November 18, 2023 | Cole Arreola-Karr
Special district leaders and stakeholders from across Arizona met on November 9 for a “mini-conference”-style Arizona Special Districts Summit to discuss common concerns and issues facing the state’s districts.
The event marked the first known occasion where leaders from a diverse background of special district services gathered alongside county partners to exchange ideas in a statewide forum exclusively for Arizona’s special districts.
A steering committee of 11 stakeholders comprised of special districts managers, board members, county officials, a legal consulting firm, and a representative from the Arizona Fire Districts Association steered organization of the Summit. Among the top concerns for attendees gathered for the Summit included access to state and federal funding opportunities for local governments; developing relationships with their county, state, and federal officials; preservation and protection of local revenue resources; and developing shared resources for good governance and compliance trainings.
Attendees received a range of resources and heard expert presentations on best practices throughout the full-day event. Of note, Daniel Herder, Associate with ClarkHill, provided overviews of Arizona’s open meetings and public records laws. Maria Lara, National Legislative Director with NSDC-Gold Affiliate Streamline, shared how its made-for-special-districts webhosting and website services drives compliance with state laws presented on. Herder also presented on Arizona’s intergovernmental agreement (IGA) law as a tool for collaborative solutions to local governance issues and was joined by Sara Carroll, Maricopa Consolidated Domestic Water Improvement District Office Manager to share IGA administration best practices.
Arizona law governing special districts often requires special districts to interface with their county’s elected officials and administrators. Susan Walka, Coconino County Chief Deputy Treasurer; Lori Medaris, Maricopa County Board Clerk Management Analyst; and Kim Kapin, Board Clerk to the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors, provided a behind-the-scenes view into how each of their county offices collaborate special districts in their respective counties. In doing so, the expert panel shared insight on organizing special districts under state laws, elections administration, and county-administered financial activities. Yavapai County Supervisor Harry Oberg also joined attending districts for conversations.
Prioritizing, researching, and approaching federal grant applications was another featured segment, which included a presentation from TFG (The Ferguson Group), a partner and provider of NSDC’s advocacy and grants services. NSDC also shared an update from Washington, D.C., and called on the group to act on the upcoming “Special Districts Recognition Act,” which would federally define “special district” to foster fairer access to federal programs for local governments. Representatives from the Office of Senator Krysten Sinema, I-Ariz., briefly joined the Summit via Zoom as well.
More than 50 registered for the in-person event, including representatives from at least 40 special districts – approximately 10 percent of the state’s estimated special districts. Steering committee members intend to continue conversations on group formalization into 2024.
In 2023, NSDC sponsored and coordinated statewide conversations in Arizona, Texas, and Washington with objectives of organizing state special districts coalitions and strengthening the broader national coalition and legislative actions.