Clarkdale mayoral candidate Doug Von Gausig
Doug Von Gausig
Years in Arizona: 72
Government Elective and Advisory Experience: Mayor of Clarkdale since 2004. Co-chair, Yavapai County Water Advisory Commission; Chair, Verde River Basin Partnership; Board member, League of Arizona Cities and Towns.
Verde Independent: What is one of the top challenges facing Clarkdale leaders in the years ahead, that hasn’t been discussed much?
Von Gausig: The most urgent and complex challenge Clarkdale and every other Arizona community will face is adapting to a “new normal” that will include pandemics, warmer climates, water shortages, and other problems “too big to consider.”
Each of these will require leaders to be creative and adaptable as they adopt sustainable solutions to avoid damage to their communities.
We are witnessing the unpredictable consequences of the COVOD-19 outbreak, including disruptions of our commerce, our supply chains, our educational systems, and our ability to serve the public. Only experience, leadership and hard work will equip us to meet these challenges.
Verde Independent: Property taxes are a bone of contention with some residents. What else could the city do to either cut expenses or raise revenue so as to avoid or minimize tax increases in the next few fiscal cycles?
Von Gausig: Municipalities have five main ways to pay for their operations. They get a share of state sales and income tax, they have their own local sales taxes, they receive part of the taxes we pay for gasoline and car registrations, they can have property taxes, and they can operate “enterprise funds” – like utilities.
Some collect enough local sales tax to avoid the need for property taxes, but not Clarkdale. Shared revenues don’t bring in enough to run our town, and enterprises can’t be used for general operations. That leaves local sales taxes, so we’re concentrating on economic development.
Verde Independent: How do you think COVID-19 economic impacts will be felt in terms of the rate of new development in Clarkdale?
Von Gausig: There’s nothing predictable about COVID-19 and its impacts.
I think our businesses will need to adapt to a totally new business environment. Those who make creative and sustainable changes will succeed. Others that try to do business as usual may not.
Clarkdale is committed to helping our businesses meet challenges like pandemics, climate change and others by working with business associations, updating our business codes, promoting tourism in Clarkdale and along the Verde River, and working harder on our economic development.
With these strategies, I expect to have a healthy, sustainable rate of development in our future.
Verde Independent: What are, in your opinion, the greatest obstacles to more effective commercial development in the town?
Von Gausig: The three first rules of retail have always been “location, location, location.” Clarkdale is no exception to that rule. We are not at a major intersection, and our location doesn’t lend itself well to traditional economic development, but we can take an innovative approach to encouraging more businesses.
We have a river, a train, and a historic district, and a small-town atmosphere that are attractive and extraordinary, so we concentrate on these to attract more business. Clarkdale’s businesses are growing in size and numbers, and they capitalize on our strengths and our citizens’ desire to retain our small town values.
Verde Independent: Does it seem to you that there are “two Clarkdales:” older-built town and housing and commercial and residential constructed in the past 20 years? If so, is this bad or good, and why? If not, what are the biggest challenges to running a city with this type of polarity?
Von Gausig: The people of Clarkdale moved here to live in a small town that honors its history, its low crime rate, its friendly atmosphere and its environmental ethic. It is always challenging to retain those values and at the same time allow high quality development.
Verde Independent: How do you preserve Clarkdale’s historical integrity and at the same time move into the future with modern development?
Von Gausig: Since I’ve been Mayor, our development approval process has helped developers honor the historic nature of the town as well as its natural resources. Water conservation, dark night skies and other values that preserve our small town atmosphere are demanded as much as state law allows.
Our philosophy is “don’t give it away!”
Verde Independent: Since large public gatherings are going to be discouraged over the next few years, and perhaps permanently, how must small Arizona communities rethink and reframe fun revenue enhancers like the Fourth of July, Clarktoberfest and Made in Clarkdale?
Von Gausig: These are some of the reasons that we must continue to encourage innovative, creative and adaptive solutions to challenges like this pandemic. For the last 16 years, the Town Council and our outstanding staff have stressed this philosophy and used it to guide management strategies.
The unpredictability of today’s major challenges – pandemics, climate change, water stress, and population growth – mean that these three concepts must guide our decisions and help the Town meet new challenges.
I believe, with the help of our citizens, we will preserve and improve our traditions and continue to enjoy our wonderful small town events.
Verde Independent: Do you feel that, over the past four years, Clarkdale leaders have largely listened to and followed the will of the people, when possible?
Von Gausig: I can absolutely say that for the last 16 years Clarkdale has engaged our public in every decision we have made to the fullest extent possible.
From Verde River recreation, to rebuilding the Gazebo, to law enforcement, to water conservation and historic preservation, Clarkdale prides itself on public participation and engagement.
Does this mean that everyone gets their way? No, but it does mean that every opinion is heard, respected, and incorporated into every decision the Town Council makes. The Council represents the town’s people accurately and faithfully, and it always encourages more public input and ideas.
Verde Independent: What should be done to get use out of the shuttered industrial buildings in town?
Von Gausig: The Town Council recently instructed our staff to apply for “Certified Local Government” status for our town. This will allow us to create and use innovative solutions to reuse and redevelop our historic structures.
It also brings assistance from the state to help landowners improve their properties and make them more attractive to new businesses.
We have also designated our historic downtown as an entertainment district, which encourages new businesses like the Smelter Town Brewery and Park Hotel to rebuild and occupy historic buildings.
We’ll continue to look for ways to conserve our town’s history and its charm.
Verde Independent: What are the most “green” changes Clarkdale leadership has made in the past decade, and what should be done next to go even more green?
Von Gausig: Let me cheat a bit and go back a decade and a half. The acquisition of the water company is certainly the greenest single thing we’ve ever done; it has allowed us to take control of our water resources and to demand water conservation strategies that have made us one of the two most water-conscious municipalities in Arizona.
After that, I’d say the creation of the “Verde River @ Clarkdale” parks has done more for Verde River conservation that any other project along the river.
You could add dark skies ordinances, Arizona Solar City efforts, and sustainability practices to these.
Verde Independent: Both you and your opponent have lived in town for decades. Do you sense Clarkdale’s view toward visitors and new residents, especially those from out of state, have changed, in negative or positive ways? And what are leaders’ roles in this view?
Von Gausig: I think every member of our Town Council is excited and supportive of the increase in Clarkdale’s diversity. We’ve gained lots of younger families with new perspectives and ideas, and have enjoyed wonderful energy and engagement in the last 10 years or so.
Visitors to our river parks have brought their excitement (and money) to local businesses and the young entrepreneurs in our burgeoning wine industry have added immeasurably to our town’s reputation and cachet.
I’m excited to see what the future holds for Clarkdale, and I know our Council will continue to encourage more diversity in the future.
Verde Independent: What do you already see as top 2021 state legislature priorities for the town?
Von Gausig: As the former President of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns and a current member of its Executive Committee, I know that the No. 1 legislative priority of all Arizona cities is to protect our right of self-determination.
State legislatures around the country are eager to deprive municipalities of their ability to make decisions based on what’s good for their citizens, and instead adhere to whatever ideology drives legislators. The people who know what’s best for Clarkdale are the elected Mayor and Council in Clarkdale — not the Arizona Legislature or the federal government.
All other legislative priorities come after this.
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