A House panel agreed to ease the rules for when new cities and towns can be formed, a change in law that foes insist will harm the ability of existing communities to grow.
HB2088 would create an exemption from laws that give cities the power to veto any new nearby incorporations. That power extends out six miles for cities of at least 5,000 and three miles for smaller towns.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, is pushing the measure specifically to give the opportunity for residents of San Tan Valley in northeast Pinal County to decide if they want to incorporate. That effort has so far been blocked by Florence.
Alex Vidal, lobbyist for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, defended that veto power, saying that buffer zone provides room to grow through annexation. He said what San Tan wants to do is incorporate right up to the border of Florence, effectively stopping its growth there.
But Vidal said this isn’t a strictly local fight. He said this change, if it gets signed into law, sets the stage for similar incorporations — and similar limits on expansion of existing cities and towns — throughout the state.
Vidal’s objections were not enough to keep the Committee from Local and International Affairs from approving it on a 4-3 margin.
It now goes to the full House which approved a virtually identical measure last year. But since that time more than 20 members of the 60-member chamber have been replaced.
San Tan resident Tisha Castillo said the approximately 100,000 residents of the area have a “right to decide our future.”
Farnsworth, who does not represent the area, agreed. More to the point, he said it’s unfair to give Florence, with a population of about 26,000, veto power over what would be a much larger community.
Vidal argued that nothing in current law stops San Tan from incorporating — as a smaller town. He said all proponents have to do is draw lines that are at least six miles from Florence.
That brought questions from Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe. She voted against the measure, saying she first wanted to see a map of what would and would not be allowed under existing laws.
Farnsworth said the opposition from Vidal’s group, which represents the existing more than 90 cities and towns in the state, goes beyond their right to annexation.
He pointed out that Arizona provides a certain amount of revenue sharing each year, divided up among cities and towns based on their population. Farnsworth said if there is suddenly a new city with 100,000 people, that means less money for everyone else.