New Council Presents United Front To State Lawmakers

By Joyce Lobeck

“It was a great day to build relationships,” Mayor Douglas Nicholls said of the Yuma City Council’s trip last week to the State Capitol to meet with Arizona’s lawmakers.

“It was well worth the trip to Phoneix,” he said of the council’s legislative day. “We introduced the new council to the legislators and had a lot of good discussion. We have their ear … they’re very interested in all our issues. It was all very positive.”

And a concerted effort was made to present a united front, said Nicholls, whose overarching goal as mayor is his United for Yuma campaign. “We had the ability to show we’re starting in a new, fresh direction and everyone is on board. That’s one of those things you can’t accomplish over the phone.”

HURF – Highway User Revenue Funds – came up in discussions with legislators and Gov. Jan Brewer as city officials pressed for restoration of the funding to cities and towns to help pay for local roadway projects.

Since 2004, the Legislature has swept a total of $231.7 million in HURF money from municipalities to help balance the state budget, leaving them with nearly empty coffers to fix streets and build new roads, according to the League of Cities and Towns. Yuma has lost $4.8 million while San Luis has lost $1.3 million, Somerton $737,000 and Wellton $148,680.

City Administrator Greg Wilkinson said there appears to be a lot of support among legislators to restore HURF to its statutory levels and he’s hopeful there will be action on it during this year’s legislative session. There’s also hope the governor would support a HURF restoration bill if one is passed.

However, he noted that the governor’s budget does not include HURF, and Brewer didn’t comment either way on the issue during the council’s 45-minute meeting with her.

Wilkinson also is optimistic there will be legislation allowing victims of graffiti to recover all costs of graffiti abatement, including materials and labor. A bipartisan bill is being introduced in the House of Representatives and appears to have widespread support, he said.

In addition, there was quite a bit of discussion about the proposed veterans home to be built in Yuma, Nicholls said. Last week, Brewer announced that her budget includes $9.2 million for the project.

“We want to keep it in the budget,” Nicholls said. “There’s a lot of support to make that happen.”

Wilkinson observed that the Yuma contingent included five veterans: himself, Deputy Administrator Ricky Rinehart and Councilmen Gary Knight, Edward Thomas and William Craft.

While the council found a receptive audience among lawmakers on a couple of other issues, Wilkinson said he doesn’t anticipate there will be any action on them this year.

One is a request for a bill to better define where candidates can place political campaign signs in rights-of-way adjoining a business or private property without the owner’s permission as well as restrictions on signs in rights-of-way adjoining a city-owned building.

The issue has been upsetting to some businesses and individuals, who say the signs placed in front of their property give the impression they support the candidate when they may not, Wilkinson explained.

“I don’t think there will be a bill this year but (lawmakers) were receptive,” he said. “Maybe next year.”

Maybe next year also was the impression Wilkinson received for the city’s request for legislation to limit excessive requests for public records. “There’s a lot of support,” he said. “It’s a matter of figuring out what can be done.”

During the meeting with the governor, she was thanked for her “tremendous support for Yuma,” Wilkinson said. And Brewer was presented with a Centennial coin commemorating the city’s 100th birthday this year along with an invitation to attend the opening festivities on April 7 to flip the switch on the new Main Street signs in downtown Yuma.