Originally Published: December 12, 2015 6 a.m.
PRESCOTT - As he makes his rounds as Prescott's new mayor, Harry Oberg said he continues to hear about two main topics: the proliferation of group recovery homes, and the public-safety pension system.
Oberg, who took office on Nov. 24, has been settling into his new office at Prescott City Hall over the past several weeks. First up, he said, were tours of the various city departments and divisions. "I've been getting a good sense of how diverse (city services) are," he said this week.
Along with the internal tours, Oberg said he has talked with a number of city residents. "I hear people talk about PSPRS (Public Safety Personnel Retirement System) and drug rehab," he said.
Indeed, in Oberg's first meeting as mayor, he briefly identified his priorities, and the two issues topped that list.
Leading up to his swearing-in as mayor, Oberg attended meetings of the Ad Hoc Committee on Drug Rehab Recovery Homes at the State Legislature in Phoenix, and he has been working with State Rep. Noel Campbell on possible legislation.
The ad hoc committee ultimately recommended legislation that would give cities and counties more authority in regulating and inspecting sober-living homes.
"We should have an idea what (the bill) looks like before the legislature opens," Oberg said this week.
Campbell said the legislation is currently being drafted at the capitol, and should be ready before the Jan. 11 start of the session.
Meanwhile, Oberg says he supports the direction the legislation is heading.
"What they want to do is give the localities the authority to go out and look at the operational (aspects of the group homes)," Oberg said. "I don't think that would mean licensing."
He acknowledges, however, that the legislation could bring more responsibilities to the city. "What we're going to have to do is train our code enforcement officers," Oberg said, adding that the legislation could allow local governments to "look at the level of care" provide by the group homes.
"A lot of these homes don't have that," Oberg said.
To help pay for the added level of local responsibility, Oberg suggests using the business tax idea that came up during the City Council's recent discussion of how to deal with the city's $1.2 million budget shortfall.
While considering possible cuts and/or revenue enhancements, the council heard about an option for imposing a business license and a business tax.
While the business license likely would come with a nominal fee, City Attorney Jon Paladini told the City Council that the business tax could be tiered to charge businesses that require more public-safety services (example: group homes and assisted living facilities) a higher rate.
Oberg said such a business tax could help the city pay for the heightened level of local regulation. But he pointed out that such discussions are still preliminary. "We're still looking at whether a business license makes sense," he said.
City Manager Craig McConnell said Friday, Dec. 11 that city staffers plan to have a business-license proposal ready for council consideration in the coming month, with a decision and -depending on the council direction - possible implementation by July 1, 2016.
In addition, McConnell expects the business tax issue to be a matter of discussion during the upcoming budget discussions for fiscal year 2017.
Prescott Chamber of Commerce CEO David Maurer said this week that the chamber board has yet to consider the business license/tax matter, but likely would do so as the city process moves forward.
"In previous years, we have supported the concept of business licenses," Maurer said. Of the business tax, he said, "We most definitely will study it, ask questions, and probably take a position on the issue."
Oberg said he also has been dealing with the future of the PSPRS during his first weeks in office. He pointed out that he recently met with representatives of the Reason Foundation, a public-policy think tank that is working with the involved stakeholders on possible pension reform.
In recent action, the City Council agreed to hire a lobbyist to help promote Prescott's interests at the State Legislature on the ongoing PSPRS reform, as well as the group home legislation. Oberg said the council would get regular reports on the progress.
Other issues on Oberg's radar include: possible regionalization of the Prescott Airport; and the siting of a plant in the region that would use slash and timber extracted from the forest for the manufacture of wood pellets and building materials.
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