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County Official Recalls A Year Of Accomplishments

Yuma County Administrator Robert Pickels didn’t think the list would be so long when asked to talk about the county’s accomplishments for 2013.

But when he started to write down a list, he realized just how much had been achieved in the past year:

Buying a building, opening a new facility in East County, keeping the property tax rate flat and fighting off an attempted “water grab” were only part of what the county accomplished.

Officials spent a lot of time working on the acquisition of a 110-year-old building located at 197 Main St. in the Yuma Downtown Historic District across from the Yuma County Administration Building.

The county bought the 52,000-square-foot building to relieve overcrowding at the Adult Probation Office, which also houses the offices of the assessor, recorder and treasurer. These departments will move out of the Adult Probation building, located at 405 S. Main St., and into the recently acquired building.

“The acquisition was the easy part. Figuring out how to use it was the challenging part,” Pickels said.

The Board of Supervisors approved a contract with Hunter and Company in the amount of $168,850 for architectural design services for the three-story building with basement. The firm analyzed the county’s current space needs of the departments and offered the supervisors several options.

They went with Option 3, which will include replacing the in-fill building on the north side for a new entry and replacing mechanical, electrical, plumbing and structural components. The first phase will include relocating the assessor to the first and third floor, the recorder to the first floor and the treasurer to the second floor.

In Phase Two, the supervisors’ offices and the board room will be relocated to the first floor and administration will move to the first floor and the mezzanine. Other departments will move as space is available.

“Now that we have that in place, we can move forward with the design,” Pickels said. “We’re pretty excited about that.”

He said the public’s reaction to the building’s acquisition has been “mostly positive.”

“It will help stabilize Main Street and downtown in general and attract more businesses,” he noted.

The historic building has a colorful past, including housing a Sanguinetti business and a stage coach company.

Altogether, the county borrowed $7.5 million for this project, with $4.6 million for remodeling and $2.1 million was to pay for the recently completed East County Facility in Wellton.

With an increase in activities in that part of the county, “a growth area,” the old facility was “badly outdated,” Pickels said. “People were waiting in the hallway and outside in the heat. There was no room for general use.”

The county departments primarily occupying the 8,850-square-foot building are Justice of the Peace No. 3 and the Sheriff’s Department. A multi-use room provides for satellite functions for the Health Department, Development Services, Recorder’s Office and constable.

A lot of the activity in JP3 is due to the Border Patrol checkpoint, Pickels noted.

A big issue that the county grappled with was a perceived “water grab” legislation, House Bill 2338, introduced by Speaker of the House Andy Tobin.

“That was a big deal for us. It was a wake up call,” Pickels said.

The controversial bill would have authorized water augmentation authorities that could buy and sell water. County officials and agriculture leaders worried the action would target their Colorado River water supplies primarily to benefit northern Arizona communities in Tobin’s Yavapai County legislative district.

Agriculture leaders noted the water is critical to Yuma County’s $3.2 billion agriculture industry, the leading sector of the area’s economy.

“We got real nervous, but the community rallied around that issue,” Pickels said.

“It worked. It did not make it through legislative committee. It was a great success. We stood up to the metro areas and came out on top. It’s important to note we were successful this time, but it won’t be the last time,” he added.

Another big issue involved the county’s Animal Control Division and its relationship with the Humane Society of Yuma.

“We were concerned with HSOY’s ability to efficiently kennel our dogs. We were trying to decide if it would be more efficient to run our own kennels,” Pickels explained.

But after “the animal community decided it was not a good idea,” the county worked with HSOY to come up with a “long-term solution,” he said.

“The county decided to pay a lump sump for kennel services, rather than per animal,” Pickels added. “And we got access to the shelter, which was huge because we did not have it before. We had to wait for HSOY staff.”

The $150,000 agreement calls for HSOY to provide kenneling services for the county through June 30, 2014.

Another achievement “we’re all pretty proud of” is keeping the property tax rate flat. The budget approved by the supervisors included a reduced primary tax levy and a primary property tax rate of $1.8798. The combined county primary and secondary property tax rates increased from $2.9601 to $2.9783.

Supervisors voted unanimously to reject staff’s recommendation to raise the tax rate to offset declining property values. Instead, they lowered the tax levy, which resulted in a decrease of $1.1 million from last year’s total tax levy of $23.4 million.

The supervisors decided to keep it the same after learning the state cut the county’s contributions for Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System and Arizona Long Term Care System by $1.1 million. In addition, department heads and elected officials had already trimmed $2.2 million from the budget.

Another achievement was the getting the mental health court “up and running,” Pickels said.

The court’s goal is two-fold: To get individuals in criminal proceedings the mental health they need and keeping them out of the general jail population.

“The two are entwined,” Pickels said, noting that individuals who need treatment do not get the care they need in jail, which technically has no staff psychiatrist.

Pickels credits Judge John Nelson and the Adult Probation Department for bringing this court to fruition.

Another significant feat was attaining an $80,000 Rural Business Enterprise Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The grant will be used by the Greater Yuma Port Authority to develop a business plan for the 240-acre Magrino Industrial Park adjacent to the San Luis Commercial Port of Entry.

The plan will determine the appropriate market, infrastructure, capital resources, partners, strategies and goals to foster small business development in the industrial park, which sits on the border with Mexico just east of the port.

“You have to know how to market it” and “what is going to thrive there,” Pickels said at the time.

“It is a waste of time, I think, to bring somebody in there that is not going to plant roots and be there long term. When we talk about creating jobs, we want sustainable jobs.”

Another project that county officials believe will benefit the county is the $12.4 million Martinez Lake Road project funded by the Federal Highway Administration and administered by the Arizona Department of Transportation.

The project calls for the reconstruction of 5.1 miles roadway from Red Cloud Mine Road east to the Yuma Proving Grounds’ free-fall training area. FHWA has programmed the start of the design phase for 2014, with construction slated for 2016.

And with new county elected officials and department heads, 2013 was also a year of transition. Voters elected Russ Clark as supervisor for District 3, Leon Wilmot as sheriff and Angela Pancrazi Moreno as treasurer.

Former planning director Paul Melcher stepped into the new role of chief deputy county administrator, a position that had been dormant for the last few years. Sandi Hoppough was named chief adult probation officer and Tony Badilla the new emergency management director.

Mara Knaub can be reached at mknaub@yumasun.com or (928) 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.