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Wed, Nov

Less than two years after Verde Valley voters rejected a referendum to unify three local school districts, boards for two of the three voted to try unification again, maybe as soon as the 2010-11 school year.

Supporters say the move would save $500,000 in maintenance and operation costs by the third year and lower tax rates 0.5 percent. Cost savings would be spent to improve classroom amenities and services.

Boards for Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union High school districts each back a plan to pursue unification but wanted to hear more from constituents and school officials at a Town Hall Meeting in the new MUHS performance center Tuesday, Jan. 19.

“We’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars and spent decades studying this,” COCSD board member Eric Wyles said at his board’s Jan. 12 meeting. “This is about doing what’s right for the people we represent.”

The COCSD board voted unanimously to pursue unification.
Playing “catch up,” the MUHSD board voted Thursday, Jan. 14, 3-2 in favor, with board chairman John Tavasci and members Mike Mulcaire and Andy Grosetta in favor, James Ledbetter and Barbara Zenan opposed.

The move makes “good educational sense, business sense and common sense,” Tavasci said before the vote was taken.

“Are we going to catch up to what Cottonwood-Oak Creek has done?” Tavasci asked.

The votes start a ball rolling toward unification that could be stopped at any time before a second vote in May sends the question to Yavapai County Superintendent of Schools Tim Carter for official certification.

Before that happens, either board could pull the plug. For example, a lack of state funding to sustain raises for underpaid COCSD teachers could cause either board to change course.

Equalization of teacher salaries may be a key sticking point. On average, COCSD teachers make $10,000 less than their MUHSD counterparts. In many cases, the disparity is even greater.

Ariz. Sen. Steve Pierce [R-District 1] and Reps. Lucy Mason [R-District 1] and Andrew Tobin [R-District 1] notified the districts they will work to secure up to $1 million in special education funding to help equalize salaries as an inducement for the districts to unify.

Ledbetter told the MUHSD board Jan. 14 short-term funding from the Legislature, assuming it is approved, should be spent on tractors, not salary increases. In three years or less, the new unified district will find itself committed to paying higher salaries with no new funding to pay it, he said.

Grosetta disagreed, arguing “hope” and “luck” would play a role.

The District 1 delegation should succeed in securing the short-term funds and could start a movement to overhaul the state’s convoluted formula for funding schools, a formula which draws criticism from educators and legislators each year, Grosetta said.

“We need to get those savings into the classroom,” he said.
Another potential pitfall involves a possible civil rights dispute over the voting rights of members of the Yavapai-Apache Nation.

Because unification would mean Native American voters will represent a much smaller percentage of the total number of voters in the new, expanded district, the unification plan must also survive scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, Ledbetter, a Cottonwood lawyer, said.

Once Carter certifies the question, “there’s no turning back,” U’Ren told her board Jan. 12. The measure could go to voters as soon as May, she said.

Voters rejected a proposal to unify MUHSD, COCSD and Jerome-Clarkdale School District in 2008.

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There was plenty to talk about this year. From annexations to overrides, highway construction to crimes and fires, residents of Clarkdale and Cottonwood kept close watch on the events that made the top stories of 2009.

The following summary reviews some of the top headlines of the past 12 months.

Annexation

A boundary agreement signed by the mayors of Cottonwood and Clarkdale at a press conference Nov. 13 appeared to end a dispute between the municipalities over Cottonwood’s attempt to annex 8.5 square miles of National Forest land.

The agreement split an unincorporated section of national forest south of Clarkdale and southwest of Cottonwood into eastern and western zones. Cottonwood promises to annex no property west of the line. Clarkdale promises to annex no property east of it.

The agreement “really takes the rush to annexation out of the picture,” Cottonwood Vice Mayor Karen Pfiefer said.

“We’ll do annexations now when it makes sense to do annexations rather than doing it so we get there first,” Clarkdale Town Councilman Richard Dehnert said.

The agreement was signed after Cottonwood discovered its attempt to annex the land could not succeed because of a legal technicality.

Cottonwood wanted to annex the land to preserve it from excessive development and to secure the city’s northern border.

School Budget Overrides

Cottonwood voters narrowly approved two budget overrides critical to preventing overcrowded elementary and high school classrooms and the loss of key programs Nov. 3.

With 100 percent of the ballots counted, one of the overrides, worth $1.1 million in funding for Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, passed 2,808 to 2,661, a 147-vote margin of victory.

The other override, Mingus Union High School District’s request for $534,000 in financial aid, also narrowly passed, but by an even closer margin, 3,117 to 3,061, a 56-vote win.

In nearby Beaver Creek School District, voters approved a $3.25 million capital improvement bond to build a multiuse community building, remodel other buildings and provide more space at the school. The vote was 464 to 405, meaning 53 percent of those who cast ballots favored the initiative.
The county reported 48 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

Clarkdale Threatens Lawsuit

In November, Clarkdale Town Council voted to sue a national insurance giant over its failure to pay for unfinished lights and streets at Mountain Gate subdivision, but the town attorney held off filing at the last minute when the company asked for more time to negotiate.

Negotiations are ongoing.

Clarkdale accused Bond Safeguard, licensed to sell insurance in 41 states and two U.S. territories, of defaulting on its obligation to finish Mountain Gate improvements started by Empire Residential Construction Company in 2007.

Empire declared bankruptcy and stopped work in 2008 without warning to Mountain Gate residents, who are still waiting for the improvements to be completed.

About $2 million is at stake, all of which will go to pay for the improvements constructed by either the town or a private contractor hired by Empire, but only if Bond Safeguard honors its obligations under the bond, town officials alleged.

Catholic Church Opens

More than 1,000 of Cottonwood’s faithful celebrated a moment more than 30 years in the making when Bishop Thomas J.

Olmstead dedicated the newly constructed Immaculate Conception Catholic Parish church and congratulated parishioners, their friends and supporters for a job well done Dec. 8.

The 30,000-square-foot structure seats 1,500 and boasts marble floors and more than 30 stained glass windows.

“Hopefully, the dedication will enliven our parish to get out there proclaiming the gospel as this building will do,” the Rev. David J. Kelash, pastor of the Cottonwood church, said. “We’re very excited.”

Swine Flu Pandemic Subsides

As of Dec. 12, Yavapai County confirmed 196 cases of H1N1, or swine flu, and five county residents died from the disease.

Across Arizona, 8,372 cases are confirmed with 133 deaths.
Yavapai County Community Health Services reports it vaccinated 40,000 people for swine flu since doses of the vaccine started arriving in October.

More than 200 county volunteers donated 2,500 hours so far to combat H1N1 locally, the department reported. Volunteers answered phones, processed paperwork and gave shots, Barton said.

The number of calls and reported cases of H1N1 have subsided in recent weeks, prompting the county to shut down its help line Dec. 1.

Sweat Lodge Deaths

More than 20 apparently overwhelmed in a crowded sweat lodge were hospitalized Oct. 8 after a ceremony turned into the “largest mass casualty incident” in Verde Valley history.

As many as 65 were involved. Injuries ranged from dehydration to kidney failure. Two died shortly after arriving at Verde Valley Medical Center while a third victim died Oct. 17 at Flagstaff Medical Center.

Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate the deaths at Angel Valley Retreat Center south of State Route 89A along Oak Creek, west of Sedona and east of Page Springs.

Participants were taking part in a retreat organized by James Arthur Ray. Ray is known for his Harmonic Wealth program.

Lawsuits have been filed by survivors, victims’ families and the Black Hills Sioux Nation, alleging Ray “committed fraud by impersonating an Indian,” thus violating the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.

Mingus Union High School

The employment contract for Scott Dunsmore, who challenged Mingus Union High School District Governing Board members in an open letter in 2008, was officially terminated in January after reaching a settlement agreement with Mingus.

The district selected Tim Foist as its new superintendent March 28. Foist took the reins of the school district in the midst of a $5 million remodeling project.

The Aug. 3 grand opening of new auditorium brought state and local officials and plenty of community members who wanted to see how the bond money they approved was spent.

Mingus started the 2009-10 school year with the largest enrollment in its history.

With $525 million left over after completion of the renovation, the board spent $100,000 to paint the outside of the school. Another $40,000 was spent to build a chain link perimeter fence.

Foist asked the community to pitch in again and help build a new track, field and stadium seating using leftover bond money and other financing, including nearly $175,000 in donations.

Fire Closed State Route 89A

Smoke engulfed Jerome and blanketed the Verde Valley in July as the Woodchute Fire on Mingus Mountain was allowed to burn within yards of the roadway.

The fire caused State Route 89A south of Jerome to be closed for a day while firefighters got the blaze under control.

The lightning-caused fire, which started July 19, burned more than 600 acres north of Forest Road 103 and west near the trailhead of Forest Trail 102, which borders the Woodchute Wilderness.

Robbins Appeal

Robin Lynn Robbins, convicted of homicide in the 2004 deaths of four Cottonwood residents in a car accident, lost the appeal of his sentence to 71.5 years in prison.

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Michael Bluff rejected his argument that he was unaware of the maximum possible sentence when he accepted the plea deal and that he received ineffective legal counsel.

The accident Dec. 31, 2004, in which Robbins was found to be under the influence of methamphetamine, killed William Hutchinson, pastor of Verde Baptist Church, his two sons, Matthew, 27, and James, 15, and Andrew Roeller, 19.
Transit Expansion

Cottonwood Area Transit expanded with several new inner city bus routes were announced in June and July.

Eight new shuttle trips between Cottonwood and Sedona were added in November under the new Verde Lynx service, operated by the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority. Verde Lynx links CAT with the Sedona RoadRunner in Uptown Sedona, providing commuters with an alternative way to get to work.

Taxes Increase

Facing up to a serious decline in tax revenues, Clarkdale Town Council unanimously decided April 14 to increase the town’s sales tax from 2.25 percent to 3 percent. Without the increase, the town faced a $161,000 deficit in its 2009-10 budget.

“None of us want to raise taxes,” Clarkdale Town Councilman Richard Dehnert said at the time. “We’re doing what we have to do. We’re not doing what we want to do.”

The town also decided not to open its community pool for the summer to save money.

City Council Elections

Tim Elinski, Linda Norman, Karen Pfieffer and Darold Smith were the winners of a City Council election March 10. A fifth candidate, former Mayor Ruben Jauregui, fell five votes short of making a political comeback.

Jauregui lost a bid to retain his seat as mayor in 2008 and ran again for City Council in 2009.

Darold Smith received just four more votes than Jauregui to take the last of four open seats on the council.

Highway Construction

Construction improvements on State Route 260, which includes two large bridges, one over 600 feet long and 95 feet off the ground, opened with a new westbound lane Jan. 16.
About the same time, work on five roundabouts constructed on State Route 89A between Cottonwood and Clarkdale were also completed and opened to traffic

A serious effort to overhaul the Town of Camp Verde’s outdated and bloated land-use codes is moving into the next phase, after a consulting firm hired by the town conducted a series of public meetings over the past several months.

Dava and Associates, a Prescott-based firm, has been working with the town and its Special Projects Manager, Matt Morris, to address the issue of the codes, which have caused numerous headaches for government officials and land owners alike with vague language, seemingly contradictory rules and other weaknesses in the rules.

In recent years the codes have contributed to issues with pigs on private land and the controversy surrounding a local wood yard, among other things.

The codes were largely copied and pasted from Yavapai County’s codes when the town incorporated in late 1986. They were meant to be temporary.

And while 23 years may be “temporary” in a cosmic sense, fixing the codes and making them more user-friendly was something town leaders felt was long overdue.

The meetings were held in several different areas of Camp Verde, said Dava Hoffman, the firm’s founder.

“The purpose was to analyze the codes and get public input on problems and inconsistencies,” Hoffman said. “We’re looking to streamline and improve the development process.”

The mission of code revision has been made Morris’ top priority by the Town Council. The former town housing director, Morris was given his new assignment when the town’s housing department was abolished last year as a cost- saving measure.

The town agreed in August to pay the firm up to $150,000 over the next two years to help with spearheading the code revision process. The money is there to pay for this thanks to a recent loan refinancing effort from the Camp Verde Sanitary District. The town has agreed to pay $135,000 a year to the district to help fund a new sewer plant; the district recently took advantage of lower interest rates and saved the town $40,000 this year and around $15,000 a year for the next two decades.

Dava and Associates handed over a report based on their findings, but that’s just the first step, said Richard Counts, a longtime planner who is working alongside Dava and Associates.

The next step is to coordinate these findings with the town’s overall general plan and vision for the future, Counts said.

Eventually, Counts said they would be ready to start creating a pre-draft of the new codes, opening the way for another round of workshops and public meetings.

“This next phase is very important to the Town of Camp Verde,” Mayor Bob Burnside said.

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There are hundreds of firearm accidents across the county every year, often fatal and often claiming children as the victims.

In many cases these tragedies are simply the result of a lack of education about the proper use of firearms, and by extension, a lack of respect. A gun or rifle is a powerful tool and a proper understanding of how to handle one is absolutely essential, especially in Arizona, where gun ownership is common, and particularly in the Verde Valley, just a stone’s throw from many popular hunting spots.

The earlier a person learns how to use a gun properly, the better, said Kevin Presmyk, a local hunter concerned about safety.

It’s why Presmyk is being joined by other volunteer instructors next month to teach a hunter education and firearm safety class at Camp Verde Middle School. Families are encouraged to attend the class, aimed at young hunters between ages 10 and 14. Passing the class or a similar safety course is required for that age group to be able to hunt legally, Presmyk said.

Local pastor Mike Garrison will also be instructing the class.

Garrison said he has been shooting guns since around the time he was 6 years old, and always had proper supervision and education.

“I was brought up with guns,” Garrison said. “But even if a family isn’t gun owners, basic firearm safety is still extremely important.”

Garrison said while there might not be guns at home, a parent can’t control what situations a child may encounter, for instance, at a neighbor’s house.

The prevalence of firearm ownership is one of the reasons Garrison said Arizona has a good track record with firearm safety overall.

“It’s because we do take safety so seriously,” Garrison said. “In my opinion, learning how to handle a firearm is like learning about music or a foreign language. The eariler you start, the easier it is to learn.”

Of course, the class is a hunter education class, not just a firearm safety class.

Presmyk said in addition to the proper handling of firearms, students will learn about hunting techniques, wilderness survival, how to handle game and many other essentials for hunters of any age.

Presmyk has been teaching the class for 25 years, and said it’s held every January and August. Presmyk said the class has a limit of 30 students. The class will meet at Camp Verde Middle School every Monday and Thursday between Jan. 4 and 28, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. A mandatory field day is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 16. Attendance is required to pass the class.

In order to be certified, a student can only have one absence. The cost is $7 per person or $15 for a family. Call Presmyk at 567-0023 for more information.

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After numerous setbacks, the Camp Verde Sanitary District has finally brought its new wastewater treatment plant on line last month, more than a year behind schedule.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality gave its final approval just before Thanksgiving, said District Chairman Gregg Freeman, and district employee Jan Grogan said new customers have already started connecting to the system.

The $8 million plant has a capacity of processing 650,000 gallons of wastewater a day, and its activation has been a long-awaited event by a district that over the past few years has found itself at the center of controversy and just plain bad luck.
“We feel like we’ve reached a milestone,” Freeman said.

It’s a sign of progress for the district, which had a relatively quiet 2009. Last year, on the other hand, brought 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.

The plant was originally supposed to be up and running in the fall of 2008. But when the walls of the plant were put through a stress test, they cracked, setting the project back by months and thousands of dollars of extra expenses. The district had to wait for warmer weather because of the nature of the repairs needed.

The district has been in negotiations with the contractors it holds accountable for the structural failure, Grogan said.

Freeman said the district’s attorneys have been going over their position with a fine-tooth comb before taking their claim to the courts; the district is also hoping insurance money may be able to help out.

The district also used federal grant money to replace an aging sewer line underneath the White Bridge on State Route 260 — the pipe was the cause of a large sewer leak in 2007 and a smaller leak early this year.

The pipe that caused all the problems is now completely offline, Freeman said.

This year also brought completion to a large sewer system expansion project, one that faced its own share of problems. Freeman said the district is giving residents and businesses in the new service area a year to hook up to the system.

That may require the district board to revise some of its regulations, Freeman said. The rules give people six months, but Freeman said the district wanted to give people more time given the poor state of the economy.

New customers may want to hook up sooner rather than later, however, since the district is considering a significant increase in its connection fees.

Currently, it costs $500 to hook up to the system. As long as a customer has permits in place by June 30, 2010, they will be locked in at the $500 rate.

A 2007 rate study reported that the district’s fees were low, Freeman said, especially in comparison to similar sanitary district rates in other places.

While nothing is final, Freeman said new connection fees could potentially be in the neighborhood of $1,700 to $1,800 dollars.
Connecting to the system isn’t an option in the new service areas, Grogan said, and the district reserves its legal rights.
As for the old plant, the district is in the middle of
a decommissioning process that is expected to take months.
The district must remove the sludge from the old plant, and Freeman said the land must be cleaned up to meet state environmental standards.

The entire process could take as long as two years, Freeman said.

The district’s Web site is currently under revision, but Freeman said he hopes relevant information will be posted for district members soon.

Architects required to spend more time than expected on the Cottonwood Public Library expansion agreed to take less for work performed after the original deadline passed, according to a settlement agreement unanimously approved by Cottonwood City Council on Dec. 1.

City Attorney Steve Horton negotiated the settlement with LEA Architects after the firm submitted two change orders June 9 asking for $39,000 for its services. LEA was hired to design the 8,400-square-foot expansion and to serve as project manager. The project, scheduled to be completed in eight months, took 18 months and is still not fully complete, Horton said.

Flagstaff Design & Construction, the general contractor, claims it was unable to complete the project on time because rain interfered with proper construction of the roof and windows, Horton said.

“Because of various issues and delays encountered during the course of the project, the architects wound up spending considerably more time overseeing the project and administering the contract,” Horton told council.

The city paid David Garcia, a consulting architect, to review the change orders.

Garcia reported LEA deserved additional compensation.

After reviewing Garcia’s report and discussing the issue further with Horton, LEA agreed to take $27,000 in settlement of its claims

The city decided to withhold $41,000 of the contract price from Flagstaff Design because of the delays. The settlement with LAE will come out of this fund, Horton said. Despite efforts with Flagstaff Design, the contractor refused to participate in the settlement agreement, Horton said

The Camp Verde Unified School District was planning ahead while the cash-strapped state government debated where it wanted to make cuts, but district leaders warn more cuts are coming.

Waiting on the state was a lot like flying without a safety net, according to Superintendent Dan Brown, but the district is taking a conservative approach to budgeting issues.

The state told the district to expect between $250,000 and $300,000 in cuts to its soft capital fund this year, said Director of Operations Chris Schultz. Soft capital money is used for things like student desks, projectors and other equipment.

It’s looking to be a final number of around $277,000 in cuts, Schultz said, but the district planned ahead and prepared for this by not counting on that money when it drew up its budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year. The local cuts were part of $140 million withheld from school districts across the state, Schultz said.

“We were ready for that,” Schultz said. But the state is considering making even further cuts after the new year.

Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter is warning local districts to be prepared for anywhere between $350 million and $650 million in further statewide cuts this fiscal year.

“We’re working on getting prepared for that right now,” Schultz said. How much of a loss that means for Camp Verde will depend on how the final numbers from the state pan out.
Schultz said the district is taking its employees’ opinions very seriously while preparing for the expected cuts.

That means the district wants to consider what each department would cut if it could instead of just ordering cuts from the top.

“Our philosophy is that it’s the state that’s doing this to us,” Schultz said. “We don’t want to do this to [the staff]. We want to work with them and with what they’ve decided.”

To that end, Schultz said each department is being asked to make a list of priorities of what it would cut first if it had to.

Those lists will guide the district in making future budget recommendations to the school board, Schultz said.

Of course, something may still have to be negotiated. For instance, Schultz said.

“These are significant cuts,” Schultz said. “We’re trying to do this in the most rational way possible.”

Good news travels fast and sometimes far as in the case of Verde Valley Medical Center’s Joint Replacement Program.

In 2008 the program received the Arizona Showcase in Excellence Award by the Arizona Quality Alliance. A few weeks ago the medical center received word that physicians from the Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Affairs Hospital in Indianapolis, Ind., wanted to come and observe the program.

The intent was to take the model back to Indianapolis and apply it at the hospital for veterans there who need a replacement for their hip, knee or shoulder, according to the hospital’s Rehabilitation Coordinator Steve Black.

“It’s a dream of ours to improve the program we have in Indianapolis. We want to evaluate VVMC’s program to see if this is something we can take back and use,” Black said as he watched Paul Prefontaine, director of rehabilitation services, and Jon Cook, manager of EntireCare, evaluate clients.

About 25 people met for a pre-surgery class and evaluation session at VVMC. Medical personnel watched patients walk and measured their leg that was to receive the surgery. Four of the clients were veterans from World War II through Desert Storm.

“Our focus is on collecting information from the client so we can make improvements and decisions based on scientific data. You can’t make a good decision without all the facts,”

refontaine said as he checked Bob Johnston’s stature as he walked down the hall and back. Johnston is a 27-year Navy veteran who served in Korea and Vietnam. He is getting a new hip. Both knees were replaced in previous surgeries, he said.

“We’ve been collecting data for about four years and have teamed up with Northern Arizona University so we can see improvements in our clientele. That’s what we won the award for last year,” Prefontaine said. “We find out the ‘how come’ they need a replacement.”

The clients are reevaluated at discharge from the hospital and again at the one-year point to see what change and improvements have taken place.

A spouse, significant other or friend accompanied the client to the pre-surgery class so they could learn what is needed as well. The client stays in the hospital about 2½ days and then goes home, so someone needs to know how to take care of them there, according to Prefontaine.

VVMC started joint replacement about seven years ago. Over the past four years, the program has progressed to include the pre-surgery class, evaluation, data gathering, pain management and physical therapy.

Black found out about the program through a research article published Nov. 19, 2008, in the BioMed Central Journal by VVMC joint replacement program staff members.

“The article stood out from the others. The data collection was outstanding. I heard about this type of program in Europe, so when I heard about it in the states I had to come and check it out,” Black said as he took the clipboard from Prefontaine and evaluated a patient. Black is Prefontaine’s counterpart at the Indianapolis hospital.

The hope is, Black said, to develop a program that can be a model for other VA hospitals around the country, but he did not promise they would pick it up.

“We first want to improve the program for our veterans in Indianapolis,” he said.

Erolinda Jendrey from Sedona is having her right knee replaced. All the cartilage is gone and it is painful for her to walk, even a short distance.

“I’m apprehensive. I don’t like surgery, but I’m glad they’re here. If not I just always am in pain. I’d probably eventually stop walking and that wouldn’t be any fun,” Jendrey said as Lisa Kelley, nurse clinician, measured her leg length and the circumference above and below the knee.

“We’re excited the people from Indianapolis are here. We’ve had a very high success rate and hope they can implement a similar program at their hospital,” Cook said.

The clients in the class were scheduled for surgery within the next two weeks. They received instructions on what to expect and what was expected of them.

“It helps them prepare for the surgery and what they can do to speed their recovery afterward,” Cook said.

The Indianapolis team spent two days at VVMC to observe the class and data gathering procedure, along with the rehabilitation and pain management program, he said.

Lu Stitt can be reached at 282-7795, ext. 122, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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