22
Thu, Jun

Camp Verde lacks sufficient checks and balances over its finances, according to a recent auditor’s report.

After the recent forced resignation of town Finance Director Dane Bullard, Phoenix-based Lisa Lumbard & Associates took a good look at how Camp Verde conducts its business.

In short, the firm found that the town has little oversight over who is doing what with its money.

In many cases, the person responsible for taking money is the same person responsible for balancing the books. There isn’t an official investment policy in place, only a draft that was never formally adopted, and too few people are looking after the town’s money.

The report also revealed that the town has 54 credit cards through 12 different companies, with credit lines as high as $15,000.

Some town departments have been using the cards to pay for operating expenses, the report states, a violation of the town’s policies and procedures.

Bullard was also the only person previously authorized to make payments and withdrawals from accounts, including an account worth more than $270,000. No records of income, interest, dividends or ledger reconciliations could be found, the report states.

Blank checks were also being left out in plain view of the public, the report states; the town has since put its checks into a safe.

Presently, the town requires purchase orders to be filled out for any expenditure over $100. Lumbard recommends that the town raise that number to something more efficient.

Often, the policy results in added expense from filling out paper work to, in some cases, double payments for services while the paper work is processed.

Lumbard said that while she realized the town’s staff was small, every effort should be taken to segregate financial duties. The town’s staff has been eager and willing to put such safeguards in place, Lumbard said, and her auditors recommend that town employees cross-train for different jobs to ensure one person isn’t left with total responsibility over the town’s finances.

The problems are severe enough for the town to suspend its search for a new finance director.

Town Manager Michael Scannell said that, after
interviewing candidates to replace Bullard, he feels it’s best to get reliable policies in place before bringing in someone new, at least for the rest of this fiscal year.

The report also verified that the town’s hiring policies were not followed when Camp Verde Sanitary District employees were put on the town’s payroll after an agreement signed last May.

While Lumbard found that the sanitary district approved the transfer, there was no record of the town ever giving official consent.

In the end, Lumbard said the town should make sure there are more fingerprints on every transaction it makes; having one person handle everything opens the door to fraud.

“It seems we got pretty sloppy in the way we did business,” Councilwoman Norma Garrison said.

Mayor Tony Gioia said he wanted Scannell, who has an extensive background in public finance, to look at the auditor’s report and devise a plan to fix Camp Verde’s problems with financial oversight.

“We need to stabilize things,” Scannell said. “We need to build a foundation that’s solid so we can go forward.”

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The overwhelming opinion, especially from students, is to keep the Mingus Union High School campus open, as it has always been.

Only one person spoke in favor of keeping the students on campus from the beginning of classes to the end of the day, including the lunch period, at a Jan. 16 public hearing.

The Open/Closed Campus Committee conducted the public hearing to get further opinions from the public in their attempt to come up with a recommendation for the governing board. The five-member governing board will make the final decision.

About 40 people attended the meeting — parents, teachers, students and members of the public — with about 18 people speaking, mostly students who want the campus to remain open.

An online poll and a telephone poll ended in the majority of people in favor of an open campus so students can go to local restaurants for lunch.
“We were formed to make a recommendation to the board. We decided to focus only on safety of the students,” said Mark Miskiel, host of the hearing.

The committee also looked at what it would cost, what other campuses in the state are doing and at the idea of bringing food vendors to campus, he said.

Speakers addressed four questions, which included whether they preferred the campus be closed or stay open, if the campus stays open what ideas they had to improve the safety and closed or open, how could the campus be made more attractive for students at lunch?

The committee will make their recommendation to MUHS District Superintendent Scott Dunsmore, who will in turn make a recommendation to the governing board at the board’s Thursday, Jan. 24, meeting. The board is expected to make a decision at that meeting.

Nicole Powers, a senior at Mingus, said she would not like to see the campus close.

“It’s a big amount of freedom they look forward to. Parents and kids have to be aware of their own safety,” Powers said.

To attract students to campus, Powers said more places to eat, more food and healthier food are needed.

“More choices will make it more comfortable for students to be here,” she said.

Physical education teacher Susan Holm said she thinks closing the campus would cause equally as many other problems.

“It’s like putting the cart before the horse. There’s too much gray area. Where will we put students? What schedule changes would need done,” Holm asked.

She said, as a parent, she has never been afraid for their safety.

Paula Blankenship and her son Kevin both favor limiting students to walking if they want to go off campus. It would reduce the safety risk and still give some freedom, Kevin said.

“If you make it a closed campus, it would be as much a safety hazard because of fights,” he said. He told the committee he has witnessed fights on campus.

“I’m afraid you cannot guaranteed the safety of 1,000 students. If you have more parent volunteers, you’ll have more success,” Paula Blankenship said, volunteering herself to help.

To keep students on campus voluntarily, she said the school needs more ramadas, more shade and areas for students to relax outside.

As the parent of two Mingus students, Audrey Islas said she is not more concerned about her children’s safety than if they were going to school or out on a date.

As a teacher, Islas said it would be impossible to put 1,200, 600 or 400 students in the cafeteria for lunch, and that closing the campus would cause changes in the academic schedule.

“I’m seeing grade declines. It would cause the need for more control and more supervision,” Islas said.

Laura Sperry said she thinks the students will go off campus anyway.

“As far as safety, that’s an issue either on or off campus. If I don’t want my child going off campus, I don’t give them the keys,” Sperry said.

Sperry’s daughter, Carolyn, said that safety needs to be with the student.

“Safety of the student comes from within the student. Students need to be responsible for themselves on or off campus. If we’re all stuck in here we’re not going to be happy,” Carolyn Sperry said.

Several other students who spoke agreed with her that each student should be responsible for his or her own safety and behavior.

Sophomore Lesley Kincaid said students have abided by other rules, such as no phones in the classroom, not talking to each other during class and having to ask to go to the bathroom.

“We’ve obeyed those rules. Don’t take away our small amount of freedom we do have,” Kincaid said.

Chelsey Shadrach, a senior, likened the ability to go off campus during lunch to people taking a lunch break from the job to get away and get refreshed.

Another student, Madison Crnkovich, said having separate lunch periods would cause a lot more ditching.

“I’d resort to ditching to be with my friends,” she said and quickly added that she would never ditch a class.

The lone person in favor of closing the Mingus campus related her experience of high school at a closed campus.

“We were more focused on our studies. We had activities and we didn’t have a problem,” Julie Dodge said.

She said the issue went deeper than the safety of students on the street, it was about unauthorized people being able to come on to the campus.

An empty seat on the Camp Verde Town Council remains open, after the council couldn’t agree on who should fill it. The seat opened up after Councilman Mike Parry resigned amid questions over whether or not he still lived in Camp Verde.

No candidate that applied garnered the four votes necessary to fill the position, active through June 2011.

The council is now taking new applications from the public until the end of the month, and wants to make a decision at its meeting Wednesday, Feb. 6.
There was plenty of interest from the public last week, but the council was divided about who would be best for the job.

A good deal of public support was behind Harry Duke, the town’s former postmaster who narrowly lost last year’s council election to Parry.

Councilmen Ron Smith, Bob Kovacovich and Greg Elmer supported Duke as the public’s second choice, but Mayor Tony Gioia, Vice Mayor Brenda Hauser and Councilwoman Norma Garrison voted against him.

Garrison was under public pressure to vote for Duke, but in the end, she felt bringing him on the council would cause Camp Verde more harm than good. She felt the same way about applicant Robin Whatley, the mayor’s former campaign manager and current Parks and Recreation commissioner, whose nomination by Hauser failed to garner a second.

“These are two people who were very involved in a very emotional campaign,” Garrison said. “Because of their involvement in the campaign, I don’t want the council accused of taking sides. I want someone who doesn’t have the baggage of a hard-fought campaign.”

Gioia didn’t vote to second the nomination of Whatley, his former manager. Gioia put his support behind Dave Freeman, a housing commissioner and planning and zoning commission chairman.

Despite a somewhat turbulent personal history as a postal employee with Duke, Gioia said that a 70-point grading system he devised for this decision put Freeman at the top of the list.

“I looked primarily at current service to the town,” Gioia said. “[Freeman] rated very highly.”

Freeman gave a speech before the vote, accenting his handling of last year’s livestock ordinance debate as proof he could handle the hot seat.
But Freeman’s appointment to the council was shot down by the same council members who threw their support behind Duke; only Gioia, Hauser and Garrison supported Freeman.

Smith, who made a motion to make Duke the newest member of Camp Verde’s leading body, said that the public had made its choice in choosing Duke now that Parry was no longer on the council.

Jerry Tobish, a downtown business owner also received support from Smith, Kovacovich and Elmer. His appointment was blocked by Gioia, Hauser and Garrison.

Tina Andersen, another local business owner, withdrew her name from the running before the vote; so did Donald O’Toole, a local man who threw his support behind Duke after withdrawing.

The council didn’t vote on Tim Sykes, the first person to throw his hat in the ring; it was later discovered that Sykes didn’t meet the residency requirement of living inside Camp Verde town limits for a year previous to applying for the seat.

While those who have already applied can keep their names in the running, the Town Council is accepting new letters in hopes to fill the seat by Wednesday, Feb. 6.

They have 60 days to fill the position under state law, but it’s unclear if there would be any real penalties against the town if it doesn’t meet its deadline.

Mark Lineberger can be reached
at 567-3341 or e-mail
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

For more than 25 years Cottonwood has boasted that the city does not have a property tax, however, that may soon change.
On Aug. 22, 1978, the Cottonwood City Council abolished a city property tax and replaced it with a sales tax, now at 2.2 percent.
The tide has turned once again and the City Council is thinking of initiating a property tax for owners within city limits.
At a Jan. 8 work session, the council directed the staff to prepare a resolution so the city can call for a special election Tuesday, May 20, to have voters decide whether the council could impose a property tax.
“We wanted to get this on the table because there’s a time limit to call for an election. We have until no less than 30 days before the election, which would be [Friday] April 18, roughly. The earliest would have been late December,” Finance Director Rudy Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said his department is researching to find out where the city is going to be financially in the next five years, then bring any expected shortfalls back to the council.
“We’re researching what the minimal impact, or amount, is that we need — what we have to have to continue our services,” he said.
The question before voters will be two-fold, Rodriguez said. Voters will be asked permission to have a property tax and what levy the city is seeking.
“After that is established we’ll figure it into the rate based on valuation,” Rodriguez said.
Over the past nine years, Rodriguez said the needs of the city have changed, particularly through growth and the desires of residents. Combined with the downturn in the economy as a factor, fluctuating revenue from sales tax is a concern.
“A property tax is more stable,” Rodriguez said.
Money generated by a property tax is most likely slated for public safety, he said, but it could be spent on shortfalls in other areas. Public safety has needed expansion for several years, he said.
Rodriguez said that there are several options the city could use including to levy a property tax, increase the sales tax or even shift money.
“The property tax could not go [to the voters]. If it does and does not pass the vote, we’ll have to look at Plan B,” Rodriguez said. “It depends on what the research shows and what the voters think.”
Once a property tax is instituted, the issue will not return to the voters, according to Rodriguez.
Any increase or decrease in the levy amount is at the discretion of the City Council.
The council has jurisdiction over raising or lowering the city’s taxes once they are initiated.
“We will have public hearings before that may happen so the public can voice its opinion, but the council has the ultimate decision there. We are restricted by law to a percentage we can raise a levy each year,” Rodriguez said.

A November 2008 ballot measure to allow the town to take de facto control of the Camp Verde Sanitary District may be off the table, if a new agreement is reached between the district and the Camp Verde Town Council.
The original agreement, signed in May, called for the town to pledge $2 million to help fund construction of a new sewer treatment plant.
In return, the town would gradually take over administrative duties of the district in advance of a measure that, if passed, would make the members of the sitting Town Council the members of the sanitary district board.
The plan has hit a few snags since the original agreement was signed.
The old agreement called for sanitary district employees to be technically on the town’s payroll to take advantage of the town employee benefits package.
Later problems and allegations led the town to fire some of the sanitary district employees; the others resigned in solidarity and all were rehired by the sanitary district.
The agreement also called for all sewer-related accounting and billing to be handled through the town.
Town Manager Michael Scannell, who came on board well after the original agreement was signed, told the sanitary district board last week that he didn’t believe the town was currently up to the task.
The sewer project is of utmost importance to the town, Scannell said, but in his opinion, the town doesn’t have the infrastructure in place just yet to handle that kind of workload.
The town has been trying to rework the agreement after months of stagnation in carrying out its terms.
Scannell said that while he’s confident the town would eventually be able to take on the responsibilities of running the sanitary district, to do so prematurely and fail would likely cause residents to vote against a town takeover.
“We have to demonstrate that everything is working well,” Scannell said. “At some point we will pass the test, but … at this point [the ballot measure] may not pass.”
Nothing is set in stone at the moment. The sanitary district has consistently argued that regardless of what the town wants, it is still obligated to fulfill the terms of the original agreement it signed.
While the district has expressed a willingness to negotiate with the town, CVSD Board Chariman Rob Witt said the district wants the town to pay for its employees’ benefits.
Beyond that, Witt said, if the town wants to redefine the agreement, the district board feels the town should also pay for a full-time sewer administrator, someone who would be able to take care of the billing and accounting functions the town doesn’t want to take on right now.
Regardless of what the town and district ultimately agree to, Scannell said that the town intends to live up to its financial obligations to the district.
The first check from the town was sent at the beginning of the month, Scannell said.
The renegotiations are set against a backdrop of mistrust between the public and the sanitary district board, highlighted by an acrimonious exchange last week between the board and members of a grassroots group angered by paying increasing taxes for a service they don’t receive.
The Saltmine Road Sewer Opposition Group, a group of residents angered by their rising bills, is looking for a lawyer to advise them where they stand and what they can do.
Many members of the group feel they are being stonewalled and misled by the district board; Witt said some members of the board feel they shouldn’t have to waste their time answering questions when they are just going to be accused of lying regardless of the answers they give.
After paying taxes to the district for more than three decades without receiving sewer service, members of the Saltmine group feel they have a right to have all their questions and concerns about the operations of the district answered in detail.
The next regular meeting of the Camp Verde Sanitary District is scheduled for 1 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 13

Construction of new sewer lines near Fort River Caves and along Hwy. 260 has come to a halt for a second time.
The project had temporarily been shut down by an order from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, after officials discovered that the Camp Verde Sanitary District had failed to obtain the proper construction permits before breaking ground on the project last summer.
The district thought that the order allowed work to continue for 30 days while it could organize a response, but ADEQ officials let the district know, in no uncertain terms last week, that that’s not the case.
“We’re doing everything we can to make ADEQ happy,” said Rob Witt, sanitary district board chairman.
The stop-work order puts the project in jeopardy, Witt said, including funding.
“No bank is going to pay for a project that doesn’t have everything in order,” Witt said. “We’ve got a lot of things to fix.”
The stop-work order only affects the new collection lines; work continues on the new treatment plant across the Verde River near Hwy. 260.
The district is working rapidly to get its paperwork in order, Witt said. The district could be fined $25,000 a day going back to when construction on the lines started, if it can’t get everything in order.
The district’s willingness to work with ADEQ can go a long way in how the state will react, ADEQ spokesman Mark Shaffer said. It’s different from dealing with a private company, Shaffer said; ADEQ takes special considerations knowing that district taxpayers would ultimately be responsible for any fines.
As it is, the shutdown is expected to cost the district at least $100,000, Witt said.
There’s still a matter of who’s responsible for failing to obtain the proper permits. Witt said that the former board under Chairman Suzy Burnside failed to obtain the permit.
There had been a permit in place, but it expired in October 2006. The new district board took office in early 2007, and Witt said it was assumed that all the permits were in order.
Burnside defended herself in a district meeting last week, arguing that it had been the current board’s responsibility to make sure the proper permits were in place.
“Someone should have followed a checklist,” Burnside said.
Witt said that while Burnside had “worked her head off” to get the project rolling, she failed to make sure all the proper paperwork was in place.
Burnside maintains she left the sanitary district board with everything in proper standing, and that the current board was responsible for making sure everything was in place before breaking ground.
The project had originally gone out to bid in 2004, but all of the bids were rejected because of the proposed cost of the new wastewater treatment plant, wrote Eric Lauren, project manager for Coe and Van Loo, one of the construction companies working for the district.
Coe and Van Loo submitted documentation that the company was to assume the CVSD had everything in order with ADEQ when they agreed to take on the job in 2005, and that they had been actively discouraged from talking with ADEQ or any other agency about the project.
Regardless of who is ultimately to blame, Witt said the district has no plans to pursue legal action against Burnside or the former board.
Witt said that while the district reserves the right to take future legal action, he doesn’t feel that much good would come from it.
“We need to move forward,” Witt said.

at 567-3341 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Cottonwood Fire Department holds the distinction of having all 12 of its shift firefighters certified paramedics, except that one is still in school.

He will graduate from the program in March. That means that there are four paramedics on the fire engine whenever it goes out — 24/7.

“We are proud to say our existing engine is staffed with all paramedics. I don’t know of any other department or district in the state that has that,” Chief Mike Casson said. “We feel blessed.”

The reason for the high number of paramedics is two-fold. One is that the firefighters want to get the training and certification. The other is the trend for fire departments to perform emergency medical services in their communities more than fighting fires.

“Our services are shifting. With education in the schools and the community, smoke alarms, sprinklers, fire extinguishers and cell phone fires have decreased, but EMS has increased a great deal,” EMS coordinator Tim Wills said. He also is a shift captain with the department.

In 2008, about 74 percent to 75 percent of the department’s 2,478 calls were for EMS. Some were to assist other Verde Valley departments, but the majority were for Cottonwood.

The number of calls is increasing as well. According to Wills, the Cottonwood department is the busiest in the Verde Valley.

“The community has gotten much larger and is continuing to grow. So far we’ve been able to keep up with the demand, but we’d really like to put on a second engine, at least at our busiest time,” Wills said.

A second engine would be 12 more firefighters. With the number of paramedics on staff, even with a second engine it would mean there would be two paramedics on each engine, each shift.

“It’s also an advantage if there are multiple injuries, like when the five cheerleaders were hurt in the Sept. 6, 2007 collision on South Main Street,” Casson said.

He is amazed at the caliber of people in the department and their enthusiasm not only for their job, but to keep improving their knowledge and skills.

“We’ve always encouraged our people to get further education — paramedic or otherwise. It amazes me. The commitment to paramedic is huge. It’s about 1,300 hours, including clinicals,” Casson said.

The department recognizes that EMS delivery is what firefighters do these days, but they also have the commitment to fight fires when they do happen, Casson said as the tones went out for a house fire in Verde Village Unit 3. The call was for the Verde Valley Fire District, but Wills and his crew got ready to go, if they were called to assist.

Casson was at a state fire training committee meeting in Phoenix recently and said a lot of department chiefs said they were having trouble staffing paramedics.

“This community can be proud. It takes one and a half years to develop a paramedic; we already have them on staff now,” he said.

All paramedics are nationally and state certified. For the Cottonwood department, Dr. Todd Lane at Verde Valley Medical Center is their medical director. He helps develop protocols for when the paramedics work in the field or for any questions.

“Our focus is for pre-hospital events and management. We are a bridge to the hospital. Most times, though, we have to work under emergency conditions, and not always under the best of conditions,” Wills said.

The Cottonwood Fire Department is located at 199 S. Sixth St.

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 Yavapai County Board of Supervisors can’t balance the county’s budget without closing the Yavapai County Jail in Prescott after voters rejected a jail district tax, supervisors determined Monday, Jan. 5.

A unanimous vote set Wednesday, April 1, as the closing date for the jail, at which time arrestees from the entire county will be transported to the Yavapai County Detention Center in Camp Verde.

If voters had approved the quarter-cent jail tax on the November ballot, Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said he’d be having a different conversation with the board.

“This is where push comes to shove,” Tom Thurman, District 2 supervisor, said.

According to County Administrator Julie Ayers, 62 percent of the
county’s budget goes toward law enforcement and the county faces a $5.9 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2008-09. By FY 2009-10, the deficit could increase to $13.3 million.

Closing the Prescott jail will save the county $2.4 million to $2.6 million at a time when the jail district faces a potential $5 million deficit, Waugh said.
Closing the Prescott jail is the biggest cost saver the county’s found since it began cutbacks, District 3 Supervisor Chip Davis said.

Prescott Police Chief Randy Oaks and Prescott Valley Police Chief Jim Maxson told the board they don’t want the jail to close because it would require them to transport anyone they arrest to Camp Verde at their expense.

Currently, police officers in both communities simply take prisoners to the Prescott jail.

Oaks and Maxson said transportation would take their officers off the streets for up to three hours at a time and neither have the capability to hold prisoners while they wait for transport.

County Attorney Sheila Polk said she supports Oaks and Maxson and doesn’t feel the county should pass expense onto communities to balance its budget.

“This is similar to unfunded [state and federal] mandates,” Polk said. She compared the situation to the Arizona Department of Transportation now charging counties, cities and towns for use of its crime lab.

“We are all in the same boat and we are in the midst of a heck of a storm,” Davis said.

Prescott and Prescott Valley have been getting a free ride, according to Waugh, and it’s not his job to balance their budgets. It’s his job to balance his.

“I have to live every day with the transportation issue,” Waugh said.

Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrest criminals all over the county and have to take them to the nearest jail. The closure will also inconvenience them, Waugh said. He wants to keep the Prescott jail open, but somebody has to pay for it.

Sedona, Cottonwood and Clarkdale police officers transport their prisoners to Camp Verde at the departments’ cost.

District 1 Supervisor Carol Springer said nobody likes the idea of closing the jail and voters rejecting the tax is a key component of the decision. The county will have to go to the voters again and ask them to reconsider at some point.

Supervisors discussed delaying the decision of when and if to close the jail. Thurman suggested giving Waugh, Oaks and Maxson until July to come up with a plan.

However, the supervisors decided the closure was inevitable and the sooner the doors are shut, the sooner the county begins saving money.

Waugh said he will keep the lines of communication open with Oaks and Maxson in an effort to come up with a transportation plan that could include cost sharing.

Trista Steers can be reached at 282-7795, ext. 124, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

More Articles ...

Online Poll

How should communities handle illegal dumping?

Verde Valley Weather

Cottonwood United States Clear (night), 70 °F
Current Conditions
Sunrise: 5:15 am   |   Sunset: 7:45 pm
29%     7.0 mph     29.462 bar
Forecast
Thu Low: 68 °F High: 104 °F
Fri Low: 70 °F High: 104 °F
Sat Low: 67 °F High: 105 °F
Sun Low: 74 °F High: 101 °F
Mon Low: 70 °F High: 100 °F
Tue Low: 65 °F High: 96 °F
Wed Low: 64 °F High: 95 °F
Thu Low: 62 °F High: 94 °F
Fri Low: 60 °F High: 97 °F
Sat Low: 63 °F High: 98 °F