Brent Billingsley

The town of Florence has accomplished much in the old year and has ambitious plans for 2018, Town Manager Brent Billingsley said.

“It all starts with the (town) council’s strategic plan and the council’s leadership and the diligence of our staff,” Billingsley said in an interview “But there’s been some really impressive things done and things on the horizon.”

Plans to improve the town’s awkward, unwieldy intersection of state routes 79B and 287 are about to come off the shelf.

“I get asked about this all the time. I worked on this project 20 years ago,” Billingsley said. “We’re re-engaging that project now. … It’s our intent to get that done in the next few years.” It could eventually be a single roundabout, a double roundabout or a T-intersection. “Ultimately ADOT (Arizona Department of Transportation) will make that decision.”

Billingsley said he’s also frequently asked about the intersection of State Route 79 and Hunt Highway, and he said there’s almost certainly a stoplight in its future.

“There’s a lot of folks who feel there should be a traffic signal at that location. This year we worked with ADOT and actually conducted a warrant study; it does meet signal warrants. So we’re going to be working with ADOT to install a signal at that location.”

Also, “I’m happy to announce Florence will be hosting the state transportation board meeting in September of next year. That’s a huge deal. That’s not easy to have happen. We got our opportunity to put our best foot forward with the leaders in transportation in the state of Arizona and it’s something we shouldn’t take lightly.”

Billingsley said the town can point to several key transportation improvements in the old year, such as putting a smooth surface on Florence Heights Drive, which used to be the most heavily-used and roughest local street; the repair of the Felix Road railway crossing; improving the portion of Hunt Highway that narrows north of the hospital; and seeing the traffic light installed at Pinal Parkway and Diversion Dam Road.

“That’s been in the works for a decade,” Billingsley said.

More recently, the town has partnered with ADOT to rebuild the State Route 79-79B intersection, which is about 90 percent complete south of downtown. “It’s almost done. What an exciting thing,” Billingsley said.

Aside from roads and streets, a highlight of the new year is expected to be when Horizon Health and Wellness reopens the old hospital on Adamsville Road, and the town has been actively helping them to do that, Billingsley said.

“There are more announcements to be made with respect to that project. It’s one of those things that a lot of Florence residents have talked to me about since I got here: ‘What can we do to get that occupied, to get jobs in that building?’ It’s going to happen, and the town is happy to help participate in making that happen.”

In the past year

“Maybe the biggest thing that happened all year was us getting our ISO (fire insurance) rating reduced to 3,” Billingsley said. “That’s one of the best in the state; it’s one of the best in the country. It makes everybody’s insurance cheaper. And what a credit to our Fire Department and to the town’s Public Works department. Folks just don’t understand how big that is and how many millions of dollars are spent by entities across this country to hope to get a 3 rating.”

Billingsley said other progress in the last year includes:

  • The town has a new groundwater savings agreement in which it will recharge its Central Arizona Project allotment with the Tonopah Irrigation District beginning in 2018.

“Instead of losing $250,000 a year, we’re going to put money in the bank for the next five years from that agreement,” Billingsley said. And that money is going to assist us with our water future. That is a critical agreement for the future of Florence and the leadership of our council.”

  • “The Anthem flood plain solution; that was a huge issue. You had that in the paper multiple times this last year. That got fixed. That’s a huge thing that most folks don’t know about. “
  • The new Sun Life Family Health Center and pharmacy. “I’ve heard over and over that we need a pharmacy in town. … Well guess what, we’ve got one now. And the town played a very prominent role in the success of that project.”
  • Development agreements for major projects such as Artisan Acres (expanding the Windmill Winery and related facilities to the south side of Butte Avenue) and Innovation Pavilion.
  • “In terms of helping our downtown businesses, our wireless fire alarm system that we’re now implementing, is really going to reduce the cost of folks having monitored fire alarms downtown. The town is footing the cost for the panel, and the power and the repeaters to make that happen. I don’t know of any other towns that are doing that.”
  • “One of the things that was requested by council for the last two budget cycles, we’ve made happen: the facade program. We couldn’t do that without the help of our IDA (Florence Industrial Development Authority). They’ve been great to work with.

“We need some folks to get in some applications (to improve their building facades). It’s a neat thing.”

  • Making improvements on town buildings. “Most recently we installed fire sprinklers in the historic Brunenkant bakery building. We just did that a couple of months ago. We’re very proud of that; that building is occupied now.”
  • The town has also made water improvements, including upgrades to its well no. 5. “That’s a project that’s been needed for many, many years. That got completed this year,” Billingsley said. The town also made improvements to its south wastewater treatment plant.

Billingsley also cited the town’s continuing partnership with Arizona State Parks and the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce to keep McFarland State Historic Park open and in good repair.

“We’ve worked with them on a number of really important projects for Florence this last year, not only their (60th) anniversary, which we celebrated with them at the Road to Country Thunder event, but the new roof, repairs on the porch, the various things.

“Right now we’re trying to help them out with the fire alarm in the building. What a great partnership, and something we should be very proud of.”