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Candidates talk masks, racism and more at Maricopa council forum
 06.22.20

MARICOPA — It looked and felt different, with no audience and everyone seated 6 feet apart, but the candidates for Maricopa City Council were finally able to meet Thursday in one spot to discuss the issues they would tackle if they’re to be elected.

The virtual political forum was presented by the Maricopa Monitor, the Rotary Club of Maricopa and CopaTV and featured all six candidates for city council — Julia Gusse, Nancy Smith, Andre LaFond, Linette Caroselli, Amber Liermann and Bob Marsh — as well as unopposed mayoral candidate Christian Price. For 90 minutes, they talked about what problems they hope to tackle and what their visions are for the city.

The forum started with discussion on the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in Arizona, and how the city should respond. Particularly, the discussion focused on whether the city should mandate the wearing of masks as others have across the state.

“It only makes sense if we mandated it,” Gusse said. “It wouldn’t be an issue, especially in places like Walmart or the Ace Hardware, where residents are frequenting more often. … If we don’t stop it, it’s going to continue and the numbers are going to continue to rise.”

However, Smith more aligned with Price’s announcement that masks would continue to be voluntary, but that everyone should do their part to make sure the virus doesn’t spread.

“I don’t support the mandate on masks,” Smith said. “However, what I do support is doing what the governor puts in his documentation … to require businesses and non-profits to enforce wearing masks when they are in their business, both employees and customers. .. I brought my mask today, I wore it when I walked in today. And I have to tell you, I hate wearing masks. … But I want to make sure I’m setting an example to our people.”

The candidates also addressed another hot button issue of the time, which is racism and police accountability. The Maricopa Police Department received much praise during this time. Liermann described her time volunteering with MPD and the Maricopa Family Advocacy Center as enlightening, showing how much people who work for the department care about residents.

“I have been nothing but impressed with our police department and Chief (Steve) Stahl,” Liermann said. “Our police officers are excellent examples and role models for our youth. … I have sat and listened to a police officer mentor for 45 minutes or more a youth that was in crisis.”

But several candidates said they would be open to revisiting the city policy concerning accountability, to make sure everything is where it needs to be to prevent any issues from popping up that have been plaguing other cities around the country.

“I can attest that our accountability procedures are being reviewed,” Price said. “That’s something that is really important for us given everything that’s going on. We certainly want to make sure we’re doing what’s right. After all, it’s about trust. If you don’t have that trust, you have nothing.”

When it comes to combatting racism as a whole, LaFond said it’s important not to think about these issues as a politician, but as a person.

“We need to appreciate (our different cultures),” LaFond said. “As council members, as just human beings, we need to be able to exemplify that.”

On the subject of affordable housing, Price lamented the number of people such as teachers and other lower-paying workers who come to Maricopa but decide they can’t afford to live here. They instead go to another city that has more diverse workforce housing options.

However, he noted that the city cannot make housing diversity happen by itself. Somebody has to step up and want to commit the resources necessary to make it happen.

“If one of you in the audience want to come to the city and say you have $100 million and want to build something that happens to be apartments, you have that right within the zoning to do so,” Price said. “The reality is, the individual land owner has the right to do as they please with that area.”

Caroselli, meanwhile, focused on removing the stigma that can surround apartments of all kinds, but especially Section 8 housing that caters toward lower income residents.

“Crime prostitution, drug addicts. Those are comments I see on social media when talking about Section 8 housing here in Maricopa. That’s not accurate,” Caroselli said. “Section 8 was created to give people in need a home, to help them get on their feet. It’s not for them to live forever. It’s not take away from others. It’s important to understand what different housing is when making decisions.”

When asked how the council can make its residents happier, the candidates put their focus on improving State Route 347, where many problems lie. Some, like Marsh, also emphasized the need to bring in a hospital.

“We need to keep pushing for more facilities,” Marsh said. “But we can’t get a hospital right away, so we need to focus on a place that operates 24 hours that is also able to handle birthing and heart attacks with expedited transport to area hospitals.”

The full debate can be viewed any time on the Maricopa Monitor Facebook page.


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Maricopa Fire celebrates opening of new admin building
 06.23.20

MARICOPA — The very first Maricopa fire station began inside NAPA Auto Parts and dates back to the 1970s. The department was a part-time, volunteer unit back then, and the first truck was a 1948 F4 fire engine. The department grew and evolved with the city over the decades to be what it is today: an EMS, fire and major disaster operations unit.

The full-time department responds to around 4,500 emergency incidents a year, with nearly 6,400 calls for service and 102 fire calls yearly, according to MFD spokesman Chris Bolinger. The 60-person team of front-line personnel works and lives at the station for a third of their time on a 48-hour on/96-hour off schedule.

Up until this year, the department had never had an administration building that wasn’t mobile.

“We have bounced from trailer to trailer. We’ve had some double-wide trailers and quadruple-wide trailers — but every building has been on wheels,” Assistant Chief Brad Pitassi said. “We built out the rest of the department as our priority for growth within our department.”

Focusing on growing the staff to match the city was necessary as they were tasked with protecting it. However, the firefighters were well overdue for an upgrade to their administration building, and they finally have one at 20340 N. Estrella Parkway.

“An agreement was made with the city that they were going to fund a new administration building because they had to move ours, and the result is probably one of the most incredible buildings in the state, to be honest with you,” Pitassi said. “Granted, 100 percent biased opinion because I’m so proud of it, but it’s a state-of-the-art facility.”

The walls are sleek and made of a new styrofoam-concrete mixture to provide excellent insulation from the elements, and all of the glass is 1 inch thick to prevent air from escaping, making the whole building highly energy efficient, according to Pitassi. Conference rooms will help with training and teleconferencing with firefighters between stations, while new monitors will help staff better observe the firefighters on the ground.

A warehouse, offices and relaxation spaces are what complete the brand new building.

The building opened to the public for the first time in June and was ready for its first photo op June 15. However, there won’t be a true grand opening until the fall — hoping to invite the community for a tour of the new building.

“We’re going to do a grand opening, hopefully at some point in the fall, and we’ll invite the community to come and see the facility,” Pitassi said. “It’s a building everybody in the city can be really proud of — it’s very practical. It’s not over the top or ornate. It’s humble, but it’s extremely professional.”


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Maricopa opens funding applications for small businesses, nonprofits
 06.19.20

MARICOPA — The city of Maricopa opened its small business and nonprofit applications for funding last week as part of a $1.7 million distribution of federal COVID-19 aid under the CARES Act.

The city was awarded $5,984,522 in federal money last month, and the City Council has been in discussions about how to best use those funds for the good of Maricopa. According to Assistant City Manager Jennifer Brown, around 50%, or $2,992,263, will go toward public safety payroll expenses, which includes police and fire services.

Another $1.35 million will be distributed to small businesses and $350,000 to nonprofits that fill out and submit the online application before July 6 at 6 p.m.

City Manager Rick Horst, Community Services Director Nathan Ullyot, Economic and Community Development Director Nathan Steele and Brown will recommend allocations to the council for approval.

Those small businesses that are approved to receive funding and use the funds appropriately while abiding by the city guidelines will have their loans forgiven, according to the city website.

“After funds are distributed, city staff will meet with you to check on the status of your business, review the funds awarded, (make sure the funds) were allocated as stipulated and publish statistics and success stories detailing the impact of the funds awarded to your business,” the website states. “Upon verification of the agreed-upon terms, City Council will determine if loaned funds will be forgiven, acting as a grant. Funds not used as stipulated will be owed to the city.”

During the June 16 meeting, the council and city staff discussed how to make sure the applications were judged fairly and equally, and how much funding they should begin with. Mayor Christian Price brought up the issue of having too few or too many applications, and how the city would allocate the funds in the event of having only a handful of needs.

“I certainly don’t want to send a false message that one agency applies so they get all $600,000, there has to be justification and significance to their application and they may get substantially less than that,” said City Manager Rick Horst.

They agreed to lower the initial amount for nonprofits from $600,000 to $350,000 and to stipulate that none was guaranteed the full amount just because of a lack of other applications.

Another concern that small business owners have voiced is that their losses aren’t related to the stipulations necessary to receive funding. For example, a question on the application says, “Are you asking for financial assistance with rent, PPE or both?” but some businesses argue that they have suffered losses unrelated to rent and PPE.

The problem is that the money is only allocated by the city specifically for COVID-related issues due to the nature of the law.

“We have to make sure that we understand that in the spirit of the law, the spirit of what Congress ultimately gave this money for through the Governor’s Office, this was for COVID-related expenditures. So again, we’ve got to deal with it within the COVID-related parameters,” Price said.

The council has yet to decide on what to do with the remaining CARES Act amount, if any, after the allocations already decided upon. It could be that a second round of funding will arrive in the coming months, as Congress will begin deliberations when members return on July 21.

However, the council is aware that some small businesses are in such dire straits they may not make it through the summer. Councilman Marvin Brown urged small businesses and nonprofits in need not to wait.

“I would hope that those small businesses that really need help do apply and not hold back and think a second cycle will be forthcoming — that’s not at all assured,” Brown said.

To find out more information on the small business and nonprofit funding and to apply, visit maricopa-az.gov.


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Price believes 'voluntary' approach to masks best fit for Maricopa
 06.18.20

MARICOPA — Gov. Doug Ducey announced in a press conference Wednesday night that cities can now mandate masks as they see fit. Several cities were quick to mandate them after Ducey’s announcement, while others are still deliberating and still others believe mask wearing should be voluntary.

Maricopa Mayor Christian Price said in an email Wednesday night that he believes the governor’s orders will be enough to prompt citizens to “#maskupaz,” as Ducey shared on social media.

“We believe that with these new requests — requests that had not come from the AZDHS or the Gov’s office previously — … Maricopans will now see a large and sweeping voluntary compliance,” Price said. “We feel achieving the outcome of voluntary mask-wearing and the education in doing so will help protect the public’s safety to ultimately slow & stop the spread of the virus.”

Though he stated he had not heard back from the council as to their opinions, the city still recommends following all of the updated U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

This comes as Maricopa continues to experience a steady increase in COVID-19 cases. Between the city’s two ZIP codes, there are 236 cases as of Monday, up from 147 just a week earlier.

The mayor also said that “hot spots” within the city may need enforcement at a later time, but he believes that encouragement to citizens and educational resources will suffice for now.

“We will reserve mandates and penalties and the use of limited police resources for enforcement for such, for specific hot spots and areas that desperately need to be targeted within our jurisdiction when the situation arises,” Price said. “But at this point, our educational campaign to encourage all Maricopans to wear masks when out of their homes and do their part in protecting the safety of the public is the primary goal at this time.”

In follow-up Facebook posts, Price again encouraged wearing masks and shared Ducey’s post on the subject. He also urged business owners to take a look at the updated guidelines for Arizona businesses and restaurants, which will be enforced by the Pinal County Health Department.

In response to citizen concerns on Facebook about mandating mask use and who will enforce that policy, Price said, “Enforcement is the key to mandates, and exactly why there isn’t one. Let your conscience be your guide.”

You can find the CDC guidelines for restaurants and businesses here.