Yuma candidates address local issues in forum
Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories covering the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce Council Candidate Forum held Tuesday. The second part will appear in the Thursday edition of the Yuma Sun.
Seven candidates vying for three open seats on the Yuma City Council addressed local issues in a forum held Tuesday at Arizona Western College, moderated by Yuma Sun Editor Roxanne Molenar.
Candidates answered questions previously submitted by citizens during four rounds. The candidates included William Craft, a retired Marine and banker and former council member; Gary Knight, a current council member and retired business owner; Arturo Morales, a banker and community advocate; Robert Scarborough, co-owner of several family businesses; Edward Thomas, a veteran and former council member; Carol Smith, a nurse educator and former school board member; and Nicolle Wilkinson, a construction project manager and architect and former board member of the Southwest Technical Education District of Yuma.
Asked how the city can attract the right businesses, Craft stressed the need to build up the quality of life by focusing on the art center, parks and golf courses, as well as making sure the streets are clean and repaired and police officers taken care of.
Knight, on being asked about construction of a multi-story story parking facility downtown, said he “absolutely” supports it. He pointed to a $10.6 million federal grant that the city received for a downtown multimodal transportation hub and noted that developers had said they would invest in downtown only if the city got the grant. One of the conceptual drawings he has seen includes a three-level parking garage, he added.
Morales, talking about
the housing shortage and rising prices of single-family homes, said he would support rezoning more land for lower-cost multifamily housing and high-density residential housing. He noted that he works with several local organizations that frequently face housing shortages for their employees and members, such as the hospital, college and military installations.
Asked about conflicts, Scarborough clarified he does not have any as his companies do “zero” business with the city.
Smith, in reply to a question about her experience with budgets, noted that while serving on the Crane school board, she helped to manage an annual budget of $51 million. “We weren’t managing it to make money. We were taking every dollar to spread it across the district and serve those families and students as best we could,” she said.
Thomas, asked what steps he would take to resolve concerns in the city, said he wouldn’t point fingers and post blame on social media. Instead, he added, he would step up, address the issues directly and come up with solutions.
In a question about the police pay, Wilkinson said that in speaking with officers, the shortage is not just about pay. She noted that she would eliminate the second deputy administrator position to fund a mental health counselor for public safety specifically. Bonuses would also go a long way, she added.
Craft, who serves on the police retirement board, said that officers also leave due to family issues. “We need to make Yuma a place they want to stay,” he noted. He also suggested retention bonuses and noted that due to compression some sergeants don’t want to get promoted because it would mean a pay cut.
Asked about development fees, Knight said they should stay the same although they don’t completely pay for development because they serve as an incentive for developers to bring in and build new projects, both commercial or residential. “If we raise fees, it would be detrimental,” Knight said, adding that the city needs to keep the fees as low as possible, especially in view of the rising costs of labor and materials.
In addressing the drought and shrinking water supplies in the Colorado River, Morales said Yuma might be losing industry to Maricopa County now, but he foresees that the Phoenix-metro communities will come looking for Yuma’s water in the future. He stressed the need to work with the Yuma mayor and other mayors in the community to address this with the governor to make sure Yuma’s water is protected.
Scarborough said his No. 1 priority is a fiscally responsible budget and not wasting money in “grant building projects that only benefit a small segment of society.” First and foremost , he noted, is public safety. If Yuma keeps spending money on grant projects, the city won’t have funds for the “most important things” like police and parks that citizens need and use on a daily basis, he added.
Asked to identify wasteful spending, Smith said she has reviewed the budget, and although she’s not a financial expert, she is willing to listen to the current council and community to learn where they believe there is wasteful spending.
Thomas, in explaining what he would do with a $1 million gift, no strings attached, said he would build regulation-size football fields so young men can play football.
Asked about funding public safety health counselors, Wilkinson reiterated that she’s the only candidate to have stated that she wants to get rid of the second deputy administrator position to fund a mental health advocate for public safety. It would be an excellent way to show them support and protect their mental and physical health, she added.
The Yuma Mayoral Candidate Forum will take place Thursday during the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce “Good Morning, Yuma!” breakfast. Doug Nicholls, the current mayor, is being challenged by Karen Watts, a current council member.
The breakfast will start at 6:30 a.m., followed by the program at about 7 a.m., at the Arizona Western College Schoening Center. A limited number of online registrations and tickets at the door will be available until the event sells out for $35 for chamber members and $55 for nonmembers. The link to purchase breakfast tickets in advance is https://tinyurl.com/2p9cayzd.
A few complimentary seats will be available for those not wanting breakfast. Advance registration is not available for the complimentary seats and will be first-come, first-served that morning.