04/17/2012 & 04/19/2012 Study Session & Town Council Meeting

Human Relations, Culture and Arts Promotion Commission (HRCAP).
Chair Gil Honeycutt presented a report, page by page, advising the Council of the importance of art to Gilbert citizens. He repeatedly emphasized the need for funding, and that the Council should authorize hiring a Diversity Officer who can reach out to the underserved and identify diversity issues, and bring diversity issues to the Council. He also recommended hiring an Arts Officer. Hired staff, he asserted, could assist the Commission and volunteers in promoting public art in the community, and in finding funds for the Arts, especially from the business community. His opinion is that taxpayer paid arts funding will bring people, businesses, and tourism to Gilbert. He suggested that a portion of the bed tax could be used for this purpose.

GW: How do you define “diversity”? Gilbert helps support Global Village Festival, Martin Luther King Day, Hispanic Heritage Month, Concerts in the Park, etc. Are these “diverse”?

Art can be wonderful…and wonderfully strange. When I used to work in downtown Phoenix, I spent many lunch hours going to small, offbeat art exhibits.
The fights start when taxpayers find themselves funding in any way shape or form public art that they consider offensive, absurd, ugly, meaningless, disturbing, silly, weird, boring, too pretty, hopelessly derivative, overly expensive….. Art is in the eye of the beholder. And Gilbert is filled with diverse “beholders.”

Constitution Week USA receives no Gilbert taxpayer funding. It is the largest celebration of the Constitution in America. It is run by volunteers who seek and obtain community support and funding. It would be wonderful if the Arts Community was willing to study successful models like this, and learn from them.

Utility Rates.
Budget Administrator Dawn Irvine stated: 1) Staff recommends no change in water rates; 2) Staff recommends a 7% decrease in solid waste collections for residential customers; 3) Gilbert’s service charges are on the low end compared to surrounding municipalities, yet Gilbert is able to provide a high level of service.

Water Manager Ochs advised that the Water Department is working on a feasibility study comparing the cost of radio-read meters to manual-reading.

Sign Code Regulations.
Back in June 2010, the Council approved new regulations on a temporary basis. Staff had been concerned that the new, less restrictive regulations granted by the Council would cause problems. However, Senior Planner Mike Milillo advised that the number of sign violations is no different than 21 months before the new code took effect. Also, there has been no increase in complaints from the public. Thus, the Code is now permanent.

DDACTS. This means Data Driven Approaches to Crime and Safety.
Police Commander Kenny Buckland gave a presentation on the new way that Gilbert Police are being deployed throughout Gilbert. Basically, rather than evenly distributing law enforcement across Gilbert on a per citizen basis, they are distributing law enforcement based on the number of incidences of crime and traffic collisions. The Department is in its first phase. Full implementation will be completed in July.

Commander Buckland emphasized that Gilbert is NOT crime-ridden. It is one of the safest cities in the USA. However, crime and collisions do occur. The area with the most crime/collisions is roughly bordered by Baseline to the North; Elliot to the South; Neely to the West; and Burk to the East. (Neely is east of Cooper; Burk is west of Lindsay).

Green Global Solar Blanket Project.
The Council voted 5-2 to proceed with negotiations with Green Global for the next phase of deployment of solar blanket and energy management and control technology on existing light poles and a timeline for returning to Council with a contract. Council members Cook and Petersen voted against the motion.

Several council members stated concerns about the project. 1) What about the long-term feasibility of the technology? 2) What happens if Green Global goes out of business, would an escrow account be established to cover costs to the Town/taxpayer? 3) How will new technology be incorporated in the contract? 4) How many staff hours are being expended on this project and will be expended? 5) Number of light poles to be utilized?

Council member Cook stated that the project would not be viable without federal tax dollars, and given the state of our country’s trillions in debt, he had concerns about using tax dollars for such a project in Gilbert. He posed the question to Staff: If it weren’t for the tax subsidies, would you run with this project? The answer was no.

Council member Petersen agreed with Council member Cook, and also stated his concerns with using governmental subsidies for solar projects. While he likes and appreciates solar, he prefers to see it succeed on its own in a free market economy. Without the subsidies, it wouldn’t pay for itself.

Michael Hoffman of Green Global addressed issues concerning the technology, stating it is well established. He also stated that he is amenable to creating an escrow account should his company go out of business. (Steve Berman, a former Gilbert mayor, is now president of Think Green Renewable Energy, which handles sales for Green Global.)

Mr. Hoffman addressed the concerns of using federal tax dollars/governmental subsidies for solar projects, stating "We live in a federalist society. Gilbert citizens pay tax dollars, the feds decide the priorities, and return the money." He cited the Fire Station and the Water Plant, both using federal subsidies.

He told the Council “This is a capitalist system. As Council Members, it is your responsibility to get tax dollars back to the citizens of Gilbert!”

Council Member Cook advised Mr. Hoffman that the tax dollars used to build the Fire Station are not going to a private business for profit. “You and your investors will be the recipients of the profit of the savings that come through tax dollars." He further stated that the Fire Station is a "must have.” He stated that the solar blanket project is not, as it doesn’t meet a critical service need that the Town can’t pay for.