by Harry B. Oberg, Mayor of Prescott
Upon taking office in Nov. 2015, I wrote a State of the City article to inform our citizens of the pressing issues facing Prescott. Now, it’s time to provide an update. During my time as mayor, Prescott City Council and staff have made significant strides. Let me summarize:
Early in my term we undertook a top-to-bottom review of our economic development team, and realized we needed a major change of focus. Since then, we’ve developed a plan to attract technology companies to Prescott to take advantage of the talent our graduates from Embry-Riddle University, Prescott College and Yavapai Community College offer. Two technology sectors in high demand are computer coding and cyber security operations. We have worked with education partners to add curriculum. A cyber security operations center will be established in association with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University before the close of 2017, pending funding. Implementation of a regional innovation center/business incubator is underway to draw a multitude of new businesses to Prescott. Early this fall, two business development conferences are scheduled in Prescott with over 150 technology company CEOs to familiarize them with our city and centers of learning.
Commercial air service has been greatly improved with service to Los Angles and Denver. Two infrastructure improvements being evaluated are a new passenger terminal, and increasing the length and strength of the main runway. This will accommodate the new fleet of U.S. Forest Service planes used to support slurry missions to fight wildfires. As utilization of our airport services has improved, new businesses continue to locate in or near the airport industrial park.
Sober Living Homes
Substantial improvement has been made in reducing the number of residential recovery homes. Approximately two years ago, there were over 170 listed with the City of Prescott. With the Council’s establishment of an ordinance to raise the standard of care in recovery homes, only 42 homes are currently registered. This allows for better oversight to ensure the health, safety and welfare of clients in the homes and fosters improved relations between recovery homes and residential neighbors.
Public Safety Personnel Retirement System
As mayor, I provided testimony before the state Legislature, which led to legislation to establish a new retirement system for the future. But it will not eliminate the growth of pension debt for the next 20-30 years. Faced with a growing $78.5M unfunded liability, Prescott residents understand this pension debt is unsustainable and a burden on the taxpayer. The City Council initiated a two-pronged approach to address this ever-growing debt: 1) pursuing further state legislative action, and 2) proposing a local sales tax increase. I’ve convened three mayors’ summit meetings to bring pressure on the state for permanent reform. I sent a letter to the governor with the signatures of 18 other Arizona mayors requesting his assistance. In addition, a PSPRS ad hoc committee has been formed at the legislature to propose permanent reforms.
Improving City Services
Efficiency measures implemented in city departments since the beginning of my term of office resulted in personnel reductions, which now save the city $575,000 annually. We continue to evaluate all city departments for service and efficiency improvements, and we have implemented citywide customer service training for all employees.
This is a sampling of some of the significant efforts we have started during the previous two years. During my tenure, I have striven to look at the “big picture” issues facing our citizens. I am pleased with the progress we have made during my term in office. Along with my fellow citizens, I look forward to the future and the continued advancement of these initiatives in Prescott.