For almost two decades I have had the distinct honor and pleasure to represent and work with residents, businesses as well as appointed and elected leaders within the Carefree community. As residents, businesses and leaders have transitioned through the community, our fiscally conservative management approach has served the community well. Looking towards the future, as the community approaches residential build-out a renewed focus will be on revitalization/updating of residences as well as the community infrastructure.
Additionally, as the community matures, levels of services will need to be revisited to ensure the Town addresses the evolving needs of the community. For example, public safety is always a critical contributor to the quality of life for Carefree residents and businesses. From a community policing perspective, calming traffic passing through the community is a constant concern expressed by many Carefree residents. The use of technology through photo enforcement may be a cost-effective means to change the behavior of the bad actors passing through the community while allowing the town to redeploy Sherriff deputies to conduct more community/neighborhood patrols to further enhance visibility throughout the community.
Another example of evolving community needs is fire service. The current contract with Rural Metro is set to expire in the summer of 2022. Now is the time to begin to explore the level of services and associated costs. Recently, in neighboring Cave Creek, the discussion regarding emergency service coverage has focused on incorporating Automatic Aid into a possible master contract with a nearby emergency service provider. Any change outside of the current provider, Rural Metro, will impact the level of services in Carefree. Due to this fact, Carefree needs to explore its options regarding Rural Metro and the possible impacts Cave Creek’s decision may have on Carefree’s level of service. At the present time, Carefree has a mutual aid agreement with Scottsdale which permits Scottsdale to respond when called upon. However, Automatic Aid would provide a more seamless and quicker response as the closest equipment is automatically dispatched to the site of an incident and thus saving time and possibly lives. Therefore, Carefree needs to further explore these evolving circumstances to possibly adjust its level of services. Obviously, any changes to level of services must be reconciled with associated expenses and supporting revenue streams. All of these considerations must be flushed out with the community to cultivate an understanding of these evolving issues and the options the community must consider.
Water resources have been and will continue to be a critical topic for Carefree and all communities in the Desert Southwest as the ongoing drought continues. In order to preserve and protect the water resources for all Carefree residents, businesses, and property owners, the Town began the process to incorporate and integrate the Carefree residents reliant upon the Cave Creek water system a few years ago. In January 2021, this contractual acquisition process concluded with the Town of Cave Creek. The next phase of this acquisition will include a series of construction projects which will disconnect these accounts from the Cave Creek distribution system and integrate them into the Carefree Water Company distribution system. The integration of these additional accounts into the Carefree Water Company system will create an additional economy of scale and thus reduce customer costs for future capital investments to the system, provide for sufficient CAP surface water rights to serve these additional customers, ensure representation overall water resources for all Carefree residents and enhance fire suppressant infrastructure within the community.
Looking to the future, even if the level of core municipal services remains constant, the inflationary indexes point to the need to increase revenue streams for the Town to offset the anticipated inflationary increases. Over a ten-year planning horizon, if a compounded 3% inflationary index is applied to general operations of the Town, an additional $1.8 MM will be needed per year within 10 years to fund existing core municipal services. This does not take into account any changes to those core municipal services which may further add to this figure. Given the community's desire to fund municipal operations through the generation of municipal sales tax, the Town must evaluate and implement a program to diversify and enhance the generation of municipal sales tax. Over the past year, the Town has begun the transition from producing events to attract consumers into Carefree to more strategic economic development initiatives. This change in strategy includes the hiring of the Town’s first Economic Development Director. During the current pandemic, the focus was to assist existing businesses to obtain funding and tools to mitigate the financial hardships caused by the pandemic. Looking towards the future, an economic development work plan was reviewed and approved by the Town Council. In addition, an Economic Development Technical Advisory Panel (EDTAP) was created to provide additional technical assistance. The EDTAP is made up of professionals immersed in the commercial real estate business and will help provide supporting data to guide how to diversify and enhance the Town’s tax base. The revenue target for these Economic Development initiatives will be to generate an additional $3.0-$3.5 MM of revenue per year within approximately ten years.
In support of these economic goals, Carefree must make a concerted effort to work on both economic development and community development initiatives together. They are interdependent and reinforce each other’s importance in the fiscal, environmental, and social sustainability of Carefree. While Economic Development creates wealth for the Town to operate and meet its fiscal challenges, community development invests in making the community a better place to live and strives to maintain its quality of life. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a major disruption in the local economy; however, Carefree saw the commencement of three key development projects: the construction of the Hampton Inn, the construction of The View Carefree, and the approval of infrastructure permits for the Carefree Quarter. Each development is an important future economic driver: 1. The Hampton Inn will supplement the Town’s revenues through a transient lodging tax or “bed tax” and support local tourism; 2. The View Carefree will bring a small but critical mass of people to Town Center; and 3. The subsequent development of the Carefree Quarter will capitalize on commercial opportunities at one of the Town’s prime revenue-generating intersections. And, as Carefree continues to grow, maintaining it as a “distinctive, premier upper Sonoran community” will require careful attention to its development policies and regulating documents. The Town will soon embark on updating its most important policy plan, the General Plan, as required by State law. This plan defines the vision for growth in Carefree and is considered the Town’s “blueprint” for future development. This update will establish the framework for creating new zoning standards, reinvesting in Town infrastructure, protecting open space, and enforcing Town values that support Carefree’s “high-quality lifestyle.”
Communications is a critical link to inform citizens on evolving circumstances internal and external to the Town. In today’s world, there are many different platforms to communicate. This includes but is not limited to digital newsletters, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, blogs, YouTube and websites. The Town hired a Communication Manager to implement a plan to use these platforms to engage citizens, businesses and visitors to Carefree. Because each of these audiences has specific needs, the message and communications platform need to be tailored to the respective audience. The Communication Manager will focus on engaging these audiences by using the appropriate platforms.
Finally, as the community’s infrastructure matures, the Town must continue to explore how to best maintain and/or replace its capital assets as their useful life is exhausted. The Town’s streets are one of its largest assets as well as liabilities. With over 110 lane miles of streets, the Town has and continues to invest in minimizing the deterioration of the aging asphalt. Over the next couple of years, the Town must revisit its 10 year pavement management plan to reassess pavement distress attributed to the natural oxidation of the pavement. Additionally, external governmental compliance issues such as MS4 permitting requirements, dust control compliance requirements, OHSA requirements and safety training of Public Works personnel necessitate the hiring of a full-time Town Engineer to more effectively manage these tasks. Prior to the great recession, the Town had a full-time Town Engineer to help manage these capital projects and governmental compliance requirements. Due to growing demands and the need to create and manage a comprehensive Capital Improvement Plan to better manage its aging assets, the Town will be hiring a full-time Town Engineer to oversee and manage the Public Works Department and provide a comprehensive program to repair and/or replace its assets over time.
In summary, the Town has an eye towards the future. The Town is positioning itself to maintain its high quality of life while providing for a sustainable tax base to offset the forecasted escalating costs of providing core municipal services while effectively and strategically managing its assets. The Town continues to seek and improve communication channels to engage its citizens, businesses and property owners to participate and help guide the future direction of the Town. This budget is a stepping stone to help achieve these objectives and maintain the Town’s financial solvency. The budget outlines the Town’s financial policies and objectives, details the Town's revenue streams, and delineates the Town’s organizational structure, responsibilities and work products of each department and the associated costs. As this is the first year preparing the Town’s program-based budget, additional information will be added each year to further refine and clarify how the public’s money is invested within the community.
Gary Neiss, Town Administrator