Banner Ironwood, Queen Creek, and Pinal County, oh my!

[Edit: Thank you to Queen Creek Councilman Jeff Brown for correcting me on my errors that QC had not given permission on the attempted incorporation – it was actually Florence that had not done so – and the strip annexation law that went into effect back in the mid-90’s.]

Banner Health is opening a new hospital located (currently) in San Tan Valley just south and west of the intersection of Gantzel Road and Combs Road (map is here). It will be a major medical facility and serve the people of Eastern Pinal County well – especially since the only other major medical facility for Pinal County is in Casa Grande. That means that when residents of Pinal County, like in, say, Apache Junction, that don’t have insurance but need medical attention or are county dependents, they must be taken to Casa Grande, instead of nearer facilities like Banner Baywood in Mesa.

San Tan Valley is an unincorporated area in Pinal County that is just east and south of the Maricopa County border (and thus the incorporated town of Queen Creek) and north of Florence. This area attempted to incorporate itself several years ago but failed to get the necessary signatures of people living in the area, along with other issues like the City of Florence not giving its permission to incorporate – newly incorporated towns must have permission of all incorporated areas if the new town borders are within 6 miles of an existing town’s borders.

UPDATE 3/26/10: Pinal County has placed a map of the San Tan Valley proposed borders (v5.0 at time of writing) here. The proposal will require the following towns’ approval of the borders: Florence (Anthem Merrill is within 6 miles of the STV border at Hunt Hwy and Magma Rd), Queen Creek (immediately adjacent to border at Gantzel and Combs, among others), and Gilbert (STV border at Signal Butte and Empire is within 6 miles of Gilbert border at Chandler Heights west of Power Rd). Coolidge would be also necessary if Coolidge annexes the land between Highway 87 and Ranchview Rd as that would be within 6 miles of the STV border at the Gantzel alignment and Arizona Farms Rd.

A super majority (> 66%) of the residents of San Tan Valley have moved there in the last 6 years. This is important to note – there were existing residents prior to that, but those residents live nestled in the San Tan Mountain areas and opposed the original incorporation efforts. Those original residents try to distance themselves with the now-majority folk who continue to lobby the Pinal County Supervisors for incorporation.

It is these (relatively) new people that now are up in arms about Queen Creek’s publicly noted annexation consideration of the soon to be opened Banner Ironwood hospital. The opposition usually shouts out with several myths hoping to cast fear, uncertainty, and doubt over the proceedings. What they don’t know is quite obvious, and I will point that out here.

Myth One:

The Town of Queen Creek is a Maricopa County town and is attempting to cross into Pinal County for a land grab.

Reality: Queen Creek already exists in Pinal County and has done so since the town incorporated back in 1989 – a map is available at the Town of Queen Creek Website. Note that QC extends into Pinal County on the South and East (green areas on map).

Myth Two:

The Town of Queen Creek is attempting to dictate to an unincorporated area how things will be done.

Reality: It legally already does so in two ways. One, any unincorporated area within six miles of the QC border cannot be incorporated without QC’s permission. QC gave permission last time in 2004, but now with more at stake, it is unclear of the Council would again give permission if the newly incorporated town’s borders were within the six mile limit of QC’s existing borders. (I’ll update this when I find out more.) Two, QC has a planning area that goes outside of the town limits that does have a say in how things “will be done”… in conjunction with the corresponding county (Maricopa or Pinal). All towns or cities have planning areas, and those planning areas always include the unincorporated areas adjacent to the town/city limits. Obviously places like Tempe and Guadalupe, which are landlocked, do not have the luxury of unincorporated planning areas, but the rest do. QC has a General Plan map available at their website, but it is dated 2006, which I know is not the latest map. The zip code map (above link) contains all the unincorporated areas in the QC Planning Area, which includes the area – in blue – just south of Combs and Gantzel.

Myth Three:

QC is just trying to reap all the taxes a hospital will bring.

Reality: Hospitals like Banner Ironwood are non-profit entities and as such are exempt from a huge amount of taxes that a town would normally otherwise receive from a large business. However, any associated businesses and medical offices that open on lands also annexed by QC would definitely send their tax money to QC… and Pinal County, not Maricopa. People forget that every tax is broken into three levels – city/town, county, and state. For any business conducted in Pinal County, regardless of the location (whether incorporated or not, like say Coolidge or Florence), the County will reap its share of the taxes, and the County tax rate is still exactly the same – 1.1%, which is more than Maricopa County’s 0.7%.

Myth Four:

Only the citizens of an area can vote for annexation.

Reality: Only the LANDOWNERS of the area being discussed can vote for annexation. Banner Health owns the land on which the hospital is being built, and they have approached QC for annexation because QC can provide enhanced levels of service from fire and public safety than Pinal County on its own. Since they are the only landowner in question, their vote is all that matters. Now, there is a Fry’s shopping center on the actual corner of Gantzel and Combs, so the landowners (NOT THE SHOP OWNERS) in that shopping center – and according to the Pinal County Assessor’s office, there are several parcels owned by different people on that particular corner – have the option of being part of the annexation, but all it will actually take is just the parcel that contains the Fry’s Supermarket itself to be annexed in order to annex Banner Ironwood. And make no mistake about it, it’s legal to do so because doing so would NOT create a county island, which is illegal, and it would not be a “strip annexation” because the parcel of land being annexed is greater than 200 ft wide x 300 ft long. If I were Smith’s Food and Drug Centers Incorporated, a BUSINESS, I would probably be considering coming along for the ride for annexation to QC with Banner Ironwood just because of the infrastructure that the Town can provide compared to Pinal County.

So when people start clamoring for the Pinal County Supervisors to step in and “protect the 80,000 citizens of San Tan Valley”, they should know that QC and the landowner – Banner Health – are doing everything by the book, legally, above board. Pinal County really isn’t going to do anything because they still get the hospital inside their county limits and their tax share (1.1%) regardless of whether the hospital is located in an incorporated or unincorporated area.

Hence, the people of San Tan Valley are much ado about nothing. Isn’t that right Mr. Messinger?