Mayor-Elect Says Somerton Needs To Move Forward on New High School, Economic Growth
Somerton is located about 12 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, about halfway between Yuma and the border city of San Luis.
Two annual events- the Tamale Festival in December and the Corn Festival in November- bring thousands to the town of about 17,000.
The man who will be Somerton's next mayor says he takes a lot of pride in the city he grew up in and welcomes visitors year-round. Gerardo "Jerry" Anaya, the current vice mayor, points to new businesses, road improvements and new homes as signs that Somerton has a bright future.
"If you go to any of our city parks, you'll see young families," Anaya said. "Go to one of the public squares and you'll see older residents playing dominos, playing cards."
"It's a family atmosphere and that was always a draw for me to come home after college (at Arizona State University)," he said. "It's a small-town feel. Everyone knows each other."
A top item on Anaya's agenda is furthering talks on a planned Somerton high school. The project has stalled over a dispute with a property owner over pesticide spraying restrictions in the area.
"We need to secure the high school," Anaya said. "Somerton just celebrated its centennial and we've never had a high school and it's very needed."
"I want to secure a meeting with the Yuma Union High School District and make sure Somerton is still in their plans," he said.
High school age students who live in Somerton and want to attend a public high school are currently bussed to Kofa High School in Yuma.
The city is enjoying a building boom. New homes are being built and new businesses are opening up, bringg jobs for locals.
The population has grown from about 5,300 in 1990 to more than 17,000 today. As the city grows, it must do so smartly, Anaya said.
"The city is growing out of developable lots," Anaya said. "We need to market ourselves to to future developers."
City leaders call Somerton "the Best Little City in Arizona". Anaya said Somerton residents look out for one another.
He cites the Tamale Festival, which raises money for scholarships to ASU through the El Diablito Alumni Chapter. The money funds a next generation of city residents and leaders.
Like many in Somerton, Anaya is part of a generation that was the first to go to college who then returned to take leadership roles in local schools, on the city council and in the greater Yuma community as lawyers, medical professionals and other professionals.
"Somerton is in transition from a small city," Anaya said. "It's exciting."
"It has been mostly an ag-based economy but higher income residents are moving in as well," he said. "That shows a vibrant community we can be proud of."
New Mayor Anaya, two re-elected council members and one new member will be sworn in at a November council meeting.