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Candidates diverge on land
Written by Mark Lineberger   
Wednesday, 22 April 2009 12:43

In a few short weeks Camp Verde will either return incumbent Mayor Tony Gioia to office or elect challenger and member of the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission Bob Burnside.

To give both candidates a chance to explain their positions, they met Thursday, April 16, at the town’s building complex to answer questions from the public.

There were no cards for the public to write their questions on; people got to address their questions directly to the candidates.

The debate, sponsored by the Camp Verde Chamber of Commerce, was moderated by Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis. It ended up being less of a debate and more of an opportunity for the candidates to express their ideas, philosophies and opinions.

The two-hour forum brought to the forefront a wide range of issues facing the town.

Burnside emphasized that he wasn’t trying to run a mudslinging campaign; he wants to take stock of where the town is right now and set realistic priorities.

Gioia pointed to his record as two-term mayor; he said his goal has always been to move Camp Verde forward while keeping it off the “comics page” in the eyes of other Arizonans.

Burnside said he felt there was too much red tape at Town Hall, and that the town’s codes should be given an extensive overhaul. In talking to residents and developers, Burnside said he felt the town had too many roadblocks to needed growth.

While Burnside said he wouldn’t be able to bring those needed jobs to Camp Verde in two years, he said he was confident in the town’s staff and would avoid micromanagement as mayor.

Gioia agreed with the need to revise town codes; he pointed out that an effort is already under way to do just that. Gioia said that although the economy is in poor shape, it presents an opportunity for Camp Verde to plan for the future. The lack of tax revenue has forced the town to become more efficient, Gioia said, and new signs pointing to downtown Camp Verde are already starting to bring more traffic onto Main Street.
Fort Verde

With state budget cuts raising the specter of closing the town’s main tourist attractions, residents want to know what the candidates plan to do if the worst-case scenario becomes reality.

Gioia said he had been in contact with the recently retired director of Arizona State Parks to try and find an alternative that would keep the fort open.

As it is, Gioia said the fort would likely drop two days a week from its operating schedule.

Gioia also brought up the possibility of using a little-used state account intended to provide matching funds to local governments to purchase open land to keep the fort running, but acknowledged the idea might be a long shot given the financial condition of the state and town.

Burnside said he didn’t have a plan per se, but he was confident that if the fort were to close, the town would be able to pull together and find a way to keep the fort going.

Rio Verde Plaza
The Main Street shopping center owned by the town was recently scheduled for demolition.

Burnside said that the land should be used for a parking lot for tour buses if the Chamber of Commerce can succeed in bringing in more tourists. He also suggested that the building could possibly be used as a municipal court building, freeing the local court from having to convene in the town’s council chambers.

Gioia said the building was originally purchased by the town to use the land for a possible new town building; the plans didn’t pan out, and the town found itself operating a commercial enterprise at a loss.

Gioia said it would cost $30,000 just to bring the building up to meeting town codes. Plans to possibly hand the building over to a private entity didn’t work out, and Gioia said the town shouldn’t be competing with local businesses by basically subsidizing a few businesses with taxpayers’ money.

State Route 260
A few years ago, a plan to create a four-lane highway between Camp Verde and Cottonwood was derailed when local governments couldn’t agree on the details. Both candidates still feel that improving the highway is a necessity.

Gioia said that he has been talking to officials within the Arizona Department of Transportation to try and make progress; ADOT is promoting a new highway design that could see the road improved, Gioia said.

Regardless, Gioia said obtaining cooperation between local governments is important this time around as long as the primary focus is on safety and improved mobility.

Burnside said that it’s not worth focusing on what should be done until the town works to heal strained relations created between Verde Valley governments, when the idea was floated a few years ago.

Once everyone is working together and playing fair, Burnside said it would be far easier to find the money and support to improve the highway to meet the needs of the entire Verde Valley.


Parks
Burnside said the town should have bought the 223 acres of land near the old airstrip instead of the 118 acres across the highway that the town ended up purchasing.

Gioia said that the 118 acres provides an excellent location for a park, one that the town actually owns after years of discussion, and one which was purchased from the National Forest Service without going into debt.
Verde River

Burnside said he hadn’t paid much attention to the Verde River until he decided to run for office. He said that the river was extremely important but was hesitant to trust Salt River Project and its motives when it comes to their opinions on how to manage the river. Burnside compared SRP to a camel that stuck its nose under the tent and before long was completely inside.

Gioia said that the Verde River and water issues in general were his passion, and that he has fought vigorously to protect the river including offering vocal opposition to outside pumping of regional groundwater sources which could affect the river’s flow. Gioia said he’s also worked with SRP to help obtain additional water rights for the town.
Finances

Burnside said that the town was doing relatively well until the recent economic downturn. Now, Burnside said everyone needs to tighten their belts and try to ride out the recession. Real growth, Burnside said, won’t come until the Camp Verde Sanitary District can complete its current expansion project and provide the infrastructure needed to support more businesses and houses.

Gioia said that, while times were tough, Camp Verde was in amazing shape compared to other municipalities. He credited the town’s staff and elected officials for creating a budget that, even after projected shortfalls, might only end up $13,000 in the red.

Mark Lineberger can be reached at 567-3341 or e-mail
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