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Tax cuts, new projects included in Maricopa's tentative budget
 ksawyer  / 

MARICOPA — Tuesday night’s Maricopa City Council meeting saw new developments announced, and new steps taken toward a finalized budget for 2020-21.

City Manager Rick Horst outlined the biggest details of the budget, which comes to $85,209,232 in operating costs and includes a decrease in the primary and secondary property taxes.

“I think the most exciting thing for me personally, and I think for our citizens, is your directive to reduce taxes,” Horst said to Mayor Christian Price. “I think we will probably be the only city in Arizona to do that. I suspect we might be the only city in America to do that. The only reason it can happen is because of the prudent, conservative-but-yet-progressive approach you take to growing this community.”

The primary tax rate for fiscal year 2019-20 was 4.78, while this year’s comes in at 4.63, and the secondary tax rate also decreased from 1.12 to 0.93.

This means that the primary and secondary property tax rates for 2019-2020 were $478.45 and $118.71 per $100,000 of assessed value respectively. This year, the rates are estimated to be $463.09 and $93.48 per $100,000 of assessed value, which means a homeowner would save $81.18 annually on a home valued at $200,000.

With property values rising, the city is able to receive the same amount of revenue or more with a lower property tax per $100,000.

Horst also mentioned a number of contingencies that had been added to the budget in relation to COVID-19, which will be triggered “if and when needed, based on revenue stabilization,” and add up to about $2.2 million.

Price thanked Horst and stated in regards to the budget, “We really have tried to be comprehensive in the ‘what-if’s,’ and what might happen.”

Horst also discussed the many different retail, business and public services coming to Maricopa in the next year or two.

Housing is still up and coming in multiple areas of Maricopa, with an average of 22,000 single-family homes and 38,000 plots in the city. Horst estimates homes are being built at an average of 1,000 single family homes every year.

Homestead, Lakes at Rancho El Dorado, Province, Rancho Mirage, Santa Rosa Springs and Tortosa are all increasing their housing numbers in the hundreds in 2021. Construction has restarted at Santa Rosa Crossing, which had been dormant for about a decade.

The newly-announced Bungalows at Bowlin, single and multi-family homes, are also scheduled for completion in 2021, Horst told the council. And work is already underway on Oasis at the Wells, Marciopa’s first apartment complex, which is scheduled for completion at the end of this year.

Public projects include the Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway, which has been partially closed for roadwork and widening. It will be completed by May 18 so that workers can begin work on Shea Way for Oasis at the Wells apartments.

Horst said the library construction is coming along nicely, and construction of the new fire administration is nearly completed. A+ Charter School is coming up faster than anticipated, with the second floor already built.

Residents who have been anxiously awaiting the construction of a new traffic light at the intersection of Honeycutt and White and Parker roads can now breathe a sigh of relief, as Horst estimates the light will be completed by the end of June with construction already underway.

Horst anticipates work to start on a new bridge at Bowlin Road in the next 30-45 days as well.

A host of new business areas will be built in the next year as well, according to Horst. About 10,000 square feet of office space will go in near the new public library, while Estrella Gin Business Park continues to barrel toward completion.

Madison Pointe, a new retail center on John Wayne Parkway which includes self-storage and an AAMCO, and the new Pinal County complex are also scheduled for construction.

Horst said some of the new businesses coming into the future Maricopa Towne Plaza include Iconic Tires, Maricopa Animal Hospital, Riliberto’s restaurant and a Shell station.

The new Sonoran Creek Marketplace promises a major retailer and specialty grocer which has not been named yet. The announcement has been delayed 90 days due to a new CEO. Copper Sky Commercial North is also set to include apartments, an assisted living center and 30,000-square feet of retail space for consumers.

Also on the way are La Quinta Inn, Bahama Bucks, MC Estates, Walgreens, Omni self-storage, a car wash and more retail.

“The city is growing and prospering and moving forward,” Horst said, addressing Price. “We’re very excited about it, and I think it speaks well to the city and to your leadership and to the belief that the people who are investing in this community have in this community. We’re winning people over daily and our citizens deserve a lot of credit.”

The floor was opened for discussion, and Councilwoman Julia Gusse inquired about city memberships to various associations. Gusse asked if the memberships with Arizona-Mexico Coalition and the Canada-Arizona Business Council, which cost the city $1,500 and $10,000 annually, respectively, were showing any benefit to the city.

Council members weighed the benefits of maintaining relationships with these various entities with the hope that it will bring jobs and residents to Maricopa, with the cost of the relationship each year.

Howard Waggner/PinalCentral  

Angel Hernandez gives Reynaldo Lopez a long-awaited haircut Friday at Sports & Cuts Barber Shop in Maricopa.

Howard Waggner/PinalCentral  

Rachael Lazar styles the hair of Dee Walsh on Friday at K’Bella Salon in Maricopa.

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Magazine owner files complaint against Maricopa councilwoman
 ksawyer  / 

MARICOPA — Local InMaricopa Magazine owner Scott Bartle has filed an ethics complaint against Councilwoman Julia Gusse two years after an email exchange between them went sour.

Obtained by PinalCentral through a records request with the city, the email exchange began on Nov. 12, 2018, when an ad representative for InMaricopa Magazine reached out to the city with an advertising request following direction from owner Scott Bartle. Councilwoman Julia Gusse responded, and shared her concerns with Bartle over their decision to hire a man with a violent criminal record as a reporter.

“Although my concerns (to follow) do not have anything to do with the advertising, I want to bring this to your attention and get some clarification from you before our city moves forward with any advertising,” Gusse wrote in the email. “I have known you for many years and I feel very comfortable sharing my concerns with you regarding a recent hire for InMaricopa.”

She went on to detail her concerns that a “simple name search” of the man in question had turned up his involvement in the kidnapping and assault of his domestic partner.

Bartle responded, in part, “The short answer to your questions is, it’s none of your business. Your job is to help make city policy, manage the city budget and supervise the city manager, right?”

He then detailed the vetting process they conducted on their employee.

“You have made it clear through the years you are not a fan of InMaricopa, and that’s OK. Your job on council does not include playing favorites with area news or advertising organizations, and it is certainly not telling local business owners like me how to run our companies,” Bartle wrote back.

InMaricopa cut ties with the employee shortly after his hire.

Gusse responded by forwarding an unanswered email she had sent to InMaricopa in October requesting advertising with InMaricopa.

“I used my discretionary funds to advertise with the Maricopa Monitor as your organization never responded to my request,” Gusse wrote. “I was trying to bring more public awareness about our veterans events by advertising these events within InMaricopa and not ‘Play favorites’ as you so eloquently pointed out. Please do YOUR research before flinging accusations and insinuate that I am not a ‘fan’ of yours or that I am bullying you and/or your business.”

Gusse told Bartle he had “mansplained” her position with the city when he asked her to confirm what her job duties were in the previous email.

Bartle responded only with, “I’m sorry for the oversight on your advertising inquiry. Unfortunately, it never made it to our advertising team.”

The next day, he penned another reply detailing why he took issue with Gusse’s comments.

“Our reporting must, at its core, be independent,” he wrote. “You may disagree with the way I expressed myself in the moment, and I regret my delivery got in the way of a serious point, but a member of the City Council is a representative of government and a governmental entity is limited as to what it can demand.”

Gusse responded that she had nothing further to discuss with Bartle and thanked him for explaining her role as a council member, which ended the email thread.

The exchange took place just a few months after Councilman Vincent Manfredi was accused of violating the city’s ethics policy by Gusse for his reference to a Maricopa Monitor and PinalCentral reporter as “unethical” and “a liar” in a public Facebook post.

Manfredi is the director of advertising and minority owner of InMaricopa and was not involved in the email exchange.

On April 16, Bartle filed an ethics complaint against Gusse over the contents of the email exchange from 2018 and wrote the following under Description of Facts:

“Councilmember Gusse violated at least 10 clauses of the City’s Code of Ethics policy when she willingly, intentionally and unsolicitedly engaged me via email to criticize how I operate my private business. In the process, she successfully accomplished her stated goal of withholding advertising revenue from my company.”

The 10 different allegations against her range from favoritism to professionalism in the workplace.

Gusse said she would refrain from commenting as the investigation is ongoing, but expressed her desire for it to be discussed and resolved by the end of May.

Though Bartle told PinalCentral he “had nothing to add to the complaint at this time,” he made a comment in a post published on InMaricopa’s website regarding the matter. There, he said he would not have filed an ethics complaint if this wasn’t an election year and Gusse wasn’t running for reelection.

“I want our elected officials to be accountable, and I want voters to know as much about the candidates as possible when they cast their ballots,” Bartle told InMaricopa. “I also want the city’s decisions of doing business with my companies based on the merits of the services I provide and not influenced by a councilmember’s personal biases.”

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New MUSD board member hopes to promote ‘excellence in education’
 ksawyer  / 

MARICOPA — There’s a new face on the Maricopa Unified School District board after Jim Jordan was sworn in Monday.

Jordan has lived in Maricopa for almost a decade with his wife, Saunny. Though he’s not originally from Arizona, he moved to the state shortly after birth and has lived all over the Grand Canyon State since, but “I always wished I’d been born here,” he said.

Jordan got his first taste of what MUSD had to offer when he tagged along with his brother-in-law to view the Junior ROTC program at Maricopa High School. Jordan’s brother-in-law is a veteran and was a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War.

“I was very impressed with what they’re doing there,” Jordan said of MHS. “The response that the students gave to him when he came in the room, the respect, the honor that they gave him (was amazing).”

Jordan is a retired pastor, having followed in his father’s footsteps. He is the proud father of three and grandfather of two, and his mother, sister and daughters are all former or current teachers. In his free time, Jordan drove school buses and involved himself in young children’s education where he could.

He hopes that during his time on the board, he’ll be able to help MUSD rise to the top of Arizona schools and looks forward to finding ways to ignite a love of education in students.

“I’ll be working to make Maricopa schools the best in the state. That’s a high goal, I know, but I think we can achieve it,” Jordan said. “We’re a growing city and the more students we get, the more opportunity to challenge kids to become successful themselves, and that’s really what I want to focus on, is inspiring kids to (achieve) excellence in education.”

MUSD just announced the purchase of land for its second high school, and Jordan is excited to see what the new high school will bring to the city.

“I’ve been out and looked at that property a little bit, so it’ll be fun to see things come out of the ground,” Jordan said.

He said conversations about taking over former board member Joshua Judd’s position began in November, when he spoke with board President AnnaMarie Knorr and toured the schools. Judd resigned from the board at a March 11 meeting due to home and work-life obligations.

Jordan will finish Judd’s term on the board, which ends in December, and has already filed to be on the ballot in the November election.