Town hall addresses Arizona issues

KINGMAN - Kingman Rotary and Soroptimist groups along with local and county government officials got an update on the rapid growth in Arizona on Wednesday from Arizona Town Hall's President Tara Jackson and President Emeritus Shirley Agnos.

"When I heard this was going to take place, I was very excited because I am somewhat familiar with Town Hall's great work," said Shay Givans, a Kingman Realtor and Soroptimist member.

"Arizona is growing and this is an opportunity to hear about the Hall's findings."

Arizona Town Hall is a private, non-profit organization.

Twice a year, the organization gathers a group of 150 prominent residents to discuss important topics concerning the state.

The information from the town hall meetings is bound with research on the topic by one of Arizona's universities and then published.

The organization then holds "post Town Hall programs" throughout the state, such as the one held in Kingman, to spread its findings to interested local groups.

Last year's Arizona Town Hall topics included the impact population growth was having on the state's services, infrastructure and natural resources.

"Pretty much all of the toughest issues Mohave County deals with are due to growth," said Ron Walker, Mohave County manager.

"And we are not alone. Every county in this state has been impacted by water, infrastructure and transportation challenges brought about by the fact that we are now the fastest growing state."

Agnos cited research that showed that Arizona's population had increased by 213,311 residents in 2006.

Two local residents who participated in an Arizona Town Hall presented a more local opinion on water use and education.

Water

Brett Blubaugh, a commercial loan officer from Mohave State Bank, attended an Arizona Town Hall meeting in April 2006.

"It (Arizona Town Hall) opened my eyes to how the legislative process works," he said.

At the Town Hall he attended, two major issues were brought up about the use of water in the state: regulation of water in communities outside of Active Management Areas and use of water on private property.

Kingman and Mohave County get most of their water from wells. There are five Active Management Areas where the use of ground water is monitored by the state. Kingman and Mohave County are not within one of the five AMAs. Outside of the AMAs there is no regulation of ground water usage, Blubaugh said.

Mohave County has seen an increase in demand for water, especially in Golden Valley and White Hills. Large developments in those areas are drilling deep wells and will start using a lot of ground water in those areas once people move into those developments.

Blubaugh said at the Town Hall he attended, residents thought that ground water outside of AMAs should be managed by local governments. A bill to that effect has passed the Arizona Senate and is currently working its way through the House.

Another issue brought up was the use of water on private property. Most residents who own private wells don't want to let go of their rights to their water.

However, residents who have wells and live next to large developments may find their wells too shallow to draw water when those developments start to fill with people. The bill moving through the legislature should address this concern as well, he said.

"It's just amazing that in the desert there's enough water to feed all the growth that we're seeing. I think that its something that needs to be addressed and that people should take an interest in conserving water and finding out the most effective way of using water," he said.

Education

Education was another focus of discussion on Wednesday. Arizona currently has a ratio of 21.3 students to every teacher, Jackson said.

"This is one of the areas where Arizona has a ranking that we shouldn't be proud of. We are the second highest in the nation in this ratio," said Jackson.

The state also has one of the lowest pay rates for teachers in the nation, she said.

Kingman Unified School District Superintendent Maurice Flores attended a Town Hall meeting that addressed education.

"It was an exciting experiment and experience. It was an extensive three days of hard work," he said.

At the time he attended a Town Hall, the state was ranked 49th in funding education. It is now ranked 50th.

"To put it bluntly, we're a cheap state when it comes to funding education," he said. However, despite the lack of funding, Arizona students are still reaching the median level in education in the nation.

"We're doing a good job with the resources they are giving us," he said.

One of the problems the state has is the influx of students from around the country and from Latin America.

"The growth in the community is fantastic, and I believe in the growth," Flores said, "We have some growing pains. What are we going to do with this influx of kids?"

The influx of students from Latin America is posing a major problem in the state.

"We have under-funded education for the minority students," Flores said. "We're still struggling with funding, adequate funding, not only for regular students, but the ELL (English Language-Learning) students."

ELL students cost districts more money than regular students and the state currently has a lack of ELL or English as a Second Language teachers.

Connected to the problem of under-funded education is the lack of teachers.

"We pay so poorly in the state of Arizona. It is hard to attract quality teachers, quality individuals, that are going to be responsible for the education of our students."

He said it was amazing how many people at the Town Hall thought the state was doing well in teacher pay.

The No Child Left Behind law isn't helping the situation, Flores said. Congress didn't consult educators when designing the law and it has tied the hands of school districts when it comes to hiring teachers.

Another expense in education comes from gangs. Kingman has a number of kids that have come in from the Las Vegas area and California who are involved in gangs. These kids can be very disruptive to the learning environment of other students and often require special educational programs themselves.

In order for Kingman to continue to be a quality place to live, the community needs quality education. Public education is the underpinning of society, and without public education we will fail, Flores said.

Other issues

Some of the other problems associated with growth in the state pointed out by Jackson and Agnos included: efficient use of land, energy and water resources; threats to air quality; affordable housing; workforce development; education; health care; public safety; arts and culture; politics and providing public services.

Some of the solutions to those problems were: better use and conservation of state land; better planning and more flexible zoning codes for land use; maximizing conservation and use of water, especially outside of active management areas; increasing funding for transportation and infrastructure needs; reducing air pollution through stricter regulations and incentives; and conserving and looking for new clean sources of energy.

Other listed solutions included incentives for developers to build more affordable housing; creating partnerships between businesses and educational institutions to better meet workforce needs; reform educational funding; increase teachers' pay; provide incentives for healthy lifestyles; programs to reduce recidivism; increasing the number of substance abuse prevention programs; more funding and incentives to recruit more officers; more funding for the arts; including the arts, culture and recreation in economic development projects; tax reform and capturing more federal money for the state.