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Sun, Sep

Energy can be expensive, but the sun provides a steady stream of it, especially here in Arizona.

It’s that solar power one group hopes to convince the Camp Verde Sanitary District to harness to power their new wastewater treatment plant.

The GreenWorld Energy Foundation, a local nonprofit corporation formed last year to help spread the use of solar energy, gave its presentation to the district board last week.

The group wants to work with SunPumps, a Safford-based company that’s been building solar power systems since 1985.

“They seemed interested,” said Allen Crawford with GreenWorld. “It’s a great program.”

The district, which has had its share of ballooning expenses while trying to build a new treatment plant and expand its service area, is always looking for ways to save money.

Crawford said that his group would help the district find grants and other sources of funding to help pay for the system, which he said won’t cost the district a dime in the long run.

Exactly how that would work remains to be seen; the district is only in the very early stages of looking at this proposal to determine whether it is viable or not.

Crawford said the proposal would involve his organization leasing 11 acres or so to put up a solar energy distribution system. The district would pay what it did for energy in 2008 for five years to the solar energy provider, after which the district would buy the solar energy equipment, which has an expected lifespan of around 20 years.

Of course, there are complications. Crawford said it’s not clear if there are 11 acres of land available. There’s also the matter that the sewer district is building a new treatment plant that will no doubt have different energy costs than the current plant.

GreenWorld’s original focus was water conservation, Crawford said, which led to looking at solar power as a natural energy alternative.

“There’s a lot of water used in the [non-solar] production of electricity,” Crawford said.

It’s all part of a broader approach to solving energy problems, according to Mark Schmidt, development director with GreenWorld.

“Our stated purpose is to assist other nonprofits and municipalities in acquiring solar distributed generation systems,” Schmidt wrote in an e-mail to The Journal. “The emphasis of our program is to increase public awareness regarding the existing regional water crisis, and how local thermoelectric generation contributes to the problems.”

The group has signed a non-binding letter of intent with the district, Crawford said, a first step outlining what the group hopes to accomplish and a starting point to sit down at the table with the district.

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Some Cottonwood residents are spending time at a winter home in Northern Arizona because their home in Verde Village Unit 3 burned to the ground Saturday, July 18.

All of a sudden the homeowners heard a loud explosion, around 2:44 p.m. When they went to investigate, they saw a workshop next to the double-wide manufactured home fully engulfed in flames, according to Verde Valley Fire District reports.

“He tried to get a garden hose, but the fire chased him down the carport. He and two women in the house got out OK. The fire moved very fast,” Fire Chief Jerry Doerksen said.

Inside the shop in the 2600 block of South Sunset Drive were several different kinds of chemicals, paint supplies, acetylene torches and various ammunition.

The cause of the fire was undetermined, and with the damage done it will probably remain undetermined. It took only a few minutes for the fire to burn the house to the ground.

“We do know the fire was accidental,” Doerksen said.

As flames and black smoke roared into the sky, neighboring homes were threatened, but only one received any real damage. To the south, the exterior of the neighboring house exposed to the fire was scorched, and the windows on that side blew out. Firefighters and a neighbor on the roof with a garden hose stopped the fire from getting inside. The house to the north had very little damage, according to the fire reports.

As a precaution, firefighters had Cottonwood police officers and Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office deputies evacuate houses surrounding the one on fire. The officers also helped with traffic and crowd control. Several neighbors and onlookers lined the street across from the fire, many using their cell phones to take pictures.

Firefighters from Verde Valley, Clarkdale, Cottonwood, Camp Verde and Sedona fought the blaze and assisting were Verde Valley Ambulance with the rehab truck and members of the Trauma Intervention Program.

“There were a lot of neighbors that helped, too, to get people alerted so they could be safe,” Doerksen said.

After the fire, Verde Valley Fire District firefighters got some plywood and boarded up the windows of the house to the south.

The fire is still under investigation, and an estimate of the damage was not available by press time.

“We do know it was a heavy, heavy loss,” Doerksen said.

Also at the fire was Cottonwood Fire Chief Mike Casson who helped coordinate the firefighters’ efforts. He said it was fortunate that there was a fire hydrant close by.

“The one we used, the city water company put in about six months ago. Otherwise we would have had to use water tenders,” Casson said.

Lu Stitt can be reached at 634-8551 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Camp Verde Town Council seemed eager last week to put the recent controversy over a cross that hung on the wall in the town’s gym behind them.

The cross is owned by the Bread of Life Mission, a Christian, Camp Verde charity group that uses the gym to give out free meals on a regular basis.

The cross used to be displayed only when the group was using town property, according to the mission’s director, Duane Burris, but wear and tear on the cross led the mission to just leave the cross on the gym wall full-time.

It was there for years until a woman attending the town’s annual Easter egg hunt in April became offended and asked that the cross be removed.

Nothing was done; the woman then filed a complaint with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group that works, among other things, to keep religious imagery off of government property less people of other religious or no religious beliefs feel excluded from the political process.

The group’s viewpoint is supported by the United States Supreme Court; Town Manager Michael Scannell and Burris agreed to take down the cross when the group sent a letter to the town.

The cross will still be allowed to be displayed when the Bread of Life is using the gym, said Town Attorney Bill Sims at a public meeting earlier this month, a nod the law gives especially in the West where, once upon a time, government buildings were by necessity multipurpose buildings.

The removal of the cross angered many town residents, dozens of whom vowed to fight to keep the cross displayed as long as they could.

But the law is the law whether you like it or not, said Councilwoman Carol German, and as a government entity The Town of Camp Verde is bound to obey the law.

“I think it’s unfortunate this event has escalated to this,” German said.

German said it was especially important that the town recognizes that Scannell made the only decision he could have made, given the interpretation of the laws concerning church and state.

“When the issue came up, [Scannell] did his job,” German said. “We have to trust our town staff to do that.”

Councilwoman Norma Garrison, the wife of a local pastor and a supporter of keeping the cross up, said that she and Scannell would just have to “agree to disagree” on this issue.

Garrison said she feels the issue was a policy decision that needed to be handled by the Town Council but realized that the argument over the boundaries between church and state is one that’s being fought across the country.

“It’s regrettable that the town received a complaint,” said Councilwoman Robin Whatley. “We have to live by the law of the land, and if the law isn’t acceptable then we need to work on changing it.”

There’s going to be a few changes next year at the Camp Verde Unified School District.

The school board last Tuesday approved an administration restructuring plan that, among other things, will see a new principal at Camp Verde High School.

Bob Weir, a current wrestling coach, teacher and Career Technology Education director, will take over chief administrative duties at the high school. Weir will replace Principal Chris Shultz, who is taking on a new job in the district as director of operations.

In this job, Shultz will be responsible for working with budgets and finances, business and food services, enrollment, technology, the physical plant and other important duties. The job will also share some of the duties of the district’s business manager, a position that will be eliminated when current manager Montie Morris retires in August.

The district will also be creating a part-time position called “Finance Coordinator,” to be filled by Amy Romero, a community liaison.

The job, as the name implies, will involve working with numbers.

There’s also a new principal at Camp Verde Middle School, to replace Dan Brown after he was given the job as the new superintendent for the district.

Russ Snider, the former principal at Sedona Red Rock High School, will hopefully be coming out of retirement to take the job, Brown said. The middle school will still continue to benefit from the leadership of Danny Howe, Brown said, who has worked for the district for years.

Brown said that the restructuring, approved 5-0 by the board, was part of a plan to use people where they have the greatest strengths.

“Some have inquired about the wisdom of placing individuals in positions rather than utilizing the interview process,” Brown wrote in a letter to the district’s employees. “I believe we are at a tipping point. We have the right people. I don’t believe that they were necessarily in the right seats on our bus. Are they now? I believe time will tell.”

The plan also provides some financial savings in a cash strapped budget, more than an estimated $17,000 over the course of the 2009-10 school year.

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The Camp Verde Town Council will once again consider liquor issues at this month’s first regular meeting, 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, July 1, in Room 106 at Town Hall on Main Street.

It’s not directly related to the recent arguments and revelations concerning how alcohol sales have been handled at special events on town property; the council will instead consider a possible resolution along with other towns to try and persuade the state Legislature to give municipalities more power to “address community-related problems associated with liquor establishments,” for example, giving the opinion of town government more weight with the state Department of Liquor Licenses before issuing liquor permits.

The resolution is one of several being considered, the others including proposals about the possibility of increasing fees for public records requests and an effort to promote conservation of natural resources on State Trust lands.

Mayor Bob Burnside also wants to discuss looking into giving Camp Verde contractors preference when it comes to town-funded projects and services.

With budget cuts being made left and right in these tough financial times, the council plans to look at how to begin combining the duties of the town’s design review board and the town’s planning and zoning commission.

Other town groups are on the potential chopping block with the town considering a temporary suspension for the town’s housing commission, library advisory commission, trails and pathways commission and parks and recreation commission.

The housing commission has already met for the last time; other commissions are being considered because of the expense of using town employees to support the commissions meetings.

In other business, the council expects to consider:

* A presentation about a survey related to a possible workforce training center in Northern Arizona

* Possible selection of candidates for the Arizona Municipal Risk Retention Pool Board of Trustees

The meeting is at town hall, 473 S. Main Street.

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The Arizona State Board of Accountancy, the agency which oversees financial accounting in the state, has voted to formally investigate the Town of Camp Verde’s former finance director and auditing firm.

Shortly after Town Manager Michael Scannell took the job in October 2007, he reported to the Town Council that he discovered the town’s financial system was in a state of extreme disrepair.

Among other issues, discovered an account that should have had more than a million dollars was actually more than $100,000 in the red.

A review by another auditing firm found a serious lack of internal controls to act as a check on how the town’s money is handled.

Former Town Finance Director Dane Bullard and the way he handled town money was investigated by the Camp Verde Marshal’s Office and the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office, but prosecution was declined.

Bullard was forced out of his job in September 2007.

The town has been working to improve internal controls and to get the town’s finance department back on track, but some members of the Town Council wanted answers about what went wrong.

According to an e-mail sent to Scannell from Ryan Edmonson with the accountancy board, files have been opened on Bullard, Dennis Osuch and his firm, Cronstrom and Osuch, which carried out the required annual audit for Camp Verde for some years.

Councilwoman Norma Garrison, who requested that the town take the issue to the accountancy board in January, said she just wanted to know why years of audits never revealed the serious problems that existed in the town’s finance department.

In January, Town Marshal Dave Smith said that keeping the same auditing firm for years can sometimes lead to a sense of complacency that can create an environment where audits might not inform the town’s leaders of everything they need to know. The state recommends that towns use a different auditor every couple of years or so, Garrison said.

Councilman Bob Kovacovich and former Councilman Ron Smith originally voted against sending the matter before the accountancy board; Smith said that no money was stolen and was afraid an investigation could be seen as a “witch hunt.”

Smith was also afraid an investigation could raise legal issues due to the terms of Bullard’s severance agreement with the town.

Garrison denied it was a witch hunt; she said she just wanted answers.
“I was always told that the audit was our safety net,” Garrison said. “The whole idea behind this is to find out what went wrong … I still just want to get to the bottom of this.”

Mayor Bob Burnside said he wanted to let the accountancy board do its job, and that accountability was extremely important when it comes to the town’s responsibility with the public’s money.

According to Edmonson, the accountancy board will likely review the responses of those being investigated at their Thursday, June 18, meeting.
The investigation could take around nine months to complete, Edmonson wrote, so the board can insure due process has been applied should the investigation end up in front of an administrative law judge.

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The Camp Verde Sanitary District has come a long way since this time a year ago.

District Chairman Gregg Freeman summed it up at a recent public hearing in which no one stood up to speak.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a public hearing that only lasted 15 seconds,” Freeman said, Maybe we’re getting boring?”

That’s not a bad thing, considering the district last year found itself the target of public anger, a recall election, an Arizona Department of Environmental Quality-ordered construction shutdown, structural failures at the new wastewater treatment plant and an expensive sewer expansion project.

Things seem to be moving along much more smoothly these days. The sewer expansion project is complete, and the new plant is set to come online by October.

It’s been a long road.

“I’ll buy the bottle of champagne if we can find a corner of [the plant] to bust it over,” joked board member Dick Rynearson.

Even though times are tight, the district was able to approve a budget last week that actually slightly lowered the sewer tax rate.

It helps now that the expansion project is finished; Comfort Inn and Days Inn at the Interstate 17 interchange have hooked up to the new lines, along with other businesses.

Others will wait until the new plant is online, Freeman said.

Connection fees, which have been low compared to other sewer systems, will increase next year but remain the same for at least 12 more months, the board decided.

The district also got the news last week that it will be receiving a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Office, said district employee Jan Grogan, money that will be used to replace an aging sewer line that runs under the White Bridge along State Route 260. It’s the same sewer line that sprang a leak twice in the past two years, spilling sewage into the Verde River and causing a headache for the district.

That’s especially good news, Freeman said, because the grant means the district won’t have to use part of an extra $2 million borrowed and approved by voters to help pay for unexpected cost overruns in getting the new plant operational.

There’s good news on other fronts as well. Sanitary district employee Marshall Davis said that after months of struggling to get the mosquito problems under control in the plant’s wastewater lagoons, the most recent count only turned up a total of two mosquitoes.

The board is also hoping to take advantage of lower interest rates and refinance its loans through Arizona’s Water Infrastructure Finance Authority, a measure also approved by voters.

It’s a move that stands to benefit the Town of Camp Verde, which pledged to give $135,000 a year to the district for a quarter century.

With a lower interest rate, the town could end up saving as much as $15,000 to $20,000 a year, Freeman said. It all depends on what the actual interest rate is when the refinancing deal is closed, something Freeman hopes happens by July 1.

In other business, the board directed staff to devise a plan to address the growing number of overdue sewer payments, currently costing the district thousands of dollars.

Freeman said that a lot of people likely pay the sewer bill last since they figure there’s no way to shut off sewer service.

While Freeman said he would only want to use it as a last resort, he suggested that the district look into the possibility of digging holes and physically disconnecting service to customers who are unreasonably past due.

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“This has been, and is, a great class,” Mingus Union High School Principal Marc Cooper said.

As he reflected on the 2009 graduating class, Cooper said it is the first class he has really known since coming to Mingus more than five years ago. He has watched the progress from freshman year on through. Getting to know them as a class and individually has been a lot of fun, and their accomplishments are astounding, he said.

“They, as a class, were highly performing for four years; they were part of seven state championships in sports and 15 regional championships — eight in their senior year. They earned $1.4 million in scholarships, and 22 of them received the AIMS tuition waivers to the state universities,” Cooper said.

What that means is that those 22 students of the 235 graduates reached the exceeding level on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards in reading, writing and math. The graduates’ performance falls in line positively with Valedictorian Erin Wylie’s statement that she can guarantee they will not find success by sitting around waiting for it to come.

Wylie said everyone can achieve and succeed. It is just a matter of finding one’s niche.

“Everyone is brilliant at something. Everyone has something they can do better than most of the people they know. Everyone can use that ability to prepare themselves for any opportunities that come their way,” Wylie said.

She said succeeding in high school is a wonderful thing, but what really matters is what one does from this day forward.

“It’s what you make of your life when you are the only one in the driver’s seat,” Wylie said.

Salutatorian Jeremy Glick acknowledged that hard work and good choices are what will lead to success, spoke on the all work, no play theme, and said there is no way to predict what the future will bring.

“Enjoy yourself. Have fun and relish the unexpected and life’s little mysteries. We have so much opportunity to do whatever we please that it’s hard to see why you can’t enjoy yourself every day,” Glick said.

After tossing mortarboards following the graduation ceremony on the football field, and after the hundreds of relatives, friends, teachers and classmates finished the congratulations and hugs, the graduates and a few of their friends headed for Clarkdale and the Operation Graduation Party.

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