EDITOR’S NOTE: With the town experiencing its biggest growth spurt in years, Mayor Tara Walter discussed the ways the town is preparing to meet the accompanying challenges in a year-end interview.

As a new calendar year begins, I want to communicate how pleased I am with the positive direction that we are moving as a town, Walter commented by email. As we, the Town Council, provide vision and direction, based on feedback from our citizens and observations, our town staff works diligently to bring these goals and visions to reality.

I want to take a moment to say thank you to the wonderful employees who go above and beyond providing the critical services and customer service that we offer in our community. As always, everything we do is public. We work diligently to keep everyone informed, encouraging feedback and participation from all stakeholders.

In the upcoming year, we will be initiating the required update to the town of Florence General Plan, as well as continue to work on our strategic plan. We are grateful for the stakeholders that formed together to assist us in the development of this plan and look forward to continuing our partnership in further conversations and development of the plan.

Florence ranks high on many “quality of life” scales because of many of the excellent amenities that we enjoy in the area. Recreational opportunities are readily available at Box Canyon, the Coke Ovens, the Gila River or Poston Butte.

This year (2019), we expanded our commitment to these valuable resources by obtaining the approval of a lease with the Bureau of Land Management for 200-plus acres to expand the 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. I am eager to see this project brought to life.

I would be remiss if I did not also mention the many businesses in town that go into any measure of “quality of life.” We have seen new stores and businesses emerge in the downtown area, like Blue Skye Boutique, Rail Three, Heart J Ranch, the Main Street Vault, a new Circle K gas station/convenience market, the newly renovated Mount Athos and Lidia’s Cocina at the Old Pueblo Restaurant. These complement the many wonderful eateries, banks, government offices, markets and stores that everyone should visit. In sum, Florence issued 996 business licenses in the past year. There are lots of people doing business in Florence.

One of the most notable of these was celebrated a few months ago, as we held the ribbon cutting for the new and improved Florence Hospital, A Campus of Mountain Vista Medical Center. This state-of-the-art facility includes an operating room suite, a 22-bed emergency room, an in-patient care center and a new laboratory that will be able to process labs quicker and without having to outsource this work to other facilities.

We are so blessed to have Steward Health as a partner in our community and look forward to many years of success at the Florence Hospital.

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. In the upcoming year, I am looking forward to working with additional small and large businesses that will be bringing their business into the town of Florence.

Also, the town is working closely with the United States Census Bureau to ensure all residents are counted during the 2020 census. This major undertaking will help the town ensure that it is getting an adequate amount of resources from the state and federal governments. Each person counted brings about $3,000 in federal funding to our community each year.

It is crucial that each of us fill out our census forms — either online, by phone or by mail — when we receive them in early March. I would like to see all of our citizens properly accounted for as this directly impacts our funding, which translates into the services we are able to provide.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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