Our path forward is one that will create an even more prosperous and thriving community.
Flagstaff has faced many challenges in 2021. Through it all, residents have come together to meet them head on.
When wildfires raged near town, our community raked backyard needles, cleared debris for our elderly and disabled, and helped neighbors in threatened neighborhoods prepare to evacuate. When the floods hit, nearly 1,000 of us were out there filling and stacking sandbags, cleaning mud from our neighbors’ homes, and helping each other physically and emotionally. Through COVID-19, we have worked to protect each other, and aside from the Navajo Nation, our large community has the highest vaccination rate in the state.
COVID has had a big impact
We have experienced over 40,000 cases of COVID in Coconino County, 2,200 hospitalizations and 430 deaths. We are grateful to healthcare professionals for putting their physical and mental health on the line to protect our community and save lives. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the lives lost. Organizations like Threaded Together made personal protective equipment, the Grand Canyon Distillery converted to make hand sanitizer, and TGen labs quickly created COVID tests for the city and the country.
We are fortunate to see our economy rebound with record tourism, job growth continuing to rise and innovative companies, such as Bee Well hand sanitizers which started at the business incubator of the city to create a natural and eco-friendly alternative to hand sanitizers.
We have seen UACJ Automotive Whitehall Industries start operations in Flagstaff, with over 300 high paying jobs coming in the near future. It is the largest employer to move to Flagstaff in over 50 years. TGen has grown. Goodwill opens two more branches. And, we’ve seen many small, local businesses dusting off the ashes of the economic downturn and finding new opportunities through their own ingenuity in 2022. It’s our job as locals to support them, so with the dollars of the US bailout, Flagstaff City Council has allocated $635,000 for small business support.
Flagstaff is open for business and we work hard. The unemployment rate in December was the lowest in more than 20 years, at 3.7%.
Create housing solutions
We all know the weight of inflation, especially in our housing market. People are struggling to find homes to rent and buy. A recent report from Housing Solutions found that a minimum-wage worker needs to work more than two full-time jobs, 87 hours a week, to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Flag without having to bear the costs. Prices have risen 13.7% in the past year alone. But we, as a municipal government, continue to increase the housing stock and support those in need of housing. We have reduced restrictions on the construction of accessory dwelling units, small houses in people’s yards. We accelerated the process of building 100% affordable housing that uses low-income housing tax credits, and with US bailout dollars, we allocated $2.3 million to housing programs in partnership with local nonprofits and others.
In 2021, the Flagstaff City Council did not increase the property tax levy and instead reduced our property tax rate so as not to further burden our population.
Protection against forest fires
Wildfire season is just around the corner and our brave firefighters will be out there again and working tirelessly to protect our community. We are extremely grateful that in 2021, the Forest Service has allocated over $50 million to 4FRI forest thinning operations in our region. In addition, Congress has allocated us $3.5 million for the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Plan. I would like to thank our federal delegation and in particular Congressman Tom O’Halleran for his advocacy in bringing this project to fruition.
The City of Flagstaff has also worked to bolster our fire defenses in other ways. In 2021, the average Flagstaff firefighter received a 5.9% raise.
Dealing with floods
Last summer’s floods were traumatic for many, with millions of dollars in damage to private and public property. Even today, people live behind feet of sandbags. Some homes have black mold from flooding. And some do not know if their house will be flooded during the monsoon season.
The Flagstaff City Council has made this a top priority. Through our partnerships with the Coconino County Flood Control District, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Flagstaff Unified School District, and our federal delegation, we’ve raised more than $14 million in just six months for the museum flood zone and Spruce Wash. Many of these projects will be completed before the monsoon season. We are so proud of the Flagstaff team and are grateful for our partnerships who funded, designed and will soon complete critical infrastructure.
The Museum’s flood zone is not the only flood zone that concerns us. It is crucial that we complete the Rio de Flag flood control project to protect the downtown area and the neighborhoods of Southside, La Plaza Vieja and Townsite. It’s a $122 million project, 65% funded by the Army Corp of Engineers, and we’re in the process of acquiring land and negotiating with the BNSF railroad to innovate.
When complete, this project has the potential to avert $1.5 billion in damage that would affect approximately 1,500 structures in Flagstaff.
Towards greater sustainability
The dangers of wildfires and flooding have further highlighted our changing climate, and Flagstaff is putting sustainability efforts at the forefront of our political decision-making. Last June, Flagstaff City Council passed the Carbon Neutral Plan and we are taking steps to implement the big shift in thinking it will take to see it through. We are actively redesigning our transportation system to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians and have approved the Active Transportation Master Plan. We provide new development incentives that will create more sustainable developments. The composting program diverted 4,000 pounds of food waste from our landfill, and we set aside $30,000 for a project that provided job opportunities for homeless people to pick up trash in our community.
We are grateful to have recently learned from Congressman O’Halleran that $750,000 has been allocated by Congress to retrofit Flagstaff homes for greater energy efficiency.
Focused on inclusion
We have also worked hard to become a much more inclusive community and municipal government. City Council has approved designs for the new entrance to the Town Center Library, with easier access for wheelchair users and everyone else.
City Council meetings are now streamed live with closed captioning, so people who are deaf and hard of hearing can actively participate.
Our CARE Team – Community Alliance Response and Engagement – offers a 9-1-1 Diversion Team in which a Behavioral Health Specialist and a Fire EMT will respond to certain 9-1-1 calls regarding mental health or substance abuse. of substances. Our program has a community patrol unit that helps people get the services they need.
Another big goal has been to bridge the digital divide by investing more in broadband infrastructure. With the state’s plan to create new fiber north on I-17 and west on I-40, Flagstaff is positioned for private market interests in quality high-speed Internet throughout our city. With the development of the Broadband Master Plan, we are ready to take our Internet infrastructure to the next level, and with more than half a dozen Internet companies showing interest in Flagstaff, we are preparing for the future. . Broadband is the great equalizer, providing educational and economic opportunities. With that in mind, the Flagstaff City Council allocated $1.5 million last year to advance our broadband capacity.
I want to thank Flagstaff City Council and the hard work of City staff, our partners and most importantly all the teamwork that has accomplished so much in such a short time.
Our path forward is one that will create an even more prosperous and thriving community. NBF
By Paul Deasy, FBN
Paul Deasy is the mayor of Flagstaff.