Kingman Mayor Monica Gates is about 15 months into her term. The Miner checked in with her for her take on the state of the city and her perception of what lies ahead.
Miner: Looking back at the last 15 months of your term, what do you see as the city's biggest accomplishments?
Gates: You'll have to look at it from a change-of-direction standpoint. This city council has clearly gone from reacting to the needs of today to anticipating and planning for the needs of tomorrow. We are more fulfilling our roles as policymakers. With that happening, and having a great administration to work with us to enter those policies that they're carried out, that direction then takes care of all the other tangible accomplishments that we've made the last 15 months. But this change in direction and changing culture is really what is driving all this wonderful economic development and things that we see in Kingman right now.
Miner: What would you say would be the biggest tangible accomplishments?
Gates: Part of what we do now, what we're doing today, we won't see the fruition for many, many years. But to actually be getting ready to participate in the groundbreaking for Airway Avenue, that is the first major capital improvement project we've had in ... going on a decade. We've changed the way we do business. We realize now that we cannot, we can no longer afford to pay as we go, that we must make an investment in our future, and we've learned how to get where we build by partnership. So, this is the first of many, many exciting tangible projects.
Miner: What do you see as the city's biggest priorities?
Gates: There are two. The economic policy, which is so essential. The second one is the growth boundary-slash-annexation. That has certainly changed in the past year. A year ago we would talk about annexation, but there was always a reason why not to. We now have a council that understands the cost of not annexing. That is a huge change. We're starting to see more and more citizens understanding the need for one united community.
Miner: What progress is the city making toward annexation? How is the city planning to set growth boundaries?
Gates: We have been having work sessions, we have invited all interested parties to attend and participate, such as the county, developers that have purchased large pieces of land in areas we're looking to annex. We have UniSource Utilities, any interested parties, fire departments, other service providers have all been in attendance at these meetings. We have drawn the circle of what we as a council felt would be appropriate. Staff is now working to create a step-by-step strategy for annexation, so everyone has a clear understanding of how big we're going to be. And how do we go about that? We rely on their expertise to understand how do we provide service levels, water resources, things like that. That doesn't happen overnight. There's some research they're working on currently, and they're going to come back to us with essentially how to go about doing it. We have people that wish to hook up to our water. We are having them now look at a pre-annexation agreement, also understanding that if they want our water service, they build to city standards, fits our precursor to actual annexation. These developers are very desirous of being a part of the city of Kingman. If we don't absolutely entertain this, we could very probably become an exceptionally small city in the middle of a lot of activity. It's too important that we stay united.
Miner: What do you see as the main justification for closing Louise? With concerns of increased congestion on Eastern Avenue and Hualapai Mountain Road, how do you see the access problem alleviated?
Gates: We knew when we began negotiating with the railroad that they were going to ask for the closure of Louise. If you look at Louise, it is not a good access, hasn't been for many years. It currently has over 8,000 vehicle trips per-day. We have absolutely destroyed a neighborhood. And the traffic is not going to decrease. I was asked recently 'why don't you just improve Louise?' It really is cost-prohibitive at this point. It's not the best access. If you look at the space between Hualapai Mountain Road and Louise, it's essentially too close. Airway Underpass will have the capability to carry a lot more traffic. Additionally, the railroad has agreed to work with the city for another separated crossing. Certainly by eliminating these at-grade crossings we're doing two things: eliminating the possibility of accidents and enhancing quality of life, because we won't have all those train whistles running through town.
Miner: Stockton Hill Road for most, it's a bottleneck for north-south access. Anything being done to alleviate it?
Gates: We've done what we could, currently. The traffic light synchronization has worked quite well. Chief DeVries has been very responsive in stepping up traffic enforcement. Accidents are down since the synchronization. It's really going to take a second commercial corridor. If we have new businesses in another part of town, we won't have everybody having to do all their commerce running Stockton Hill Road. We're big enough now that there's certainly a need for retail in other parts of the community.
Miner: What is the city's strategy in attracting more retail and where do you think they will go other than Stockton Hill Road?
Gates: We're meeting with successful business people who've come to Kingman, made a real investment in the community and have done very well. What's working for you now and what do you want to see for the future of Kingman. We're meeting with all of these stakeholders to come up with the economic development policy. We have it in place, we've already budgeted for a city-driven economic development director who will ideally help us to identify who we are and market ourselves. There has been some inquiries regarding some city-owned property at the proposed Kingman Crossing interchange. We are looking at having that master planned and looking to have that developed.
Rattlesnake Wash, also, I think you saw recently, we do have the right of way now necessary to get that interchange, and, that is, we have given our word to ADOT, and we have obviously held up to that. We have also given them the zoning to do another commercial quadrant there. The timing pretty much depends on when we get on the five-year plan with ADOT. The city-owned property project may actually happen in a more timely manner because we've been looking at private funding.
Miner: Does pursuing Kingman Crossing at all compromise the efforts with Rattlesnake Wash?
Gates: Absolutely not. I've had this from ADOT they absolutely understand the need for both. They can appreciate it when they do their traffic counts, and they know what's coming. With the NAFTA corridor, with the opening of the Hoover Dam bypass, the truck traffic here is increasing. One doesn't preclude the other, by any means. I look at Airway underpass, the Rattlesnake Wash interchange, Kingman Crossing interchange, and I'm thinking, "we're not thinking out far enough." We need to be planning for the next and the next, and as we're looking at growth boundaries, that's how we create these plans. We're sitting down with the developers. We're sitting down with the school board superintendent, the police, fire, and UniSource, and any other interested party, and we're all saying "where are you going to need a school and a park, not just now, but in 10 years, 20 years or 30 years. This is going to be our plan and how we go about getting it done.
Miner: In light of recent fee increases as a result of the recent revenue study, what other means do you see pursuing to finance growing demands on infrastructure?
Gates: This council has adopted a policy of new growth shall pay for growth. By making that statement, we have been saying the city will no longer in any part subsidize more projects. So now, building fees, water meters, etc., are minimally at a break even.
We are obviously streamlining some things. We do have to look for some new sources of revenue. When I was at the bond-rating meeting in San Francisco, that was one eyebrow raised, that we didn't have diversified enough sources of revenue. We will be looking at impact fees, it's going on all over, and it just really is prudent. You want to go ahead and implement them now, rather than waiting and then it becomes absolutely cost prohibitive today, because it's going to be so much. So we're looking at what we think the community can afford. We're also looking at user fees. That will be more for maintenance, road maintenance. We may be looking at an increase in sales tax percentage. We also have to be looking at a primary property tax. We have to get very real here. We want to continue to provide the level of service that we have been able to for years, but with this exponential growth and the demand on infrastructure, we are $44 million behind on infrastructure. That was as of a year ago. We certainly as a community have to make an investment. By coupling an annexation strategy with a combination of impact fees, maybe small user fees, we could end up with a very small property tax that would enable us to stay ahead of the demand. What we're looking for is a balance. Any good financial adviser will tell you the same thing: You can't have all your eggs in one basket. We really have to be diversified on how we run this city.
Miner: Water. How do you see Kingman managing what's available and do you think we have a good idea of what the sustainability limits are?
Gates: We are in very good shape. The surrounding communities, not so much. And we are fully aware that legislation can change. We have some legislation coming through that will assist us. We have no more wildcat wells within a 100 feet of a water system. We are working with these new developers making sure that whatever they're putting in matches what our needs are as a city. That's what drives the growth boundaries' study, you have to understand what resources you have available. I'm very comfortable that between our staff and the consultants, we have a pretty good handle on it. We do have a conservation plan in place. We've just changed the water rates to encourage conservation. The time to educate is prior to a crisis, which we never want to get to.
Miner: Do you plan to run again?
Gates: Yes. Circumstances dictated I spend more time doing mayoral things. Because I've spent more time working on mayoral things, circumstances have changed. Going out, spending more time state level, working with the new stakeholders that are coming into the community. I feel from great discussions that Kingman's image is changing at a state level. We're now perceived as receptive to new businesses, receptive to growth, to change. We now have a professional, friendly, cooperative attitude. There are things that I've been working on I think are truly, truly essential. My belief is if we don't get ahead of this growth, which we are doing, it will be absolutely detrimental to our community. We have the incredible opportunity right now to shape how Kingman is going to be for the next generation and generations after that. We have the people that are all committed to doing the right things. One thing new business, or any kind of new industry, looks for is stability. It's important we keep the same consistency going. We've started a lot of really awesome things. And looking back the last 15 months, we've really made incredible progress. There's just so much more we can do with this team.