), and try to bring the pro­grams to a four-year de­gree in that area, and try to de­velop the downtown into some­thing a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent than the univer­sity,” she said.

Watts was asked about her view of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween city coun­cil and the city staff: “We look to our staff to be pro­fes­sion­als and to be sub­ject ex­perts in their field, so I think they should def­i­nitely take part in the re­treats and con­fer­ences, ask them the ques­tions, and mak­ing sure that cit­i­zens are also in­volved and get their opin­ion.

“But the staff should be pro­fes­sion­als and ex­perts in their field, and look upon them for ad­vice and use them, along with the cit­i­zens, to make hard de­ci­sions.”

A cou­ple queries in­volved code com­pli­ance is­sues, and Knight was asked how many cars are al­lowed to be parked in a res­i­den­tial front yard. He replied he doesn’t think there’s a spe­cific num­ber, but the coun­cil had re­cently up­dated the code with re­vised re­quire­ments based more on dis­tance from prop­erty lines.

“You can park no closer than 5 feet from the prop­erty line in the front set­back, and you can also park at the side of the house, you can park in the drive­way, I don’t think you can be any closer to the prop­erty line than 5 feet. You can’t park a ve­hi­cle there per­ma­nently, it needs to be some­thing that you’re us­ing, it comes and goes,” he said.

Ro­se­vear ended up with two ques­tions about the city’s role in ad­dress­ing home­less­ness, which he said is mainly done through sup­port of so­cial ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tions. “They need to be dealt with, and you’ve seen the sit­u­a­tion in Cal­i­for­nia where they’re now in dis­ease mode of home­less­ness, and we can’t let it get that way,” re­fer­ring to a hep­ati­tis A out­break in San Diego. “We have to prop­erly sup­port those or­ga­ni­za­tions in town which are re­spon­si­ble for it, and ex­perts in it.”

One ques­tioner noted the city of Yuma is over 50 per­cent His­panic, and wanted to know what could be done to in­sure that Latino voices are heard. Counts, a Yuma na­tive, noted that his wife is Latina while say­ing he didn’t see mak­ing any par­tic­u­lar ef­fort to in­clude the voice of a par­tic­u­lar de­mo­graphic group.

“I re­mem­ber from school, we didn’t look at color, we didn’t look at what lan­guage you spoke, it’s just you were part of that com­mu­nity. And all the de­ci­sions that we’re mak­ing up here, all the de­ci­sions the coun­cil is going to make in the years to come, need to be based on the com­mu­nity of Yu­mans.”

McNair fielded the ques­tion of how to ad­dress the need for af­ford­able hous­ing, as iden­ti­fied in a 2015 stake­holder sur­vey.

She said she hasn’t read the sur­vey, but added, “The city has ac­tu­ally done some re­ally great things. They’ve part­nered and given away prop­erty re­cently to be able to de­velop the new af­ford­able hous­ing that’s be­ing built off Ari­zona Av­enue. I think the city needs to con­tinue ef­forts like that to in­crease af­ford­able hous­ing in the com­mu­nity, but re­ally, we also need to step aside and let the pri­vate sec­tor do what it does best, which is pro­vide for those needs.”

The town hall was held at the Yuma Civic Cen­ter. on the same day the Yuma County Recorder’s Of­fice be­gan send­ing out early bal­lots for the Nov. 7 elec­tion.

County Recorder Robyn Stall­worth Pou­quette, in re­marks just be­fore the fo­rum started, im­plored the nearly 25,000 res­i­dents who would be re­ceiv­ing those to re­turn them, as only about 27 per­cent did for the Au­gust pri­mary elec­tion.

Buy this photo at Yu­maSun.com PHOTO BY RANDY HOEFT/YUMA SUN

YUMA CITY COUN­CIL GEN­ERAL ELEC­TION CAN­DI­DATE GREG COUNTS (left) opens Wednesday’s Yuma City Coun­cil Can­di­date Town Hall at the Yuma Civic Cen­ter with his po­si­tion state­ment. Also seated on the dais are (from left) in­cum­bent Gary Knight, for­mer coun­cil mem­ber Les­lie McClen­don, Kristina Ro­jasMcNair, Ken Ro­se­vear and Karen Watts. Fol­low­ing their po­si­tion state­ments, the can­di­dates fielded ques­tions from the au­di­ence.

Buy this photo at Yu­maSun.com PHOTO BY RANDY HOEFT/YUMA SUN

MARIA CHAVOYA uses her cell­phone to video Wednesday’s Yuma City Coun­cil Can­di­date Town Hall at the Yuma Civic Cen­ter.

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