Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens gave a State of the City speech Friday, Oct. 3, at the Verde Valley Senior Citizens Center.
Normally the State of the City address is given at the end of the year. This year, the Clarkdale-Verde Kiwanis Club pushed her to give the speech earlier.
Dr. Robert “Bob” Richards introduced the mayor and gave a brief review of her background. He said this was her second year as mayor and she has been an active community volunteer and public servant throughout her life.
“I think everybody knows my passion for Cottonwood,” Joens began.
Joens said what she likes best about the City Council is their ability to disagree respectfully. In reviewing the newly appointed City Manager Doug Bartosh, she had much praise to give.
Joens said Bartosh “hit the ground running” when he took over.
Since then, he has been a quick study, provides excellent leadership, responds well to the council’s orders and is very good with the public. Most importantly, she said, he ensures council policies are swiftly and competently enacted.
Joens then spoke about the city’s economic development. The council created the position of economic development director two years ago, and Casey Rooney has been doing a great job, she said.
The council is looking at expanding public transportation, making it easier to get to the shops and stores, improving educational opportunities, getting businesses to open up shop in Cottonwood and making plans to build new office buildings to entice companies to move to the city, Joens said.
“We’re the center of commerce for the Verde Valley,” she said.
Joens said the current economy is “very challenging” for everyone. It is especially challenging after two years of good economic growth, but is now the worst economy she has seen in 16 years.
The most critical part of the problem, she said, is the decrease in sales tax revenue.
She said the council struggled with the issue of raising the sales tax, but in the end had no other option to keep the city running.
The city has always prided itself, Joens said, on operating solely on the sales tax. The citizens should consider the fallacy of depending on the sales tax only. This was in reference to the council’s plan of asking the citizens to approve a city property tax.
She said she is proud of the Cottonwood Police Department and its coordination with the Partners Against Narcotics Trafficking, which led to a 40-percent drop in major crimes.
As for the Cottonwood Fire Department, she spoke of the need to build a new fire station and hire 12 more firefighters. This is due to the growth of the city and the fact that CFD is the busiest fire department in the Verde Valley.
Joens said CFD Chief Mike Casson reported to her that all of his firefighters are now certified as paramedics.
Part of the city’s growth, she said, is looking ahead to annexing state and federal lands north of the city limits.
Joens said this is because of the land’s potential as a water resource for the community. Parts of the possible land annexation are at the Verde River headwaters, and if the lands stay in the State Trust Fund then the citizens of the area have no say in population density or infrastructure.
She said the city has informed the state that if it wants to develop the state trust lands, the city wishes to annex them before that happens.
“If these lands get developed,” Joens said, “then they should be in the city to give those people the right to vote [on city matters].”
She said Bartosh is looking to form a citizens committee with all of the local municipalities [Jerome, Clarkdale, Sedona, Camp Verde, Rimrock, Montezuma and Cottonwood] to discuss the possible impacts of the annexation, since any change to the Verde River affects everyone living in the valley.
Since purchasing the water companies, Joens said, the city has been able to enforce water conservation measures. They have also been able to repair, replace and upgrade damaged infrastructure which has only added to the city’s water conservation efforts.
“We have water running through town, and we want to keep it,” she said.
Joens said her primary goal as mayor is to get all of the area water conservation groups to work together for the future.