Pima Mayor CB Fletcher recently told a story about buying three vehicles. First, he bought a $72,000 pickup truck for himself. Then, he purchased a $40,000 car for his wife and a $30,000 Polaris to go off-roading with.
Why did he share this story with the Thatcher Town Council? To make a point.
Despite slightly higher prices, Fletcher said he purchased the vehicles in Safford instead of Phoenix because he wanted to shop local. He wanted at least a portion of the $10,000 in taxes he spent to benefit the people in the Gila Valley and he believes most of the people in Pima feel the same way.
That being the case, Fletcher posed the question: Wouldn’t it be fair for the Town of Thatcher to share some of their sales tax revenue with the Town of Pima?
Fletcher and Pima Town Manager Sean Lewis spent 15 minutes discussing the idea at a Thatcher town council work study session Monday evening.
Lewis shared some numbers with the council.
“We’ve always been considered kind of a bedroom community and quite honestly I don’t like that. We’re trying to change that. The last few years we’ve done a lot to change that. But the fact of the matter is we do have a lot of people that live in Pima. It’s actually kind of shocking,” Lewis said. “We’re 6 1/2 percent of Graham County. We have 25 percent of the population of Safford and we have 48 percent of the population of Thatcher. When you look at our tax bases, it’s likely looking at different planets.”
Pima simply doesn’t have too many places to shop and while that’s eventually going to change (40 new residences are being built annually in Pima), it would be nice to recoup some of the money Pima residents spend elsewhere in the Valley now, Lewis said.
“When I look at the disparity between how much money we spend up here in the Valley versus what is brought down here to Pima, it’s kind of heart-breaking,” Lewis said. “We just feel like a profit sharing, a tax-base share is what’s fair since we do promote local business. We promote for our residents to spend money locally. We want them to shop in Thatcher. We want them to shop in Safford. Right now we don’t reap any of those benefits...We just want what’s fair is fair. Nobody owes us anything, not asking for that.”
When asked how much he thought was fair, Lewis said 2 percent.
Thatcher councilmember Ryan Rapier also asked Lewis what he would say if Duncan and Clifton presented the same argument to Safford and Thatcher.
As much as he loves those communities, Lewis said they aren’t a part of the Gila Valley; they don’t get involved with Gila Valley golf tournaments or other local events. Over the last few years, residents and those in leadership positions in Pima, Thatcher and Safford have become part of a tight-knit community — unless football is involved, Lewis said with a laugh.
“We get along now. we are a community and that’s the difference. They’re not part of our community and they’ve not tried to become part of our community,” Lewis said.
When Rapier asked what recourse the Town of Thatcher would have if a company moved from Thatcher to Pima, Lewis was quick with an answer.
“I think you should protect yourself. If I was in (Thatcher Town Manager Heath Brown’s) shoes, if I was in your shoes, I’d absolutely protect myself,” Lewis said. “I’m telling you right now that if we make some kind of a deal, I will never go approach a Thatcher business.”
Lewis told Rapier he would “absolutely” put that in writing, too.
“But I also think, and I might be shooting myself in the foot, but I also think you should protect yourself against a Thatcher business coming to me and wanting to come to Pima because I’m never going to say ‘No’ to that,” Lewis said. “I’m saying I’ll never go to them, but if they come to me, fantastic. But if I were you, I’d absolutely have a clause in that agreement to protect you from that and to reap a certain percentage of what they bring in, absolutely.”
Lewis told the council he had a discussion on the topic with Safford Mayor Jason Kouts about the idea, but it led nowhere.
The council members thanked Fletcher and Lewis for the visit. In an interview after the meeting, Brown said the Town of Thatcher had budgeted $3.3 million in sales tax revenues for FY20-21. Two percent of that is $66,000.
There’s a wide range of opinions on the topic among the council members, Brown said. He plans to ask them if they’d like to discuss the matter further.
Safford Town Manager John Cassella said he was unaware of the discussion between Kouts and Lewis, but also intends to see if the council would like to discuss the idea. He, personally, doesn’t have a position at this time, he said.
Reached via email, Kouts said, “I would like to hear what the Town of Pima has to share with us at a council work session the end of this month.”