Issues in City Government During Jimmie’s Twenty Years

Camilla: What were some of the issues during those years?
Jimmie: When I first became mayor, the Mayor didn’t have an office or a secretary. I never had a full-time secretary anytime while I was mayor although I had a part-time one the second time around—I utilized somebody else’s staff when I needed. We built the City Hall [where the public library is now] during the first eight years I served. [This is how we did it.] The property tax was $3.17 per $100 assessed evaluation in 1967 when I first became the mayor. We told people we were going to lower their property tax and go onto sales tax, which we didn’t have then. We started annexation of some automobile agencies that were in the county. Under the railroad underpass on Highway 84, on the left, was the Dodge agency. There was a Chevrolet agency where Cropper is now on Pinal Avenue. We were going to annex Rancho Grande and the subdivision on Bisnaga on the right of Trekell, Desert Valley. In subsequent years we took the property tax from $3.17 to ninety-nine cents where it still is today. So we cut it over 2/3rds. In the meantime we also changed the City from dependence on twice a year property tax to monthly sales tax. Casa Grande continued to grow and so did sales tax.

That first year we just picked an amount out of the air and put it into the anticipated budget. We ended up having twice as much as what we’d estimated. So we took that money and set it aside for new building. The City-County building that was on the corner of Marshall and 4th Streets is where I would have met with you but there wasn’t an office for the Mayor, only a partitioned space he used that belonged to the City Manager. So we would go to Fire Station #1 for meetings. We put that money aside for a new City Hall. The next year we continued to have windfalls. We paid cash for the new City Hall. Then we built the library for cash and a maintenance facility. We paid as we went. Early on we’d buy used vehicles and, if you were building a backstop [for a baseball diamond] we’d get Dusty Owens who had a welding shop to give us old pipe and we’d buy chicken wire, then we’d weld it all together. We lived hand to mouth. But once we had income from the sales tax we could buy new vehicles and get employees decent wages. We were honest with the people of Casa Grande and did what we said we would do!

We did miles and miles of paving. We expanded the City limits, which we did even more the second time around. I can remember when Brown Street was the City limits as you went down Florence Boulevard. We covered the San Carlos irrigation ditch that went through where the high school [now City Hall] gymnasium and the auditorium are now and went up to McMurray and then over the where the junior high is today [Casa Grande Middle School].

As I said, we diversified the economy. I think in the second eight-year period we had the gas lines when the Arabs did an oil embargo on the United States. We had meetings with all the service stations and bulk dealers and set up a system based on license plate numbers which days you could buy gasoline. It wasn’t exactly rationing but it was a way to cut down on the lines.

When I came back as Mayor the second time in 1985, they had built the police station but the City Hall needed expansion. All during the time I’d been with the county in between, they’d maintained—and still maintain—the City sales tax. So sales tax has paid for the new growth, although there have probably been some bonds used for the police building.
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Begin Tape 2. Side 1. You asked about some of the challenges. We were really working hard on trying to diversify and we were finding that the average age of the population was going up. The young people were leaving the community. I can’t remember exactly when Central Arizona College was built [1967], but we didn’t have the opportunity of the community college in those years. People couldn’t find employment here unless your dad was a farmer or in business. If you went to college, it was that way, too. A few teaching jobs, or start your own business. Our young people were going elsewhere. Diversificiation was good for the business community. It meant more competition on prices and more jobs. It also meant some of the young people could come back here, particularly in manufacturing. And it meant people who couldn’t afford to go away to college could get more education at a reasonable cost and so forth.

During my first series as the mayor, Mr. Bill Erdman was appointed to the State Highway Commission to represent Pinal, Gila and Graham counties. That was in anticipation of the freeway. The original freeway location was not as close as it ended up. It would have been closer to Coolidge. Casa Grande “out-politiked” them! Not just Jimmie Kerr but lots of people. It was unusual in this area, and still is somewhat, for there to be many Republicans here. Jack Williams was Governor and Bill Erdman was the Enco bulk dealer here. Bill had served on the City Council and was Vice Mayor during some of the six years Pappy Guinn was Mayor. Guinn was followed as mayor by Jack Foster for two years.