By DAVID GREEN
Cuts in services or higher taxes—one of those two directions will have to be followed, Morenci mayor Keith Pennington told city council members April 8.
Although the city has no long-term pension liabilities like many communities, Morenci will have to make do with with less revenue in the next year, he said.
“I’m urging council to re-examine the services we provide, to think about the core mission of city government,” the mayor said.
In his opinion, that means a safe water supply, streets and public safety.
In order to keep the city viable without raising taxes, the tax base will have to increase, he said, either through improvements or new industry.
“In the coming weeks, we will be discussing what services to strengthen, to cut back or to eliminate,” Pennington said. “Citizens need to consider what are their priorities and what to cut. Are you willing to pay more taxes? The revenue does not match up to what we’ve had in the past.”
City council will have to make some difficult choices. As an example, discussion has included closing the recycling center now that free curbside service is offered.
Audience member Bill Foster asked if the city has considered selling any of its property at a cheap price.
Pennington said that council will evaluate the vacant Morenci Area Hospital land on Sims Highway and also the adjacent building that was built as the hospital clinic. Interest has been expressed in the N.W.D. building at the back of Wakefield Park.
“We’ve been working with a consultant on developing a marketing plan not only for our property but for the Palm Plastics building,” Pennington said.
Several things are going on behind the scenes, including a tax incentive ordinance for commercial property.
Foster asked if the City still owns land in Ohio by the industrial park and whether that could be sold.
Pennington said it could be sold, but discussions in the past have favored retaining the land for use as a detention pond or for a substation, should there be new development in the park.
Audience member Ron Apger asked about the option to buy land on the east side of Morenci for an expanded industrial park. Apger wondered why the property owners haven’t been informed that they would become part of the city.
It’s only an option to buy, Pennington said, but if it were purchased, it’s likely that council would want the land annexed.
Apger asked where money for the purchase would come from and the mayor responded that the budget for the next year has not yet been established.
Pennington said that council would likely seek a loan, such as the 10-year mortgage used in the existing industrial park. The money spent on that has come back in tax revenue two to three times over, he said.