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City of Heber more than a dream

March 22, 2001|By AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writer

HEBER — George Aguilar, the new general manager of the Heber Public Utility District, has formulated a three-step plan that would help the township of Heber "fulfill its dream" and become an incorporated city.

It will take the town at least three years of preparation, planning and growth before he can begin implementing the plan, he said Wednesday.

"Dreaming of doing something is one thing," Aguilar said. "The tough part is making that dream a reality."

He said the first step toward becoming a city would be to build on and develop the farmland surrounding the town.

The township of Heber occupies a mile by mile square near Highway 111 between El Centro and Calexico.

While Heber is as big as it has ever been population-wise, it is still too small in area to be considered a city, Aguilar said.

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He said the town is on the right track with the new housing developments planned and a new wastewater plant.

"Heber might not know it but it is in the greatest possible position for successful growth," Aguilar said.

In the past few years more than 100 new homes have sprung up on the north side of town near Dogwood Avenue.

Aguilar said plans call for 800 more homes in the next 10 years. He projected the town's population would surge from 2,500 to 5,000 once the homes are filled

To help service the growing population, the utility district plans to build an essential services center.

Aguilar said the center would house a fire department and a police station. It would have a public meeting room with capacity for 200 people and could one day serve as City Hall for Heber.

Aguilar said the project would be started in a few weeks with a completion date set for sometime in 2002.

The center is being funded by the county and Heber in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the North American Development Bank.

Aguilar said the North American Free Trade Agreement provided funding for essential services in small border towns such as Heber.

This new center is one of the cornerstones in Heber's second step from township to city, according to Aguilar.

"The second step is the relationship that Heber must have with the county," Aguilar said.

He explained for Heber to become a city the county would have to benefit from it.

For example, the new center being built will provide fire and police services for the entire south portion of the county.

If Heber grows as Aguilar expects it will and becomes a city, it will use up resources already allocated for a specific area of the county.

That is a tricky part in the incorporation process because the town's growth has to be managed and consistent so it doesn't affect the county in a negative way, Aguilar said.

He cited the example of Fontana in San Bernardino County as a city to not emulate.

"I saw firsthand what happened there," he said. "They grew too fast and you couldn't even drive down the main street because of bad planning."

Aguilar said Fontana's failure made life worse for surrounding cities in San Bernardino County.

This is exactly what Imperial County doesn't want to happen with Heber, he said.

He continued: "Once the town has grown consistently and has a good relationship with the county, step three kicks in."

This third step is a thriving tax base.

Before Heber can become a city it has to have more businesses, according to Aguilar.

Heber has a market, a restaurant and a few farm equipment shops.

Aguilar said he will start this week trying to lure more business by providing incentives and using his connections.

Once the town can prove that it is viable and healthy economically, it can begin doing the paperwork to become a city.

Aguilar said when the town gets to that stage he would hand over the job of becoming a city to a consultant.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.

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