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Maricopa financial plan shows population growing to 85,000 by 2029 (copy)
 Grace Harrah  / 

MARICOPA — The long-term outlook for Maricopa is strong, as long as the city sticks to a plan, council members were told Aug. 6.

The 10-year financial plan was presented at the city council work session, discussing city expenditures, revenues, economic outlook, population and funding for the next 10 years.

The plan is one of the strategic objectives that was adopted in the city’s strategic planning this year, providing a 10-year perspective on the financial aspect of the city’s general fund. The plan gives the chance for the city council to make budgetary decisions or corrections in the upcoming fiscal years, according to the presentation. The plan updates every year based on new knowledge, projecting the next 10 years.

“Any plan really is based on assumptions,” said City Manager Rick Horst. “Because we don’t know what’s going to happen in the upcoming years.”

Horst explained that those assumptions are based on past trends and current information, and the assumptions that are made in the document are very conservative.

“I think (the plan is) almost too conservative, but I would rather it be too conservative than we’d be surprised,” Horst said.

The forecast assumes operating revenue in the local taxes category to increase no more than 3.55% per year. Other general fund revenues is predicted to grow no greater than the CPI 10-year average, which is 1.53%.

“I think our growth economically will pick up in pace but there could be a recession or something that could slow it down,” Horst said.

For expenditures, the salary and wage forecast is predicted to increase annually at no more than 4%.

“The economic outlook is very promising,” Horst said.

The rise of the housing market, low unemployment and commercial development are factors that contribute to the economic development of the city. Other aspects such as high average household income at $80,801 and high education levels play a part in the advantages for the city.

Population is another growth factor that supports the economic outlook for Maricopa. Although Horst emphasized the conservative prediction, the population is expected to grow past 60,000 next year and 85,000 by the year 2029.

If the population grows faster than other municipalities, the city’s shared revenues will increase as well.

Currently, the city funds mostly come from property taxes. However, the sales tax number is growing.

“Increases come from growth — as you know we’ve had the same tax rate for five years,” Horst said.

According to the presentation, based on long-term trends and current projects, the forecast projects growth in property tax at minimal rate of 5%. Horst emphasized that this is not because of the tax rate increase but because of new construction and growth of the city.

Sales tax growth is expected to be at 3.5%, which is due to new businesses and retail developments.

There are no significant gaps between the expenditures and the revenues, Horst said, which means that the city is not over-taxing the citizens and the collected money is spent on services for Maricopa.

In the general fund forecast, Horst explained that in the Fiscal Year 2026-27, the expenditures out-pace the revenues.

“That means we’ve got seven years to start making course corrections to make sure we don’t have that dilemma,” he said.

The corrections could potentially be based on new revenues, less spending or both.

“The purpose of this is to make sure that we’re attentive to it, and we don’t wait until we have a crisis and that we prepare for it accordingly in advance of that pending day,” Horst said.

Horst recognized the financial team, including Angele Ozoemelam and Cassandra Brown, who collaborated with Horst to put the plan together.

“The decisions we make today impact tomorrow,” Horst said.

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Maricopa's Heritage Academy starts school year at Elements
 Grace Harrah  / 

MARICOPA — A new school in Maricopa is in session despite its campus not being ready to go.

Heritage Academy, a charter that selected Maricopa for its fourth school, has claimed success in its operations despite delays in the construction of its campus. Currently, classes are being held in the Elements Event Center, part of the UltraStar Multi-tainment Center.

Elements is accommodating approximately 400 students from sixth through 12th grade, along with 35 teachers, with barriers separating each classroom.

Heritage Academy has the area booked until Sept. 30. However, it is hoping to have the school built before the end of September.

Although concerns of safety and accommodation for the classrooms may be brought up, Jared Taylor, charter representative and chief executive officer of Heritage Academy, assured that the issues are managed at the temporary classrooms.

“UltraStar has great security to begin with,” Taylor said. “We also have our security protocols with our teachers. Safety is not an issue.”

The teachers have been surprised as to how well the temporary classrooms have worked out.

“It has been wonderful. I was a little worried with not having a building at first because I am an experienced teacher who is used to a classroom,” said Jennifer Titus, seventh and eighth grade science teacher. “UltraStar has been amazing. They are very accommodating to us, they have given us amazing beautiful space. No matter what room I’m in, there’s everything I need in order to teach my class the way it needs to be taught, even if we were in a traditional classroom.”

The delays have been due to the unavailability of contractors, along with delays in financing, which have now been handled, according to Taylor.

“We’re really pleased by the city leadership,” Taylor said. “It was nice to have the support from the mayor and we have respect for all the other schools.”

Principal Kimberly Ellsworth acknowledges the challenges teachers take on, such as moving to different classrooms each period, but ultimately they have been “rock stars” in the process.

“I’m not going to say it’s perfect, but they’re doing an amazing job of really focusing and making sure that the students are focusing on what’s happening in class,” Ellsworth said.

Students are sure to have no complaints when they are spending their classroom hour in a movie theater.

“Surprisingly, it’s going smoother than what we expected,” Ellsworth said. “I think it’s a little bit more exciting for the kids — they get to have Spanish class in a movie theater.”

Days before the school opened in late July, parents were able to come in and see the facility where their kids would be attending classes temporarily. Despite the accommodation, the Maricopa campus had the most students the charter has started out on a campus, according to Ellsworth. Heritage has also incorporated sixth grade to the Maricopa campus, when others have only taught seventh through 12th grades.

“Above all else, we hope to serve the parents that invited us to come out,” Taylor said.

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Experts seek answers after dozens of ducks die in Maricopa lake
 Grace Harrah  / 

MARICOPA — When duck carcasses started rising to the surface of a lake at the Lakes at Rancho El Dorado neighborhood in Maricopa, the residents were first to step up and rescue the remaining living ducks from the lake.

“We’re not happy with it at all with how the homeowners association is handling and the cleanup of the lake,” resident Christine Holtz said.

The official statement from the subdivision HOA’s board of directors said that since July 29, at least two dozen deceased waterfowl had been removed from the community lake at Rancho El Dorado III.

“The Association and its lake maintenance vendor, Arizona Lake and Pond, have been in contact with Arizona Game and Fish to investigate. The Association is awaiting the results and will respond accordingly to the recommendations it receives. In the meantime, residents have been asked not to feed the ducks or other waterfowl,” the statement said.

Residents and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality were the first to contact the Arizona Game and Fish Department regarding their concerns for the dying ducks at the lake. The AZGFD then sent out a biologist to collect the ducks to examine the incident.

The ducks were then sent out to the Liberty Wildlife Conservation Center, and eventually to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, for testing.

“Testing is being done at the moment, and the results should be in by the end of the week,” said Anne Justice-Allen, a veterinarian at AZGFD. “What we found when we took a look at the location was that 30 ducks, and four (other) birds, had died.”

Based on the signs, they suspect avian botulism — a disease caused by bacteria in the environment that produces toxins under certain conditions such as organic material in the soil — may be the answer to the dying ducks.

“Sometimes it’s associated with fish dying, along with snails,” Allen said.

The disease causes the oxygen to go low and produce the toxins to which the ducks at lakes are exposed. The ducks become weak, paralyzed and drown, eventually causing them to die.

With avian botulism, there are usually several days of mortality and the continuation will depend on how much water is toxic to begin with, according to Allen.

“It kind of has to run its course. But it helps to have all of the dead ducks be removed and all of the dead vegetation be removed,” Allen said.

The disease is not a rare sighting, as the department sees similar incidents every year in the Phoenix area. It is said to be associated with water plants in the lake as well as the warm temperature of the water.

“A lot of the lakes around Phoenix have fountains in them to incorporate more oxygen,” Allen said. “Warm water cannot hold oxygen as much as cold water.”

In regards to helping the living ducks in the area, Allen suggested residents take them in or to Liberty Wildlife Conservation Center.

“To help out the remaining ducks, keep them warm and fed, offer them water and keep them out of the pond,” Allen said.

The incident is familiar to those who reside in the area, as thousands of fish died last year from the same neighborhood.

“This past spring into summer we have been dealing with awful flies, midge flies and rats in some areas, more pests in general,” Holtz said. “Now our ducks and waterfowl, storks, sandpipers, magpies and more are mostly dead. The previous company, H2ology, that took care of our lake was fired, along with a new HOA management company being brought in after that happened.”

The confirmed cause of the incident is to be announced later this week.

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Supervisor Smith won't seek re-election in District 4
 mcowling  / 

FLORENCE — Pinal County Supervisor Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, announced he will not run for reelection representing District 4 next year.

“In 2008 when I was elected into my first public office, I had no idea I would have the pleasure of serving the people for twelve years,” Smith said Thursday in a news release. “As I examine where I am in my life and what opportunities I might have waiting behind the next door, I know it is time for me to head in a different direction. That said, I announce today that l will not run for reelection as county supervisor.”

Prior to being elected to the Board of Supervisors for the first of two terms in 2012, Smith served two terms as mayor of Maricopa.

“The county is very different from when I started my county service in 2013,” Smith said. “In 2013, we were still feeling the impact of the Great Recession. The unemployment rate had soared to 13 percent with hundreds of jobs lost in the housing, agriculture and retail businesses. Sadly, families were being disrupted and economic growth was basically nonexistent.”

Now, Smith said, the unemployment rate is down to 4%, and Pinal County was the first in Arizona to regain all jobs lost during the recession. He said from that low point, the economy has diversified in high-tech industries such as green energy, automotive, aerospace, tourism and others.

“I wanted to be transformational in my actions, framing a future worth striving for,” Smith said of his attitude when coming into office. “Coupled with our county leadership team and everyday workers, we definitely are a winning team.”

Forbes recently listed Pinal County government as one of America’s Best-in-State Employers for 2019. Smith said this is something Pinal County can be proud of.

When asked what he considered his biggest accomplishment as supervisor, Smith said, “In 2014 as chairman of the board, I led the effort to re-think the county’s strategic plan. I believe much of the success we’re having today is a result of driving to a roadmap that’s focused on growing jobs, improving the transportation network, increasing our quality of life and achieving financial stability.”

Pinal County Assessor Douglas Wolf told PinalCentral the county is better for having Smith as its supervisor.

“I enjoyed working with Tony,” Wolf said. “I thought he did a good job for the county. He made a real positive contribution.”

Smith said he’s thankful for the support he received during his time in office.

“I especially want to thank Nancy, my loving wife, and my family for their sacrifice and sharing time to allow me to be a public servant,” he said. “In addition, many thanks to Marlene Pearce, our district administrator, for her professionalism and loyal service, too.”

Smith’s District 4, in western and southern Pinal County, includes the city of Maricopa, Arizona City, Thunderbird Farms, Hidden Valley, Papago Butte, Red Rock, Saddlebrooke, the Ak-Chin Indian Community and part of the Tohono O’odham Nation.