Council candidates discuss debt, STV incorporation

On Aug. 2, a forum was held to ask questions of the candidates for the Queen Creek Town Council in the Aug. 30 primary election. The following is part two of a recap of the candidates’ responses to questions posed by the Queen Creek Independent and members of the public.

The forum took place at Communiversity at Queen Creek, 21740 S. Ellsworth Road, just north of the Queen Creek Branch Library. Seven of the eight candidates vying for one of three open seats on the council participated.

They were: Craig Barnes, Robin Benning, Todd Broadhead, Jeff Brown, Jake Hoffman, Matt McWilliams and Stacy Portonova. Candidate Natasha Schaeler was unable to attend due to a prior commitment. The Queen Creek Independent e-mailed her two questions prior to the forum and read her answers at the event.

About 100 people attended the event, which was presented and moderated by staff members from the Queen Creek Independent newspaper. Communiversity at Queen Creek donated the use of its community room for the forum.

The Independent has summarized their responses to questions about debt management and the possible incorporation of San Tan Valley below. Answers to questions regarding the future of Horseshoe Park and Equestrian Centre, how to determine the density of homes permitted in a subdivision and how to preserve Queen Creek’s small-town feel were printed in the Aug. 10 issue of the Independent. To view videos of the forum and the Aug. 10 story, visit the newspaper’s website at www.queencreekindependent.com.

Q&A
•As a member of the town council, would you support the incorporation of San Tan Valley? Why or why not?
Mr. Barnes said he would. He said San Tan Valley faces a problem in that state law permits anyone bordering a city or town to prevent it from being incorporated. He said the town of Florence stopped previous efforts by San Tan Valley to incorporate because Florence felt it needs the state-shared revenue. He said the incorporation would not affect the town of Queen Creek as much as Florence due to Queen Creek’s small resident base in Pinal County. Mr. Barnes said incorporation would enable San Tan Valley to create its own parks and recreation department, relieving Queen Creek’s from having to provide that service to the unincorporated area and returning those resources to Queen Creek.

Mr. Hoffman said he agreed with Mr. Barnes. He said outsiders should not be allowed to block the incorporation, adding he would not want others to tell him how to live his life or use his front yard. Mr. Hoffman said the incorporation would help Queen Creek’s property values and standard of living, saying it would allow the community to create its own standards which would increase its own property values.

Mr. Brown said he has fought for San Tan Valley’s residents to have the right to have a say in their own destiny. He said the matter is an issue of fairness, adding he did not want to say San Tan Valley should incorporate but rather the residents should have the all-American right to vote on the matter. He said the Queen Creek Town Council has passed resolutions supporting San Tan Valley’s right to vote on the matter.

Mr. Benning said he agreed with Mr. Brown. He added a community’s right to self-determination is critical to him and that San Tan Valley residents have the right to control their community and its destiny. He said the Queen Creek Town Council has said in the past it will support San Tan Valley if it wants to incorporate and never stand in its way.

Ms. Schaeler replied to the question in an e-mail prior to the forum. She wrote she would absolutely support the incorporation of San Tan Valley. She said just as Queen Creek some years ago sought to incorporate and received the support from the surrounding communities, she would support San Tan Valley, adding every community should have the freedom to incorporate and be able to enjoy the benefits related to incorporation.

No other candidates responded to this question.

As a council member, you are a protector of the town’s money. Is debt an issue for the town? What do you consider when determining whether a major expenditure will or will not benefit the town?

Mr. Brown said as a small-business owner, he recognizes there are times when one must take on debt. He said he considers the costs to carry the debt and whether there is a reasonable return on the investment in a reasonable amount of time. He said each proposal needs to be independently reviewed. Mr. Brown said when construction costs are increasing, he would be willing to look at a project now so it would net a lower cost and save the taxpayers money in the long run.

Mr. Benning said he felt it was important to understand that some things are not “pay as you go.” He said a community is going to have major investments in its infrastructure, such as building roads to solve traffic problems, a park, fire station or water. He said to increase Queen Creek’s water capacity, the town purchased the H20 Water Co., which served part of San Tan Valley, because its structure mirrored that of Queen Creek Water Co. and the town was able to purchase it for a low interest rate. He said the water rate fees are paying a profit, which in turn is used to pay down debt.

Mr. Barnes said it is important for growth to pay for growth. He said the town has spent $100 million on road improvements since he has been on the town council and will spend another $265 million on road improvements by 2026. He said the town had to take on debt to do that, noting that new Queen Creek residents will need to pay their portion of that cost.

Ms. Portonova said there is a difference between incurring debt and investing in one’s community. She said the funds should not be classified only as debt but also what the money is used for to help maintain the high quality of life enjoyed in Queen Creek.

Mr. McWilliams said interest rates are historically low and there are times a municipality has to strike while the iron is hot. He said the town is about to reduce some debt by refinancing it at a lower rate to save about $1 million. He said the town is carrying a 7 percent debt load, which he called pretty low.

Mr. Hoffman said there is a necessary place for debt and that is for critical infrastructure. He said the town needs to optimize its General Fund and only leverage the least amount of debt possible.

Mr. Broadhead said debt is OK if it helps build a community’s assets but he added community leaders also need to recognize when to back off. He said the town needs to be careful in its spending because one never knows when another recession could occur. He said he did not want to see cutbacks and layoffs in the town if another recession occurs. He also said the town needs to be careful it can cover future debts and consider if the expenditures could bring more money to the town in the future.

News Editor Wendy Miller can be contacted at 480-982-7799 and via e-mail at qcnews@newszap.com, or follow her on Twitter @WendyNewszap123.

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