State of the Town: Growth continues to drive projects in Queen Creek

Students in the American Sign Language class at Queen Creek High School, foreground, signed the pledge of allegiance while children from Queen Creek Elementary School, far right, recited the pledge to open the Feb. 21 meeting of the Queen Creek Town Council. After the regular meeting, Mayor Gail Barney and members of the council presented the town’s State of the Town address. (Independent Newsmedia/Wendy Miller)

 

Citing support from residents and the business community as strong contributors of the Town of Queen Creek’s successes in 2017, Mayor Gail Barney led his fellow town council members in thanking the community for their role in supporting the recent accomplishments of the municipality.

Queen Creek Mayor Gail Barney

Mayor Barney made his comments during the annual State of the Town address presented Feb. 21 at the Queen Creek Community Chambers, 20727 E. Civic Parkway, during the council’s regular session.

About 100 people attended the address to hear specifics about the milestones the town achieved last year as well as to peek into projects and events planned for 2018.

Touching most future plans and projects is the town’s desire to retain its small-town feel while meeting the needs of its growing population of about 45,000 souls.

Throughout his career as an elected official, Mayor Barney has been vocal about his love for Queen Creek, which he calls near and dear to his heart. His family moved to Queen Creek when he was 6 months old. His is one of the town’s founding families who are still actively involved in the community.

“This council, and the councils before us, have made a concerted effort to honor our past. In 2017, we unveiled our first historical marker at Desert Wells Stage Stop. As we continue to find opportunities to celebrate our history, we also strive to support our agritainment destinations. Sossaman Farms, Hayden Flour Mill, the Olive Mill and Schnepf Farms continue to be outstanding partners and economic drivers for our community,” Mayor Barney said in his opening remarks.

The 30-minute presentation interspersed videos of staff members discussing achievements that support the town’s five strategic priorities — effective government, secure future, superior infrastructure, safe community and quality lifestyle — with council members reporting on each topic.

Fiscally responsible

During the Great Recession, the town’s annual budget tumbled from $134.2 million for fiscal year 2008-09 to $59.4 million for fiscal year 2012-13.

One way to make ends meet was to cut its number of full-time employees by nearly half, leaving the remaining staff and elected officials to serve a population that continued to grow — from 25,939 in 2008-09 to 29,510 in 2012-13 — despite the economic downturn.

Today, Queen Creek’s annual budget is $213.1 million. The comeback has earned the town high marks from two of the nation’s leading credit rating agencies: S&P and Fitch Ratings.

In 2017, both affirmed the town’s AA rating that in 2016 Fitch gave a two-notch upgrade from A+ to AA. At that time, a Fitch representative commented a two-notch upgrade is not common, noting the local economy had been exhibiting growth and the town “was doing a good job managing its debt and pension costs.”

The town also has been recognized for its financial reporting. In 2017, it received a Government Finance Officers Association Certificate of Achievement for the fiscal year 2015-16 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

It marked the 12th consecutive year the town has been so honored.

Opening doors

Sauce Pizza and Wine opened in October in the Queen Creek Marketplace and held a ribbon-cutting ceremony shortly afterward. (Special to the Independent/Queen Creek Chamber of Commerce)

The hub of commerce continues to be the Town Center, a core area in downtown Queen Creek that extends in all directions from the intersection of South Ellsworth and East Ocotillo roads.

The Queen Creek Marketplace and QC District shopping centers anchor the corridor along Ellsworth Loop Road between Rittenhouse and Ocotillo roads.

Meanwhile newer and smaller retail centers — such as Heritage Square and Queen Creek Fiesta — are filling in the gaps between the larger retail centers and Old Ellsworth Road.

Most homes along Old Ellsworth have been converted into small business establishments. The move is part of an effort by the town to create a walkable downtown area.

Municipal buildings

As 2017 rolled in, the Town began rolling out its new municipal facilities. On March 29, it celebrated the opening of the new Fire Station No. 1, a state-of-the art facility at 20678 E. Civic Parkway.

Members of the Queen Creek community joined with elected officials and town staff for a photo Aug. 29 to mark the opening of the Queen Creek Fire and Medical Department Station No. 3, 19159 E. Queen Creek Road. (Special to the Independent/Town of Queen Creek)

Then in August, it held an open house to introduce residents to Queen Creek Fire and Medical Department Fire Station No. 3 at 19159 E. Queen Creek Road. It is the third of five fire stations planned to serve the community and the first permanent neighborhood station in the town’s history.

With two fire and medical facilities and 15 additional firefighters to serve them, the Queen Creek Fire and Medical Department reports its average response time has been reduced from 4 minutes, 49 seconds in 2016 to 4 minutes, 35 seconds in 2017.

On Aug. 19 the town celebrated the completion of its Law Enforcement and Community Chambers Building, 20727 E. Civic Parkway.

The new building houses Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office District 6 — Queen Creek, the town’s contracted law enforcement provider, as well as town council, planning and zoning commission and other public meetings.

Going green

Planning for the future expands beyond numbers on a page. The Town is also committed to creating an environmentally sound future.

Residents participating in the town’s 2017 Do More Blue recycling programs diverted 244 tons of material from the landfill, a 6 percent increase from 2016. The community also diverted more than 1,000 gallons of oil from the landfill and the town’s sewer system, a 36 percent increase over the previous year.

A 700-plant capacity nursery created by the town’s municipal grounds division combines technology with eco-friendly technology. Composed of reusable pots, automated irrigation systems and a greenhouse, the process should increase the survival rates of the plants while saving money.

Its seedlings will be planted along the Sonoqui Wash expansion where they will grow into trees and provide shade.

When the new 30-acre Mansel Carter Oasis Park opens this fall, it will use reclaimed water for its grass and lake, which allows fish to be caught and consumed.

All roads lead to Queen Creek

The advertising catchphrase “new and improved” could be applied to most major roads in the Town of Queen Creek as there are few that have been untouched to accommodate the Town’s residential and commercial growth.

The Town and Maricopa County Department of Transportation are in Phase 3 of a $14.5 million project to widen Riggs Road between Ellsworth and Meridian roads. When finished it will be the second roadway to connect the Town’s east and west boundaries.

Work has begun to extend Crismon Road from Queen Creek to Germann roads. It will provide another north-side connection for traffic.

Looking forward to 2018, road projects will include realigning and softening the Ellsworth Loop/Ellsworth Road curve at the Queen Creek Road intersection to improve traffic flow and movement, and widening Power Road between Brooks Farm to Ocotillo Road.

The additional thoroughfares will be necessary to accommodate the growth Queen Creek experienced in 2017. The Town issued about $430 million in construction permits, while 2,700 new residents moved in.

Thanks to annexation efforts, the Town also has expanded its physical presence. In 2017, it annexed Banner Health’s Banner Ironwood Medical Center, a three-parcel property on about 80 acres at 37000 N. Gantzel Road, and the Amerco property — two parcels on about 40 acres at the southeast corner of Empire Boulevard and Ellsworth Road.

Both were in San Tan Valley; they remain in Pinal County.

This year, it is expected to annex the Ironwood Crossing residential subdivision, which will increase its incorporated limits from 26 square miles to 30.2 miles.

“As the community continues to grow, we will continue to make roadways a priority,” Mayor Barney said in his closing remarks. “Thank you for joining us this evening, and to everyone who helps make Queen Creek such a wonderful place. Together, we will continue to make our community a special place for generations to come.”

 

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