Originally Published: July 18, 2017 6:02 a.m.
Editor’s note: This is one of the key issue questions posed to Prescott City Council and Mayor candidates recently by the Daily Courier. The candidates were asked to answer a number of questions in 75 words or less. Voters will choose from among the candidates in the Aug. 29 primary.
About a year ago, the Prescott City Council agreed to set aside $3.8 million in the 2017 city budget for open space acquisitions.
Over the past year, about $35,000 of that has been spent to cover the cost of trail easements through Arizona State Trust Land, according to city officials.
The set-aside money was raised through the city’s 1-percent streets and open space sales tax, which was approved by voters in 2000, and expired at the end of 2016. (Over the course of that earlier sales tax, the bulk of the revenue went toward street improvements, with about $16.2 million going toward open space acquisitions).
The open space/streets breakdown was a point of contention for open space supporters, who stressed that the city had originally anticipated spending as much as $40.7 million of the tax revenue on open space.
The $3.8 million set-aside in June 2016 was intended, in part, to use a portion of the remaining open space/streets sales tax revenue to help complete Prescott’s trail system.
Here, candidates for Prescott Mayor and City Council weigh in on whether the city should be spending more on buying open space:
How important is open space in the community, and should the City Council be doing more to acquire open land? How would you pay for it?
Greg Mengarelli: As an avid mountain biker, I appreciate our preserved wilderness and open spaces. It is part of Prescott’s character and charm. In general, I believe that most people appreciate open spaces, but the question is where does something we want fit into the list of what the city needs?
Jean Wilcox: Open space is essential to our community and has proven to be an important economic resource for Prescott. Data shows that the trails usage is increasing every year. When tourists come to Prescott, they spend money, paying sales taxes that support our essential services. There are unique natural areas in Prescott, especially in the Granite Dells, that should be saved so we can all enjoy their natural beauty. Last year, the Council set aside $3.8 million in Open Space funds for future acquisitions. I would use those funds, in combination with negotiated easements, donations, and nonprofit partnerships to stretch our tax dollars as far as we can. Once the land is developed, it is gone forever.
Mary Beth Hrin: Open space is very important to a community. And our city is fortunate to be surrounded by the Prescott National Forest and home to a vast park system. At this time, however, given our public pension liability, I cannot support acquiring more open land except through monies previously set aside from the open space fund.
Alexa Scholl: Open space is incredibly important to the environmental, cultural, and historical aspects of the Prescott community. City Council should actively be working to acquire open land for preservation and protection purposes.
There are many ways to preserve open space other than outright buying of the land, including leases, easements, donations, intergovernmental agreements, and more. These alternatives would allow the city to make open space a priority while being fiscally conservative.
Greg Lazzell: The city of Prescott is surrounded by millions of acres of open space.
Phil Goode: Prescott currently has $3.8 million in the Open Space fund. If the opportunity arises for the right price in the right area I would support expanding the City’s open space.
Connie Cantelme: Open space is very important to this community but again at this time facing what we’re facing with the PSPRS issue we must tighten our belts. I would be inclined to hold off on purchasing any more land especially if we can’t take care of the land we have now.
Steve Blair: Open space is important and we have a lot of it. The city will acquire what it needs based upon the open space master plan. Payment of new open space is already in the budget. We need to be frugal on what we purchase.
New development pays for future open space.
Joe Viccica: Open space is important. Our trail system, together with the local Forest Service trails, is a major tourism draw and vital to our own quality of life. The City Council should be working to acquire open land where conservation is necessary. $3.8 million is already set aside for open space acquisition and should be used for that purpose.