With the paper mill gone, what's next for Snowflake?
What do you do when a community’s largest private employer shuts down? That’s the question facing two Arizona towns with the closure of the paper mill that has provided hundreds of jobs for the last five decades. KJZZ’s Al Macias reports on the way these communities are looking toward the future to fill the loss.
AL MACIAS: The loss of nearly 300 jobs has a ripple affect across many White Mountain communities, but the impact will be felt most in the sister cities of Taylor and Snowflake. Eric Duthey is the Taylor town manager. He says fewer jobs means fewer dollar to spend in local businesses.
ERIC DUTHEY: These communities do not have property taxes, so we are heavily reliant on sales taxes. So if our businesses close we lose the businesses, the sales tax goes away. Sales tax dollars equate to services.
MACIAS: Duthey says the potential loss of revenue comes at a time when laid-off workers will demand greater government services. He says some people have been lucky enough to find jobs either in the Snowflake area or in mining towns in eastern Arizona, but city leaders know there are many who may not find work right away.
DUTHEY: We’re having discussions within our own town councils to see what resources might be available to help with utility bills. And what we can do to help service agencies, other service agencies to fill the gap.
MACIAS: Down the road in Snowflake, school superintendent Hollis Merrill is still adjusting to what the loss of the mill’s $350,000 in property taxes could mean to the district and other property owners.
HOLLIS MERRILL: If -- well it’s not an if -- when the mill closes, our assessed values will go down. The impact of that could be compounded if people start moving and home values go down and so forth.
MACIAS: Merrill says if people do leave and property values do eventually drop that could lead to a higher tax rate for the remaining property owners who have to make up the lost revenue to keep the schools running.
MERRILL: We are planning for it, but we’re not panicking ... at the same time.
MACIAS: Back in Taylor, Eric Duthey says he and community leaders have been making lots of phone calls and shaking hands with business leaders across the country. He says there are some hopeful signs with potential employers.
DUTHEY: Forefry is one opportunity dealing with the thinning of the forest. Forest products, wood products, that will employ a great number of people. We’re also very hopeful that potash mining will be very successful here.
MACIAS: While Duthey is hopeful, he says those and other jobs may be a year down the road so until then the residents will have to be resilient. Meanwhile the last day of production will be Sept. 30.