Mayor: Coolidge headed in the "right" direction

Rofida Khairalla, Pinal Central |

COOLIDGE — Although Coolidge Days celebrates the city, residents and the president the municipality was named after in 1925, the festival is also a time reflect upon the past and look toward future of Coolidge in a rapidly growing and changing county.

Once a rural, farming community located near the heart of a relatively rural central Arizona, Coolidge — like surrounding areas such as Eloy, Maricopa and even Gilbert — was known for the abundance of agricultural land and cotton production.

But that perspective, according to Mayor Jon Thompson, is slowly changing, with an eye toward sustaining positive growth instead of simply looking to the past.

Within the past year alone, the city has poured thousands of dollars into improving infrastructure, which included making much needed upgrades to Coolidge Municipal Airport.

The improvements, said Thompson, paid off when the airport received the Airport of the Year in early June, awarded by Arizona Department of Aeronautics Division.

”That’s a big accomplishment, considering that there are 130 that compete for that award,” Thompson said.

When it comes to fixing up infrastructure, the improvements don’t stop there.

Over past few years, the city has taken on a massive project to give some of the older streets and buildings a facelift — in some cases tearing up streets and laying down fresh pavement, such as along streets like Central Avenue, Coolidge Avenue and Main Street.

Getting some of those projects completed has required Coolidge to work with other jurisdictions around the area, like Pinal County.

With sales taxes dropping, these kinds of partnerships will grow more important as time goes on, Thompson said.

”No jurisdiction is going to be able to stand on its own for everything because the sales tax revenues are dropping,” he said. “There are people that probably don’t approve of some of the things we’ve done, let’s say maybe (with) the marijuana growing facilities.

”We’re losing a percent and a half a year in sales tax revenue. So you’re going to have to replace that somewhere.”

Another key change the city has made in the last year: switching to a new solid waste pick up system — one that gives residents the benefits of a private-public partnership.

The shift will help the city to set money aside to close a nearby landfall that could cost anywhere up to of a million dollars, and also addresses the issue of illegal dumping.

For Coolidge, a solution to the problem might lie in raising the penalties for illegal dumping as well as potentially hiring code enforcement officers.

Other changes, the mayor said, have been more about shaking up the way things are done within the city government itself.

That includes hiring several new faces throughout city departments, such as in areas like public works, developmental services and the fire department.

The city, said Thompson, is always looking for places where it can reasonably save money, such as hiring for fewer upper management positions.

With areas throughout Pinal County experiencing a boom in population, like Casa Grande and San Tan Valley, smaller municipalities like Coolidge are also expected to see significant growth.

For Thompson, that’s part of the reason why Props 416 and 417, which will be up for a vote this election season, are so critical to the region.

The propositions, which propose to half cent tax increase to fund the Pinal Regional Transportation Plan, will help develop more than $641 million dollars worth of roadways in Pinal County, including the North-South Corridor.

If passed, the proposed freeway would help accommodate a growing population in Coolidge and surrounding areas, Thompson said.

Even if passed, however, the freeway will still be years in the making.

“You have to look at ways you’re going to do things down the road, whether it’s me and this council or the next mayor and the next council,” Thompson said. “I think (the town) is moving in the right direction, but progress comes slow and change comes even slower.”

The anticipated growth of Coolidge is expected to come about at a somewhat faster rate.

Currently, the city is aiming to become a hub for industry and business within Pinal County. Already, Coolidge has become home to several job producing manufacturers and businesses like Pinal Land Holdings and Bright International Corporation.

More businesses, Thompson said, are also considering Coolidge as an ideal location, with an abundance of perks to offer.

Key factors that give the city an upper hand when it comes to future development include the access to water, the city’s proximity to both Phoenix and Tucson, and the ease of access to the interstate.

”We’ve got a lot to offer,” Thompson said. “You have a mayor and council that would welcome growth and city staff that could maneuver through the steps and processes much quicker than you could in other cities. Our process is a lot smoother and cleaner.”