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Thu, April 18

Chamber forum elicits candidates' views on tourism

PRESCOTT – For most of the candidates running for Prescott City Council, tourism is a valuable industry that the city should be supporting more.

Indeed, tourism and other business matters were at the heart of a televised forum that the Prescott Chamber of Commerce conducted at the Prescott Activity Center on Thursday.

The forum featured more than a dozen pre-arranged questions, which ranged from the importance of tourism to the need for business and industry incentives to the impact that Prescott's relatively low growth rate will have on the city's finances.

Moderator Malcolm Barrett Jr. directed each of the questions to two of the candidates, and then allowed rebuttal from two more, setting up a debate atmosphere.

For the most part, the candidates were enthusiastic about tourism, although candidate Glen Wright has consistently maintained that the industry is not the boon to the economy that some say it is.

Candidate Bob Roecker voiced unqualified support for the tourism industry in his response to a question on the financial and social impacts of tourism in the community.

"We couldn't do without tourism in our community," Roecker said. He maintained that tourists bring in "clean dollars," and that events such as the Frontier Days Rodeo are "huge."

Incumbent candidate John Steward agreed, and said the city should "look at raising our budget" for tourism promotion.

Candidate Phyllis Boris also recommended that more city money should go to tourism. To generate it, she suggested that the city should raise its bed tax (currently a 2-percent tax on hotel and motel rooms).

When she worked as a meeting planner, Boris said, "I remember paying bed tax of up to 15 to 18 percent." Although she said she does not advocate going that high in Prescott, Boris said that increasing the tax somewhat would allow the city to help more with tourism promotion.

And candidate Bob Bell pointed out that Prescott competes for tourism dollars with communities that spend much more. "Flagstaff spends five times what Prescott does, and even little Lake Havasu City spends more money than Prescott does," Bell said.

Wright, however, disputed both the impact that tourism has on the community, and the role that the city should take.

"I would disagree that tourism is a clean industry," he said. "It depends on minimum wage workers, and it sometimes exploits undocumented workers."

Although Wright said he supports all of Prescott's "signature events," he said the city should not try to attract more "day-trippers" to the community. And if the tourism industry wants more money for promotion, Wright said, it should form an organization of its own, charge dues, and generate its own money.

When it came to incentives to attract business and industry to Prescott, most of the candidates also voiced support. Once again, the answers centered on the city's recent decision to grant a $6 million sales tax reimbursement to Wal-Mart – a move the majority of the candidates have supported.

For instance, Robert Luzius said that although "$6 million is a lot of money, it is $6 million in taxes that we would never have had (without Wal-Mart)."

Several of the questions dealt with Prescott's 2- to 3-percent annual growth rate over the last 10 years. Barrett pointed out that the 2000 census figures showed that Prescott grew about 28 percent during the past decade – a far slower rate than either Prescott Valley (166 percent) or Chino Valley (62) percent. He asked the candidates how Prescott should deal with the exploding growth all around it.

Candidate Bob Widen maintained that the census figures "provide a reality check to the knee-jerk reaction that what we have to do is control growth." Rather, Widen said, the city must work to preserve its quality of life in the midst of the growing region.

To do that, he said, "We need to deal with the most obvious (quality of life issue), which is our traffic flow." Public transit would be one way to help that situation, Widen said.

Candidate Allisone Scott agreed that the city should get more involved in transit matters. "The city needs to begin to aggressively address public transportation," she said. She said the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), which will get under way in 2002, could most effectively deal with transit on a regional basis.

Although the chamber originally planned for the forum to include the mayoral candidates as well as those running for council, mayoral candidate Dick Cooper could not attend because of a family member's funeral. Candidate Rowle Simmons also agreed not to participate.

Contact Cindy Barks at cbarks@prescottaz.com

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