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Growth, special events give Somerton a financial boost
The city of Somerton is doing well financially, thanks in part to a tremendous growth in population over the past 12 years.
“Actually from a budgeting standpoint, and what we experienced over the last four years, this has been a banner year for us,” said Bill Lee, city of Somerton manager. “We have done pretty well this year.”
The city's population grew from 7,266 in 2000 to 14,287 in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The increase creates more revenues from income taxes, the state transaction privilege tax, Highway User Revenue Fund monies, the vehicle license tax and the Local Transportation Assistance Fund.
Those taxes are collected by the state of Arizona each year, which then gives a portion of the money back to incorporated cities and towns and to counties as part of state shared revenues. The amount given back is based in part on the amount of residents living in each municipality.
“When we saw our population (grow), we saw a big increase in our share,” Lee said.
“We were one of the fortunate communities in the census in that … our population doubled in that time frame. Where many of the other communities were seeing less shared revenue, we actually saw a big increase in our state shared revenue.”
The city also has seen an increase in retail sales, which has led to an increase of sales taxes collected, said Doug Bradley, city of Somerton finance director.
“We have seen small growth, but growth nonetheless over the past couple of years. We hope that will continue, but to be honest, from a forecasting standpoint, when it comes to that we are month to month.”
City officials remain cautiously optimistic about future economic conditions, but “we are biting our nails just to make sure things are solid,” Bradley said. “There is no indication that we are out of the woods by any means.”
For now, the city is stable and was even able to end mandatory employee furloughs and provide a slight raise in salaries.
“During the recession here, we had placed our employees on furlough programs, and last year we were able to get out from underneath the furlough programs with our employees and... were even able to give all of our employees at least a 5 percent raise,” Lee said.
Another indicator Somerton's economy may be on the mend is the increase in new housing permits the city has given out this year.
“This last month we issued 21 or 22 new housing permits,” Lee said, adding that only six months into the current fiscal year, the city has provided as many permits as were given during the entire previous fiscal year.
“That is good news for us. That is going to bring new residents to our community, who will hopefully spend some of their money here in Somerton.”
Another way the city hopes to create more revenue is by hosting and supporting community events such as the annual Somerton Tamale Festival, during which more than 20,000 visitors come to the city.
“It is wonderful for us to have a full Main Street and visitors,” Lee said. “We hope that those visitors find something else on Main Street that will bring them back time and time again beyond just the tamale festival. I hope they have found a restaurant, café or retail shop that they really like.”
City officials are planning to “expand a couple of other special events, because we do believe that special events help the retailers,” Lee continued.
“Small mom-and-pop retailers struggle to survive on historic main streets across the country, and I am a firm believer that special events give them a little extra boost. They wouldn't be able, by themselves, to bring this many people to potentially see their businesses.”
City officials are also working on a multiyear plan to revitalize Main Street.
“We've had a committee of property owners and business owners working on this redevelopment plan, and (Dec. 18) was our first public hearing before the city council to discuss the plans,” Lee said. “We have taken some initial steps along the way, and hopefully the plan gets adopted in January.”
As part of the plan, the eastern portion of the city will be dedicated to service businesses, the middle to retail stores and the western portion to light industrial businesses.
“It has taken many years for Somerton to evolve to the point where we are now discussing how ... to get more retail here,” Lee said.
“We know it is going to be a long, long process, and the city is going to have to be actively involved in working with the property owners here on Main Street to really get that core retail that we need to see. It is going to take awhile, but steps are being made toward that.”
Chris McDaniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6849.