Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of articles examining the views and ideas of each of the candidates for Lake Havasu City Council on a variety of topics important to Lake Havsau City.
With a median age of about 53 years, roughly 15 years older than the rest of Arizona and the United States, Lake Havasu City identified demographic starvation as the single biggest issue facing the community during the Vision 2020 movement that stretched from 2015 to 2017.
Although the average age in Havasu has ticked down slightly since then, there is an ongoing focus within the city to attract young families and professionals to town to strengthen the local workforce, as well as keeping the young families already here. Each of the six candidates for three open City Council seats gave their thoughts on how that can best be accomplished.
Gordon Groat said the city needs working families in order to run effectively, but in order to attract and retain young professionals they have to be able to live here comfortably.
“I believe you do that by attracting the kind of employers who will give better wages and better benefits,” Groat said. “It is a laissez faire kind of economic belief, but it is a belief that does not rely on social programs established by governments but rather by business to lift everybody up through economic development and economic growth. I think together with some of the programs we are working on through the Partnership for Economic Development I think we will be able to do that. In fact, we have some things that are happening right now that are very exciting.”
David Lane said Lake Havasu City needs to focus on making this an exciting place for young people to be, especially for children which in turn will make their parents more likely to come to Havasu and stay. He said one example from his time on the council that he is particularly proud of is the creation of Cypress Park.
“It wasn’t built for tourists, it wasn’t built for retirees, it is a park for our young people to go play in,” Lane said. “That is what we need to do, ensure that we have places like that for the children to be able to get out, get some fresh air, and do what it is that they need to do. Would I like to see further parks built in the city? Absolutely I would. The more we do for our youth the better off our city will be. Their parents will come here, who are the doctors, service technicians and everybody else that we need in this town. That will bring them if we have things for our youth to do. So it is important for us to make sure that we maintain our parks and keep those up.”
Cameron Moses said he believes the struggle with bringing young families and professionals to town is directly tied to the rising cost for housing and other goods and services.
“I think this is a cost of living thing, and this is for families and retirees alike,” Moses said. “I think if we can help our residents with the Havasu way of life, and keeping that Havasu dream of living in a beautiful city with the cost of living so low and being able to go out and enjoy the parks and the beautiful weather I think that is what we do. We drive down the cost of living and then have great jobs for people in places where they can grow with companies and develop as human beings.”
Mike Bonney said he feels the PED is already doing good work to attract and keep young people, and also pointed to higher education as an avenue to help keep people who grew up in Lake Havasu City in town.
“The ASU campus here in Havasu is another great resource to get educated locally and have those students stay here,” Bonney said. “Maybe start at MCC and get their two year degree, then transfer over to ASU Lake Havasu Campus. ASU has been a tremendous resource to Lake Havasu City and creating those types of jobs that are important and are high paying.”
Nancy Campbell said the city needs to take a serious look at taking advantage of opportunity zones like the one out by the Lake Havasu City Municipal Airport.
“We have opportunity zones within Lake Havasu City along with surrounding areas,” Campbell said. “In Flagstaff they just did a workforce housing development that has turned out to be quite successful. So I would like to look into that further. Not only that, but the opportunity zones have tax advantages to investors if they are recruiting workforce such as teachers, police, fire and more. So as a business woman, I think the most important thing we need to do is really take advantage of this.”
Campbell also noted that the tax benefits of the zones, which were established starting in 2018, will expire after 10 years.
“It is a short term opportunity, literally,” Campbell said. “We can’t just keep not paying attention to that. We have to pay attention to that, and I am absolutely willing to jump on board and do that.”
David Jaramillo said he would like to see the city take steps to ensure the people it hires stick around long enough to make it worth the amount of money the city spends to train them for those jobs.
“The one thing that I have seen with city workers – fire and police – is they get trained here and our residents pay for them to get trained,” Jaramillo said. “Then two or three years later they are gone. They are working in Vegas or San Bernardino. That is frustrating, but I completely understand. I get it, they are making better money out of town.”
In an effort to stop that trend, or at least slow it down, Jaramillo said he would like to look into having new hires sign a contract.
A three to five year contract saying if you are going to be a new police officer or a new firefighter this is what it entails,” Jaramillo said. “Sign here on the dotted line and you get X amount of dollars and whatever raises come with it. I would like to see our city employees stay in town for at least a certain time to let us recoup our investment into them. Hopefully by then they are making a good enough wage where they want to stay.”
Jaramillo said the policy would apply to new hires, not existing employees already living and working in Havasu.