Originally Published: August 24, 2001 5 p.m.
I have attended several city council candidate forums. The candidates offer diverse opinions on Prescott's current problems and future opportunities.
Each candidate has demonstrated civility, humor and plausible thought on numerous issues.
While I applaud and respect each one of them for having the courage to "step up to the plate," I question some of their approaches.
One concern I have is Prescott's human resource drain and the ensuing economic leakage. All of the candidates have commented about residential and commercial growth, water usage and availability, wage scale, unpalatable road overload and other transportation concerns, airport expansion, environmental attributes and historic character, etc. But what about our human resource drain?
I'm referring to our wage earners, their families and their incomes. Prescott is the major regional employment center with all of the associated economic liabilities. The infrastructure and general services that provide jobs, regardless of wage scale, cost money.
Roads, police and fire protection, etc., all require maintenance and upgrades, especially with this region's growth spiral. While Prescott has demonstrated a rather small population gain over the past 10 years, the area population has exploded. This explosion is not merely the result of municipal growth elsewhere. This growth is a direct result of Prescott.
Since large portions of Prescott's work force live outside the city limits, it's logical to assume they take large portions of their incomes home with them. Whether to Prescott Valley, Chino Valley or unincorporated areas in Yavapai County, these people spend millions of dollars generated in Prescott elsewhere, without contributing to the infrastructure and general service costs of providing employment. Prescott, a major regional employment center, is in effect paying to develop neighboring municipalities competing for the economic benefit generated in Prescott.
Attracting companies paying higher wages to Prescott is moot without intergovernmental agreements for revenue and cost sharing. Unless wages are high enough to afford the $150,000 to $200,000 average cost of housing in Prescott, the drain will continue, and even if we solve that, landmass becomes an issue.
It's ludicrous, for example, not to share in the expansion development costs of a regional airport that serves not only Prescott, but also the entire region.
The disparity between municipal income and the costs to provide the services to maintain Prescott as an employment center will grow if the region doesn't function as a unit through intergovernmental agreements. Since much of Prescott's work force and out-of-city residents are one and the same, our council needs to consider this issue.
Prescott cannot approach such an issue alone. Regional cooperation with our human resources is critical.
We will elect our council to represent the taxpayers of Prescott as other municipal councils represent their tax base. Not all taxpayers are residents, and not all residents generate municipal income.
Because of the large overlap between communities, unless we deal with certain issues regionally, we're all spinning our wheels.
Teachers, government employees, manufacturers like Ruger, high tech employees like communication companies, service industries, etc., don't all receive the poverty-level wages that some council candidates imply they do.
However, all these people need a place to live within their income. Prescott has a major human resource drain responsible for regional growth. This drain creates an economic leakage from Prescott's gross economic productivity and income stream that the City Council cannot ignore.
Residential hubs also have to pay for infrastructure and general services. Equitable regional intergovernmental agreements covering revenue opportunities, cost sharing, quality housing commensurate to local wage scale, regional growth patterns and basic service delivery for area residents and businesses alike warrant priority attention by every potential tri-city council candidate, including Prescott.
Such terms as "tri-city council," "tri-city school district," "tri-city chamber," "tri-city general and strategic plan" all have nice rings to them.
I guess one could ask the new council candidates, "Are we one community with multiple neighborhoods, or three separate municipalities with different interests and goals?"
(Jim Lamerson is a downtown Prescott business owner and civic activist.)