One of the primary drivers of economic development is a community college or university that training that supports a community’s jobs. This means more than just how many people get a degree or take classes. It means that the training offered leads to jobs and business development in the community. Arizona Western College does a very good job of supporting and driving the economy in Yuma County. However, La Paz County does not receive the support needed despite paying high taxes. La Paz County property owners pay over $5 million a year in property taxes to AWC, but the community only receives just over $1 million in services.
In April 2020, the AWC budget and proposed tax levy for the new fiscal year were published in the Parker Pioneer. Once again, the budget, and the property taxes to cover it, were increased with no significant increase in services provided to the community. Overall, the budget increased by 8.1 percent, from $91.6 million to $99 million. Contingency funding, commonly called a “rainy day fund,” increased from $2.6 million in 2020 to $10.17 million in 2021, an increase of 287.4 percent. This years, the AWC tax levy for La Paz County is $5.69 million. By contrast, the budget for operating La Paz County for 2021 is $35 million, $5.57 million of which comes from property taxes.
There are two possible solutions to this dilemma for La Paz County: we can get out of AWC or we can demand that AWC provide the supports that La Paz County needs to develop our economy. Separating from AWC would require a change in state law and would take years to accomplish. On the other hand, for AWC to use the $5 million in taxes from La Paz County to build and run a trade school in La Paz County would only take directions from the AWC Governing Board.
Since my letters to the editor on the same topic last year, I have met with many stakeholders and learned more about the situation. I have met Dr. Corr from AWC, and State Representatives Regina Cobb and Leo Biasiucci. I have discussed the issue with multiple business owners in the area and a local attorney. Parker High School has one of the best automotive CTE programs in the country, and Salome High School has an impressive culinary arts program. Our high school students graduate ready to learn a trade. There is near universal support for a trade school with programs in hospitality and automotive technology.
As evidenced by the increase in the contingency fund, AWC in Yuma does not need our $5 million in taxes. We desperately need the economic boost that will come with skilled trades. I call on all residents of La Paz County to let AWC know that we want a trade school in La Paz County
Dr. Kenneth McFarland