State of the town

Mayor Tara Walter delivers a State of the Town address Oct. 2 at the community center.

FLORENCE — Businesses are starting and homes are going up in town almost like never before, Mayor Tara Walter said at a State of the Town address Oct. 2 at the community center.

The town has issued 996 business licenses in the past year, Walter said.

“There are lots of people doing business in the town of Florence. Even though we may not see a traditional brick-and-mortar store, we have people doing business in our community.” Among the most notable, she continued, is the new Florence hospital.

The town has seen several new and renovated stores and businesses open in the downtown area.

“These complement the many wonderful eateries, banks, government offices, markets and stores that everyone should visit as soon as we are done here this morning,” Walter said. “Perhaps the biggest growth, though, has occurred in our new homes.”

Florence has seen the third-largest percentage growth in single-family home permits of any community in the Phoenix region over the last year. The town issued more than 50 single-family home permits in September. This includes some infill development downtown, but is mainly concentrated in Anthem.

“We are on pace to issue more new single-family home permits this year than any year since 2008,” Walter said. “These new rooftops could open greater possibilities for retail development. We will continue to pursue these opportunities to broaden Florence’s economic tax base.”

Florence is replacing and expanding infrastructure across town, with new fiber installation for faster and redundant data communication, Walter said. The town’s sewer treatment plants are being updated and modernized, and the town will take a major step toward sustainable water with a ribbon-cutting celebration at its new water recharge facility in two weeks or so.

The town received Community Development Block Grant funding that totaled $608,000 for two water line projects in the downtown or “town core.” The project entailed replacing more than 4,000 linear feet of 6-inch water line with 12-inch water line. The town is also moving away from the old-fashioned way of reading water meters, with investment in new technology, Walter said.

“This is built on the framework of a new data network that has been secured through a contract with one of the world’s leading cybersecurity firms,” Walter said. “This work has brought the town acclaim from international news coverage on the network and security, and has launched the town into the spotlight of the ‘Smart City’ movement. In the next few years, we anticipate an ability to use these new technologies to work better, smarter, and more efficiently for our taxpayers.”

The town has improved drainage in Florence Gardens and is preparing for stormwater projects downtown, “all of which will minimize the impact that large storms can have on our residents,” Walter said.

Hunt Highway has been improved over the past few years, with new traffic signals, enhanced surface treatments and increased capacity. Engineering is underway to make the intersection of Hunt Highway and Attaway Road operate more efficiently, Walter said.

“Additional surface treatments are planned to continue to ensure this vital route is in good shape for those that travel on our roads to get to work, play, and food destinations in Florence.” She continued that First Street was completed repaved this year, also with drainage improvements.

The town has applied for funding through the Maricopa Association of Governments to install dynamic feedback signs in the Anthem K-8 and Florence K-8 school zones. This project will also include the installation of bike lanes next to Florence K-8, Walter said.

In the coming year, residents will begin to see more work by the Arizona Department of Transportation on the Gila River Bridge. ADOT is also planning roundabouts for the southern portion of town, replacing the unusual intersection of state routes 79 and 287.

Amid all of the town’s efforts in infrastructure and revitalization, its financial position is “as strong as it has ever been,” Walter said. At the close of last fiscal year, the town reported combined fund balances of $42.3 million, which was an increase of $4.3 million over the previous year. The town’s unassigned fund balance, which is available for spending at the town’s discretion, was $10.2 million. “This represents nearly 75% of our general fund budget, and is a tremendous asset for the town moving forward,” Walter said.

Walter’s address will also appear on the town’s cable Channel 11 and on YouTube. The mayor also noted:

  • The town is in the process of acquiring more acreage on both sides of Poston Butte for development of what the town is calling the future Poston Butte Preserve. “This will bring new trails and recreational facilities to the northern part of our town and will expand the access our residents and visitors have to explore the natural beauty of our community.”
  • “Pinal County recently announced their plans to expand facilities in Florence. We have already worked with the county to begin reviewing these plans and will welcome the new Class A office space that they will bring to town.”
  • Florence has been judged the safest city in Arizona several times in recent years by several different organizations, Walter noted, and added it has also ranked highly in surveys as the “best place for young professionals” and among the best places to retire.
  • The Police Department is working toward the implementation of electronic citations in the new year, and also anticipates starting a Text to 911 program.
  • The town continues to add to its special events, such as the Halloween Fright Fest, Junior Parada youth rodeo and Christmas on Main Street, and is planning a drive-in movie on Nov. 22.