San Tan Valley's push to incorporate could get nasty - East Valley Tribune: Gilbert

San Tan Valley's push to incorporate could get nasty

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Posted: Monday, July 5, 2010 5:15 am | Updated: 3:57 pm, Thu Jul 22, 2010.

The push to incorporate San Tan Valley is entering a critical phase, where it threatens to be killed entirely by forces outside the borders of the proposed city.

Residents of the new city must vote in favor of incorporating, but they can only do that after communities within six miles of it allow San Tan Valley to hold an election.

Florence will weigh in Tuesday, and its mayor has sent out letters critical of incorporation. Vicki Kilvinger points out the new city would drain the coffers of other Pinal County communities by taking state money.

"This is a recipe for failure," Kilvinger said in one of her releases.

The town hasn't formally opposed San Tan Valley yet, but incorporation supporters are concerned.

Florence's potential opposition is the latest of several problems for the new community.

A resident group formed last month to oppose the new city. Also, Apache Junction's City Council passed a resolution urging other communities to block a vote in San Tan Valley. Apache Junction would lose $1.6 million in state funding, which Mayor John Insalaco said his city can't afford.

"We're trying to keep everybody working and not cut services," Insalaco said. "This will cause us to cut services."

Apache Junction's vote was symbolic because it is outside the six-mile boundary. The move reflects tensions over money between Pinal County communities as they struggle to keep up with rapid growth and shrinking budgets.

A bigger concern is Florence, said Randy Lockner, chairman of a pro-incorporation group. The town has issued letters portraying a new city as a bad deal for all of Pinal County. Florence and its 10,000 residents would lose nearly $1 million as San Tan Valley's 80,000 residents would take portions of state money from other municipalities. In all, Pinal County cities would lose $6 million.

Kilvinger has said Florence is a David to the Goliath of what would be Pinal County's largest city.

The chairman of the pro-incorporation group said Kilvinger's analogy is off.

"I disagree with her casting of the characters," Lockner said. "My proposition would be one of our citizens being a David to the Goliath of Florence because although we are very disproportionate in size, there is also a disproportionate power in the hands of Florence."

Kilvinger did not make herself available for questions after sending her letters out. A town spokesman said she would not speak until Tuesday's vote.

Lockner fears Florence will vote against San Tan Valley's incorporation, killing what is the strongest of several efforts to create a new city.

Florence could be the only opponent of the four communities required to vote on the matter. Mesa already gave its support. Queen Creek is scheduled to vote July 21, and Gilbert on July 27. Lockner said he had more encouraging signals from elected officials in those communities.

"They're very careful not to speak directly on the vote but they do in general seem to support the process of our citizens determining their future," he said.

The incorporation effort will continue if Florence votes no, Lockner said, just with a new timetable. If San Tan Valley voters approve a city, the organization would begin July 1, 2011.

Incorporation supporters say the community has grown too large for a county government to provide services like law enforcement, parks and recreation, economic development and libraries. The city's initial budget would cost the typical homeowner $330 per year in taxes for what they say would be a bare-bones city government.

Opponents fear taxes would be larger or that services are fine now. Even if residents want a city, opponents say an economic downturn is a bad time to impose financial burden on taxpayers and other cities.

"We're not saying never," Insalaco said. "We're just saying not now."

Even if people want to vote against the city, incorporation supporters say, other cities shouldn't block San Tan Valley residents from having their say in an election in November. Pinal County Supervisor Bryan Martyn said Apache Junction created ill will by trying to block an election.

"You don't slap somebody across the face, which is what they did. They just smacked San Tan Valley down," Martyn said. "There are 80,000 citizens in that community, and tens of thousands of them drive through Apache Junction every day. That's not the way to make friends and influence people."

In turn, Insalaco said Martyn has created bad feelings by saying it's un-American of Apache Junction to block an incorporation vote.

Incorporation battles can be messy civic affairs, and Apache Junction is a perfect example. The push for that city's founding featured bitter feuds and even attempts to disincorporate after residents formed the city in 1978.

The San Tan Valley community has created tension regardless of the incorporation issue. Many residents moved to the area believing they were in Queen Creek, and they were upset that town didn't provide services. Some San Tan Valley residents feel rejected, Martyn said.

But incorporation would promote better ties, he said. Residents of San Tan Valley would get better services, and improved economic development would bring more amenities, he said.

Yet Martyn sees a short-term battle brewing. A hospital is set to open this fall is in an unincorporated area that will eventually be annexed - and the location allows either community to do so. Marytn figures both will pursue the revenue and prestige associated with the Banner Ironwood Medical Center.

"It will be a knockdown, dragdown fight because they both want it," he said.

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