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San Tan Valley Residents to Weigh the Costs of Incorporation in 2024


As an unincorporated region, San Tan Valley currently relies solely on county government and services. However, with the possibility of incorporation in 2024, residents may have the opportunity to decide whether the community should become a city. While incorporation can bring certain benefits, it's important to consider the potential drawbacks, such as increased bureaucracy and higher taxes.

A new effort to incorporate San Tan Valley is currently underway, led by a different group of individuals than previous attempts. While the possibility of a 2024 vote is being discussed, it's important to clarify that it is not guaranteed. The renewed interest in incorporation and the emergence of this new group are the reasons behind the topic resurfacing for discussion in the community.

Tyler Hudgins, who recently moved to San Tan Valley in August 2021, is the head of this new group advocating for the incorporation of the area. After living in Gilbert for 12+ years, Hudgins previously ran for Gilbert Town Council in 2020 but was unsuccessful in his bid. He took the opportunity to speak during the call to the public at the April 23, 2023, Pinal County Board of Supervisors meeting to voice his support for the incorporation effort and bring attention to the newly formed group.

A series of unsuccessful incorporation attempts

San Tan Valley's history includes several unsuccessful attempts to incorporate, with each bid failing to make it to the voters' ballots. The most recent attempt in 2018 faced several major hurdles: 
  1. The Town of Queen Creek filed a lawsuit to stop the issue from getting on a ballot for a vote, primarily because they wanted to be able to annex certain areas of San Tan Valley for future revenue gains
  2. Encanterra's developer withheld permission for the community to be part of the proposed city because of promises it had made with the Town of Queen Creek, and
  3. The group leading the signature collection process was unable to gather the necessary number of signatures to qualify for the ballot, ultimately causing the effort to falter. 

At that time, state law required incorporation organizers to notify developers and homeowners associations individually, and any entity not notified could opt out of the proposed boundaries, potentially thwarting the effort.

This provision was altered last year, and incorporators are now required to notify all parties by placing their efforts on the county Board of Supervisors meeting agenda six months in advance. While entities can still choose to opt out, they can no longer singlehandedly halt the incorporation process.

San Tan Valley's earlier incorporation bids faced opposition from neighboring cities as well. Before 2017, state law permitted an existing city or town within six miles of a proposed incorporation to block the effort, a provision known as the "6 Mile Rule." Thanks to the persistent advocacy of San Tan Valley resident Tisha Castillo, the law was changed in 2017. Castillo fought for years to change the legislation, ensuring that communities like San Tan Valley had the same rights as others in Arizona. With the provision removed, the decision-making power now rests with the community itself. Meanwhile, surrounding municipalities have annexed portions of San Tan Valley into their own boundaries, most actively the Town of Queen Creek.

Weighing the potential consequences of incorporation

While the prospect of incorporation may offer some advantages, it's crucial for San Tan Valley residents to consider the potential downsides. Incorporation would mean the establishment of an additional layer of government, along with the potential for higher taxes compared to the current unincorporated status.

Debunking the myth of free fire services upon incorporation

A widespread misconception about incorporation is that it automatically grants residents access to free fire services, thereby eliminating the need for the existing voluntary subscription offered by Rural Metro Fire Department. However, in Arizona, an incorporated city is under no obligation to provide fire service coverage. Should a newly-incorporated city opt to offer these services, residents would be responsible for covering the costs, either by continuing with the current voluntary subscription model or through an additional tax that all residents would be mandated to pay. For instance, the town of Queen Creek, which was incorporated in 1989, didn't establish its own fire department until 2008. During the interim period from 1989 to 2008, Queen Creek maintained a subscription service with Rural Metro despite being an incorporated town.

One more common misconception about incorporation is that it would enable San Tan Valley to halt the ongoing home construction or repurpose existing land to attract different businesses. However, incorporation does not nullify existing land development agreements; all current agreements must be honored unless the developer themselves requests a change. Moreover, a significant portion of the undeveloped land in San Tan Valley is state trust land, leaving limited unallocated land available for new projects or purposes. In addition, San Tan Valley faces challenges when it comes to commercial development opportunities. With limited land available for development, the community may struggle to offset the costs of any potential town government, including police, public works, roads, and more. As a result, residents may face higher taxes and fees to cover the costs of incorporation.

While the current group hoping to incorporate San Tan Valley may be focused on addressing water, transportation, and development issues, it is important to note that incorporation has nothing to do with utility service providers. Incorporation does not provide any specific benefits or guarantees in these areas. Instead, any changes or improvements would need to be pursued separately and through existing channels. It's important for residents to understand that incorporation is primarily a question of governance and municipal services, rather than utility service provision as utility service providers are separate entities that are regulated by state and local governments.

As the 2024 vote approaches, San Tan Valley residents must carefully weigh the pros and cons of incorporation, taking into account the community's past experiences and the potential implications of becoming a city.
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Monday, 20 May 2024

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