Guest Editorial: John Hoeppner
Cave Creek’s preparation for Walmart

By John Hoeppner | June 24, 2009

HoeppnerLook out for number one and be careful not to step in number two

The first time I entered Walmart’s corporate offices in Bentonville, Arkansas, I could not help but notice several large signs in the lobby of the marketing and legal building. One billboard scribed in large red lettering caught my eye – “If you are not working on something that will save us money or make us money you are working on the wrong thing.”

The Town of Cave Creek should take Walmart’s words to heart. The Town should also take Rodney Dangerfield’s words seriously, “Look out for number one and be careful not to step in number two.”

Because my wife Cheri and I served on the Cave Creek Incorporation Committee nearly twenty-five years ago, I may be able to provide insight and unique historical perspective regarding the significant events that brought us to the Cave Creek Walmart juncture and hopefully keep the taxpayers of Cave Creek from stepping in number two.

State law dictates that no unincorporated area may become a municipality unless all adjacent municipalities approve. The Town of Carefree incorporated in 1985, a year earlier than Cave Creek. Carefree was forced to cede territory to Scottsdale that included part of the Boulders residential area, Boulders Resort, el Pedregal, Desert Mountain, Sincuidados and other areas to the south coveted by the City of Phoenix. Most of the incorporators of Carefree believed they were extorted by both Phoenix and Scottsdale to gain incorporation approval. They were.

Although Cave Creek had twice failed to incorporate, previously rejected by voters in 1979, a handful of area residents including Cheri and I understood the potential threat of annexation. What is now the present day Town of Cave Creek could have easily been devoured, up-zoned, bulldozed flat and over-developed by the insatiable City of Phoenix.
Because Carefree had seen how the game was played throughout their incorporation process, Carefree’s founders reached around Black Mountain to the south and west seizing the gateway to Cave Creek. Carefree’s 1985 land grab from Cave Creek included present day areas that include Sentinel Rocks, CVS Pharmacy, Lowe’s and as far north on Cave Creek Road as the Christ Anglican Episcopal Church.

The aforementioned adjacent community approval law now added the newly formed Carefree to Cave Creek’s list. After receiving the okay from Scottsdale and some wrangling with Phoenix, Creekers had to bend over and let Carefree have its way to gain their approval. Taking advantage of Cave Creek’s desire to form a Town, Carefree, in essence, cheated Cave Creek out of the gateway to the town core. This single act by Carefree was the beginning of bad blood between the neighboring communities that has simmered for twenty-five years and occasionally boils over into water distribution, law enforcement, fire protection and zoning issues. In my opinion, which will require more space than allocated, both Towns must move beyond this history and work together towards efficiency and the common good of the people.

On July 8, 1986 Cave Creek voters went to the poll located inside the Cave Creek Elementary School (now Career Success High School) to determine the fate of the community. Fifty one and three-tenths percent voted for incorporation, 48.7 percent voted against. The naysayers were convinced that another layer of local government would become too big and spend too much. The supporters recognized that this new layer of government would protect the quality of life in the community. Both were right.

The Town of Cave Creek’s inaugural budget for the fiscal year August 1986 to June 1987 was set at $379,000. A drop in the bucket compared to the Town’s 2009 budget of $47.5 million, with nearly $5,000,000 allocated to payroll and benefits. Earlier this year on January 20 the Council voted to “temporarily” raise local sales tax to one of the highest rates in Arizona. The tax increase of $500,000 is intended to help deal with the projected $5.7 million shortfall. The word around the campfire is that the other “temporary” tax used to pay for Spur Cross may be extended by this council to fill the budget gap or to pay Rural/Metro for fire protection services. Unfortunately, the idiom “temporary tax” used by any governmental body is a sugar coating. Temporary has an interesting way of morphing into permanent.

In order for the Town of Cave Creek to remain a viable entity we must think like Walmart – “If you are not working on something that will save us money or make us money you are working on the wrong thing.” Given the current transitory down cycle in the local economy the mayor and town council (with the exception of “high-card” Adam Trenk) are moving in the right direction preparing Cave Creek for the Walmart location. Since 1986 we, as a community, have elected representatives that have given us the Cave Creek we love and other communities envy. We have invested considerable sums of money to make Cave Creek special. However, for the Town of Cave Creek to survive it is time to look out for number one – you. Consider that Scottsdale has Target and Safeway, Phoenix has Home Depot and Fry’s, Carefree has Lowe’s and CVS. Is now not the time for Cave Creek to seize the opportunity of having Walmart and the $3,000,000 in projected sales tax revenue? Why would our neighbors deny Cave Creek the same right they have exercised? Will they send us an equal sum each year? I doubt it.

Understandably the residential areas near the proposed Walmart location are unhappy. I am very sympathetic. However, most people know there is a zoning risk when land is purchased near major roadways. The majority of the citizens must look out for number one, the Town of Cave Creek, by supporting a reasonable quantity of commercial development near heavily trafficked throughways. If Creekers do not support reasonable commercial development in our community we will be stepping in number two – a heaping pile of permanent property tax.