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Tue, Sept. 22

Q&A: Yavapai County District 3 Supervisor candidate Donna Michaels

Donna Michaels

Donna Michaels

Donna Grace Michaels

Age: 68

Years in Arizona: 30

Party Affiliation: Democrat

Government Elective and Advisory Experience: Yavapai County Education Service Agency, American Association of Community Colleges, Arizona Association of Community Colleges, Yavapai College Board of Governors, National Association of Hearing Officials(NAHO),Certified Hearing Officer, C.H.O., Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Advisory Board, Arizona Rural Health Association, Verde Valley Forum for Public Affairs Board, Verde Valley Land Planning Institute Board, Verde Valley Forum: Land Use Collaboration Project, Colombian Education Foundation for Girls, Verde Valley Sanctuary Board, Marilyn Sunderman Foundation Board, Veteran Equine Therapy Alliance, Founder, (VETA) Board

Verde Independent: What was the best decision made by the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors in the past four years? Give examples of how it benefited taxpayers.

Michaels: Requesting the Corona Virus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) funding. The Arizona Governor’s office received $1.8 billion and Yavapai County applied for and received $10.4 million from the fund. The resulting fund provided salaries for our public health and safety workers, many of whom were on the front-line, keeping our communities safe and thus benefitting all taxpayers in the County.

VI: What was the worst decision made by the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors in the past four years? Please explain.

Michaels: Their decision to increase property taxes in Yavapai County by 18%, to cover a $68 million dollar jail expansion. It is entirely inappropriate to impose this huge tax increase when many of our citizens have experienced a drastic drop in their household incomes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

VI: What is your opinion of the decision by the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors to not require face makes in the unincorporated areas of the county during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Michaels: The headline on the County website promises that “Yavapai County will serve and protect its citizens…” The Board of Supervisors missed an opportunity to protect its citizens by declining to require face masks be worn in public places. Many people who are positive for COVID-19 have no symptoms, and are completely unaware that they are infected. COVID-19 is very contagious and, by going into a public setting without a mask, these people can infect others. The Board of Supervisors could have communicated that fact by requiring masks in public places as is now being done by many communities.

VI: In the “new normal” of COVID-19, how does county government ensure the public is fairly and adequately represented in public processes?

Michaels: The pandemic has compromised the public input process, which allows citizens two minutes to speak prior to a vote.

First, citizens need access to user-friendly, virtual communication tools. Many may need assistance in attending virtual meetings. Providing online orientation and training could be offered by the County. However, many residents do not have the technology or bandwidth to attend virtual meetings. For those who desire to or must physically attend hearings, CDC standards must be in force, including social distancing and sanitizing microphones between uses. High grade anti-viral air filtration endorsed by medical experts could be installed in ventilation systems.

VI: In Arizona county elections, electors vote for every office from constable to county recorder to treasurer and assessor. The elective structure of county government in Arizona has seen little change since territorial days. Do you believe the elective structure of county government in Arizona needs to be modernized? If so, what steps would you personally take to effect such change?

Michaels: Yes. Those holding positions of Recorder, Assessor, Constable and Treasurer should focus on issues that serve the health, safety and quality of lives of Yavapai County citizens.

They should be elected based on their professional qualifications, and how they plan to deal with those issues, rather than their political party. This means they would not have a political party stated, nor run in the Primary.

The Voter Information Pamphlet would suffice for the General Election.

This would result in significant financial savings to both candidates and Yavapai County, by eliminating the need for two campaigns, and two elections per position.

VI: When weighing land-use regulations, neighboring property value impact and anti-growth opposition, what are your main priorities when deciding growth and development issues?

Michaels: Too often, opposition to a particular developer’s proposal is simply dismissed as “anti-growth opposition.” Such claims can be polarizing, making it more difficult to reach a compromise.

A much better solution is to have each community document in a Community Plan with types of development they would welcome. Yavapai County could then provide copies of these community plans to developers as part of the County’s Comprehensive Plan. I have worked as a community liaison on several projects. Both the developers and the communities appreciated the facilitation I provided, and the resulting projects were better aligned with the Community Plans.

VI: Should Yavapai County provide urbanized government services to unincorporated communities, such as the Village of Oak Creek?

Michaels: Incorporation provides a community with the greatest control over its local affairs. Local government is more directly accountable to its citizens, as it provides desired and necessary services, e.g., police, recreation and specific zoning and building codes. Unincorporated areas with large populations, such as VOC, should receive needed “urban” County services through a satellite center.

Unincorporated communities should periodically revisit the question of whether incorporation would be beneficial for them. The decision should be the community’s alone. VOC last examined incorporating in the early 90’s. Recently the question has been discussed again, and a citizen committee presentation has been given to the Big Park Coordinating Council.

VI: Should individual members of the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors take an official position on the incorporation of communities, such as the Village of Oak Creek, Beaver Creek and Cornville? Is this a leadership responsibility?

Michaels: If an unincorporated area wants to incorporate, and they follow the rules to incorporation, there should be no reason for a Supervisor to weigh in.

During the process, a Supervisor should listen to his or her constituents in all matters, without trying to influence the community’s decision. Regardless of the community’s decision, a Supervisor should continue to invite inputs from constituents.

VI: Should individual members of the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors take an official position on the annexation of Verde Village into the City of Cottonwood? Is this a leadership responsibility?

Michaels:If the annexation takes place under the appropriate laws, there is no legal reason for a Supervisor to weigh in. Supervisors have the leadership responsibility to keep themselves informed about how their constituents feel regarding a potential annexation.

This would involve inviting input, and listening to that input. However, they should be mindful that advice given when it has not been solicited is often regarded as an attempt to unduly influence the process. For example, a local resident may have a position seen as an opinion, but a supervisor with a position will likely be seen as trying to influence a public process.

VI: How much consideration should county supervisors give to recommendations provided by non-government organizations, such as the Beaver Creek Community Association, Cornville Community Association and Big Park Community Coordinating Council?

Michaels: These non-governmental organizations were each created specifically to represent their communities. They employed public processes to produce their Community Plans, which document the direction in which the members of their community want to see future growth.

The Board of Supervisors (1) should adopt these plans, (2) should include these plans into the County Comprehensive Plan, and (3) should make it clear that alignment with these Community Plans will be a factor in the approval of any development proposal.

VI: Yavapai County currently has only one of five representatives on the board of supervisors that lives in the Verde Valley? How does that one supervisor make sure his/her Quad City colleagues fully understand the issues and challenges facing the Verde Valley?

Michaels: The residents of the Verde Valley are the ones who can best articulate the issues and the challenges they face.

As District 3 Supervisor, I will focus my efforts on helping them to voice their concerns and their vision for the future of their communities. I will employ zoom meetings, webinars, townhall meetings, and email newsletters to update residents on vital issues. I will host videos on topics of interest on the County website and ensure relevant information is available at County libraries, colleges and other public locations. All written materials will be provided in Spanish and English.

VI: Does the Verde Valley County Annex and Justice Center provide sufficient county services for residents on this side of the mountain? What are the deficiencies? What are the service areas that need most improvement? Explain why.

Michaels: The Mental Health Coalition of the Verde Valley with Sheriff Mascher developed programs to address some of the deficiencies in the Verde Valley Justice Annex.

National data makes clear the need to improve service areas which involve diversion programs to prevent potential incarcerations. Such services are indeed offered at the Annex and include substance,behavioral and mental health interventions.

Crisis intervention teams are deployed to assess situations and determine what next steps are best to take other than incarceration. If incarceration occurs, services are provided.

Re-entry programs are also provided that link the inmate to community services upon discharge.

VI: In 2019, Yavapai County repealed its well water code, claiming it was a duplication of services already administered by Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. Was that a wise decision? Should water quality and delivery issues fall under the purview of the county as a recommendation to the two state agencies and as a stipulation on development issues?

Michaels: This was not a wise decision. With deteriorating reservoirs and residents drilling deeper wells as our groundwater is mined, it is imperative the County take the initiative in the development and management of our groundwater resources. There is an urgent need for legislation that creates a rural management area (RMA).

This can be accomplished with Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) through strategic planning and implementation. However, this will not happen unless Yavapai County takes the initiative. With an adopted strategic plan, a Yavapai County Water Authority could guide the County in future land development based on available water resources.

VI: Yavapai County’s primary tax rate dropped by 4% this year as opposed to a year ago. Secondary rates fell by 4% to 5% depending on the specific levy. At the same time, Yavapai County assessed valuation increased by 7% over last year. Please provide your opinion of the fiscal health, or lack thereof, of Yavapai County financial operations.

Michaels: Our nation has seen the steepest decline in GNP (32.6%) ever recorded. The Wall Street Journal states that 50% of all small business are at high risk of failing. The nation has also experienced a 34.6% drop in consumer spending- and Arizona’s revenue is driven primarily by sales tax. County Administrator Phil Bourdan stated that the County is already negatively impacted by a $6 million revenue decrease to date due to COVID-19. Our uncertain economic outlook makes it clear that this is no time to raise taxes.

VI: The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors already has committed $2.47 million toward the Prescott Jail/Justice Center complex. This project, at this site, has been discussed by previous county boards dating back to 2003. Do you believe the present Yavapai supervisors should go forward with the project? Why? Why not?

Michaels: I do not believe the BOS should go forward with this jail expansion. We simply cannot further burden taxpayers with an 18% primary property tax increase during a pandemic to pay for a $68 million jail expansion within the city limits of Prescott. What are the alternatives to this expenditure for more jail cells? How can we meet state and federal requirements without such an undue and excessive financial burden to taxpayers? Perhaps we have an opportunity to use some of this bond money to pay off the County’s debt for police and public safety employee pensions.

VI: Should the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors once again ask for voter approval to increase the Jail District sales tax to pay for construction of the Prescott Jail/Justice Center complex? Is that a preferable alternative to having the project financed exclusively from property tax revenue?

Michaels: Given the current financial hardships that COVID-19 is causing within Yavapai County, this is not the time to launch a plan to raise $68 million dollars through additional taxes.

When the current crisis has passed, the Board of Supervisors could ask the voters for approval of a sales tax (with targeted exemptions on essentials such as food) as a way to fund a fiscally responsible plan to provide essential and required improvements to the jail that presently exists. Sales taxes associated with tourism (such as car rentals) could also be increased, where it does not fundamentally affect County residents.

VI: Yavapai County already has spent $3.6 million on the design planning, environmental NEPA clearance and General Engineering Consultant for the Verde Connect project. This is a project that has been discussed by Yavapai County and Verde Valley leaders since 1990 and is included in the 2016 Verde Valley Master Transportation Plan. How do you respond to those who say this project has been poorly planned and should not be pursued?

Michaels: The project simply should not be pursued. I support addressing infrastructure needs across the County in a balanced way rather than committing millions more dollars to this project through a huge debt and tax burden on County taxpayers. The price tag for a road very few citizens want, that does not mitigate current ingress, egress challenges sufficently or other road maintenance needs, is frankly unconscionable.

VI: Do you agree with Yavapai County’s plan to include a connector route from Verde Connect to Middle Verde Road. Should the Town of Camp Verde participate in the alignment for that connector?

Michaels: The impact of such a connector route will be felt locally, and should not be a decision dictated at the County level. Camp Verde should be allowed to participate in the alignment, if they so desire.

VI: What is your position on the Spring Creek Ranch property and the adjacent 11 square miles of Coconino National Forest land being annexed into the City of Cottonwood?

Michaels: Huge developments in sensitive rural areas are not appropriate. The proposed 1,500 homes, 400 apartments and 200 RV spaces is massive, intrusive and potentially damaging to Spring Creek not to mention the increased traffic and needed residential services, such as schools and fire emergency.

At build-out, the project adds a minimum of 5,000 people to this area.

Some in Cottonwood might want to annex the Spring Creek property, along with the 11 square miles of forest land, and the 10 state trust parcels. However, the Board of Supervisors should only support reasonable community-plan-aligned development.

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