Growing with distinction: Sun City CAN now 5 years old

By Rusty Bradshaw
Independent Newsmedia

Sun City Community Assistance Network turned 5 years old in February, but the organization’s roots go farther back.

In fact, the agency has been around, in one form or another, nearly as long as Sun City. Sun City CAN’s parent was the Sun City Taxpayers Association, started in the 1960s with the mission to fight unreasonable tax and utility increases. Today, with a new name and mission, Sun City CAN offers a wide variety of human service programs — provided mostly by volunteers.

A packed house at the CAN office waits to have volunteers help them with their tax returns.

“Today’s Sun City residents owe a debt of gratitude to the people who fought those battles for us, but by the year 2000, all of the tax wars seemed to be over and SCTA started to question its mission and its reason for being,” said Hugh Duncan, Sun City CAN board president.

Over the past five years, Sun City CAN has provided free assistance to thousands of Sun City and West Valley residents.  Sun City CAN’s mission is to connect people with resources to enhance their standard of living.

The organization is governed by a volunteer board of directors and has two part-time employees. The agency’s office is at 10195 W. Coggins Drive and is open 8 a.m.-noon five days per week. All service are free of charge.

“Our motto is, ‘To connect people with resources to enhance the standard of living,’” said Linda Miskimen, Sun City CAN executive director. “We give people direction to find help.”

Ironically, it was taxes that started the move toward disengaging the SCTA and starting CAN, according to Marv Worthen, longtime SCTA board member then executive director.

“It was AARP Tax-Aide that generated the move,” he said.

In addition to questioning its mission, SCTA was struggling to survive financially, according to Mr. Worthen. A former SCTA board president gave the agency a large grant and that saved it from extinction. Shortly thereafter, in 2012, the agency got its new name and new direction.

“The other thing that was happening was that Sun City was ‘aging out,’” Mr. Duncan said.

Sun City was 50 years old. Some people had lived here more than 30 years and their savings were running out or already gone. By 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 6.5 percent of Sun City’s population, or about 2,500 residents, were below the poverty line, which today is $1,005 per month for a single person, according to Mr. Duncan.

To address this new reality, in 2006 SCTA created a nonprofit subsidiary called Sun City Taxpayers Community Action Network. For about five years, there were two organizations, two missions, two boards of directors, etc., and it was very cumbersome, Mr. Duncan explained. Articles of dissolution for SCTA were filed in early 2012 with the Arizona Corporation Commission and SCTA ceased to exist. The name of the new free standing organization was slightly changed, from Sun City Taxpayers Community Action Network to Sun City Community Assistance Network, and the bylaws for the new organization were signed Feb. 14, 2012.

Mr. Worthen is impressed with what the agency has become.

“It is an incredible amount of stuff they are doing,” he said.

Most Sun City CAN services are income-based, which limits who can get help.

“Unfortunately, we can’t help everyone,” Ms. Miskimen said.

In addition to hosting the AARP Tax-Aide program, that has volunteers helping residents fill out their annual income tax returns, CAN offers benefits counseling, helping residents find and apply for a variety of resources; legal counseling; help with propoerty tax refunds; taxi tickets through the Dial-A-Ride program; administer a water rebate program for condo residents; utility bill discounts; and more. CAN also provides space in its office for the Maricopa County Assessor’s Office to have a representative in Sun City to help West Valley residents with property issues.

SCTA officials had begun to make the transition from a solely tax advocate to benefits resources before the agency change, according to Mr. Worthen.

“Tracy Spoon (former SCTA executive director) started making those changes,” he said. “Tax-Aide is what made it best known.”

Perhaps SCTA’s biggest accomplishment was the Sun City school tax fight from July 1988 through March 31, 1993, according to Mr. Duncan. Senate Bill 1261 had created a school tax for Sun City residents and SCTA raised $295,000 to mount a legal challenge. After a four year battle in various court venues, SCTA prevailed and the state of Arizona had to refund $10 million it had collected and $8 million in interest to Sun City residents, Mr. Duncan explained.

Mr. Worthen also said a turning point for the agency came when it and Recreation Centers of Sun City officials made peace following SCTA’s efforts to fight water rights for the rec centers.

“It is really great to see RCSC working so closely with CAN,” Mr. Worthen said.

Ms. Miskimen and Mr. Worthen said working at CAN is personally rewarding.

“To help people is so fulfilling,” she said.

It can also be beneficial to staff and volunteers.

“Working there gave me a purpose after I retired,” Mr. Worthen said.

IF YOU GO:

What: Sun City Community Assistance Network Board of Directors

When: 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 14

Where: Wriston Lounge at Sun Valley Lodge, 12415 N. 103rd Ave.

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