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Mayor Oberg's State of the City

13 January 2016   Mayor Harry Oberg
State of the City Address

At this time of year, when the President of the United States gives his State of the Union address and the Governor his State of the State, I feel it is only fitting to present to the people of Prescott a State of the City address. What follows is my assessment of the State of the City at the outset of calendar year 2016. A number of opportunities, challenges, and issues face Prescott, both now and continuing into the future. It is important that our citizens be fully aware of these, and encouraged to work on them side by side with the City government.

As Prescott Mayor, I have spent my first month in office visiting all the City departments. I wanted to get acquainted with employees, and to review departmental missions and responsibilities in order to better understand their issues and concerns. I am impressed by our dedicated City workers, who continue to look for ways to more efficiently serve you, our citizens and customers.

With respect to finances, beginning this month, city staff and council will begin the process of reviewing the current budget, and developing budget guidance for FY-2017, which begins in July. Within the next six months, an extensive process will evaluate the personnel, equipment, and other resources essential to municipal services and city infrastructure. We will also review short and long-term work programs necessary to achieve the outcomes expressed in the City's General Plan. New for the FY-2017 budget will be implementation of a classification and compensation study, completed in 2015, to ensure city employee pay is commensurate with the prevailing wage in other Arizona cities. This is being done to stem the loss of qualified, experienced personnel to other cities or agencies. There will be important budget decisions ahead as departmental manager’s right-size their operations to available resources.

The most significant issue facing Prescott is the accumulating debt in the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS). As it is currently designed, this system is unsustainable. We presently owe $72 million, but this figure could rise significantly if two public safety personnel court cases (Parker and Hall) are decided against the taxpayer. The state legislature is currently in negotiations with the police and fire unions to make adjustments to the existing benefits structure, and to devise a new retirement system for future public safety employees going forward. We will continue to work with the legislature to seek reform of the PSPRS to safeguard public safety personnel retirements while also providing relief to the taxpayer. And if all goes according to plan, a ballot measure to reform PSPRS could be before the voters by spring of this year.

Another major concern for our city is the proliferation of drug and alcohol recovery facilities in residential neighborhoods. While there are a few licensed facilities providing excellent care and outcomes, there are many unlicensed facilities providing questionable care to their clients. When faced with an investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the City engaged expert assistance, and the Council approved updated codes to ensure compliance and avoid potential litigation, but more work needs to be done. We support the legislation proposed by Representative Noel Campbell which will allow more local authority over unlicensed residential recovery homes to ensure an adequate level of care for those in recovery, a greater potential of successful outcomes for the clients, and an exit plan for those who fail in their recovery. I believe once proper oversight is established in these homes, over time many of the associated social problems which exist in our neighborhoods will be resolved.

In conjunction with the efforts mentioned above, the Council may decide whether to implement a business license, and separately, a business tax to more equitably share the increasing cost of providing public safety services to which our community has become accustomed and, up to this point, continues to demand. If implemented, the annual fee for the license will be nominal. The business license will allow the City to catalog the types of businesses which operate in our community, and will allow better support of police and fire in providing emergency services. Also, with the recent legislative action to centralize collection of all cities’ and towns’ sales tax revenue under a state agency, the business license will allow the City to level the playing field by determining if all businesses required to collect sales tax are in compliance.

As is the case with many Western towns and cities, Prescott requires water resources sufficient to support reasonable growth. Studies show a moderate level of growth is necessary to prevent economic stagnation and help keep property values stable. In August, 2015, the voters ratified our General Plan, which establishes a vision and guiding principles for orderly expansion to keep our city as a viable community for years to come. The juncture of both water and growth creates a conundrum for Prescott. Our city is essentially landlocked except to the North, and a pipeline from the Big Chino will be expensive. When meeting our future water demands, we must look at the potential impact of pumping on the Upper Verde River watershed as well as additional water conservation efforts. As should be obvious, our future decisions in this area will be heavily impacted by public discussion.

Finally, in the marketplace there are many opportunities for Prescott to improve economic development. These include: improving commercial air and transport services at our airport; increasing commercial development in the adjacent industrial park; developing a biomass industry to remove overgrowth in our forests and enhance aquifer recharge; establishing cutting-edge businesses associated with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; and increasing hotel accommodations for the expanding tourist industry. Each of these topics, and the others mentioned above, are complex, and it is crucial that the public remain informed about them. This will be realized in city-sponsored workshops, open meetings of boards, commissions, and committees, City Council voting meetings, and the use of social media. The City has two one-hour segments monthly to inform the public. One on KQNA, and the other is on public access television Chanel 64. I invite the public to listen to these broadcasts. Become more informed and active regarding the issues facing our community. I am confident we can achieve important successes by working together.

Thank you for the opportunity to serve the City of Prescott.