Mon, Nov

When The Town of Camp Verde bought a large park last year, it brought the promise of much needed ball fields for local children after decades of demand.

Then the economy tanked, a new Town Council was voted in and the town found itself having to tighten the purse strings more than ever before.

But plans were already in the works for the 118-acre park that the town bought from the U.S. Forest Service near State Route 260 and McCracken Lane; the town awarded a $49,000 contract to a consulting firm to come up with a comprehensive park design, a process that involved several public meetings to get a sense of what the community wanted from the park.

The brainstorming produced ideas for everything from a rodeo complex to a dog park, but it was the ball fields that ended up at the top of nearly everybody’s priority list. The town’s one field at Butler Park doesn’t come close to meeting current demand when so many of the town’s Little League teams have to travel to other cities just to play ball.

It was that need for ball fields that led the Town Council late last month to go ahead with the plan to pay an estimated $100,000 for design costs for access roads, lighting and a place to play ball. The designs will be on paper only, destined to sit on a shelf until the economy turns around and money is available to actually create something tangible.

There’s no telling when that might be, and the thought of spending money on a plan that can’t be implemented didn’t sit well with some town residents and a few Town Council members.

Mayor Bob Burnside said several people had approached him questioning the wisdom of moving ahead with spending money on a park plan that would be collecting dust for the foreseeable future when there were debates about cutting other services offered by the town.

Some were still interested in seeing the town build a park across the highway near the old airstrip, a location the town had originally considered before the land the town now owns was put up for sale by the Forest Service looking to raise money for its new ranger station.

The idea of continuing to chase that idea was shot down almost immediately by several members of the Town Council.

“I went from kindergarten to putting my kids in college while waiting for ball fields, and we’re still waiting for ball fields,” Councilwoman Norma Garrison said. “We can’t afford to buy any more land for a park across the street unless there’s some money I don’t know about.”

Councilwoman Carol German said she felt the money budgeted for park planning could be held aside in case something else came up that the town needed to pay for, or less money could be used to make actual physical improvements to parks the town already owns like Rezzonico Black Bridge Park on the banks of the Verde River.

“We could put [the money] on hold for some of the parks we have … so it looks more inviting then when you drive by and all you see is desert and an outhouse.”

German also expressed her irritation at hearing the land referred to as a “118-acre” park, when not all of the land is suitable for use.

German was joined by Burnside and Councilwoman Jackie Baker in supporting the idea of not spending the money, but the majority felt that it was time to move forward.

It all came down to being “shovel ready,” Garrison said, a term recently popularized after the federal government started gearing up to pass out stimulus money for infrastructure projects across the nation.

Originally, the idea was to get a lot of the money for developing the park through a grant from the state.

But Arizona soon ran into serious financial problems of its own, and the money dried up.

Having a plan on the shelf and ready to go could give Camp Verde an edge when the economy eventually does turn around and the money starts flowing again, Garrison said.

Not everyone is convinced that having an edge is worth it when the council had to sharpen its budget knives and slice up other services residents have come to expect.

Of course, the debate over park planning could be a moot point if the economy gets worse.

Town Manager Michael Scannell said he had made his budget recommendations for the current fiscal year on the assumption that the economy wouldn’t get any better or worse. If the purse strings are tightened further, Scannell said he will come before the council with a revised forecast as he has in the past.

That was good enough for Councilman Pete Roulette, who said he trusts Scannell with keeping a conservative eye on the taxpayers’ money and that if the land was there and the money was budgeted, it was time to move forward with a definite plan.

“This town always seems to move two feet forward and one foot back,” Roulette said.

“There’s nothing that irritates me more than a government that spends, spends, spends, while the rest of us have to pinch pennies to get by,” Camp Verde resident Cheri Wischmeyer. “We could use the money for something else.”

Resident Bob Wier, who participated in the public park design meetings earlier this year, said that in the end, it was all about the children.

“You can’t put a price tag on kids, as far as I’m concerned,” Wier said.


The Camp Verde Unified School District wants to make sure mold is under control at Camp Verde high and middle schools, but it’s going to take a lot of work, said Facilities Director Stacey Barker.

While air samples have shown that the growing mold problem doesn’t yet pose a health risk for students and faculty, the fact remains that “allergies are allergies,” Barker said.

To keep things from getting worse, Barker said he’s been monitoring the situation closely. It’s a problem schools across the state are dealing with and have dealt with, Barker said, who recently attended a meeting addressing the issue.

The School Facilities board, a government body that oversees capital improvement and other large-scale projects at Arizona’s public school campuses, sent some architects to Camp Verde earlier this month to start to look at the local mold problem, Barker said.

The group is going to develop a plan that will likely involve removing exterior walls at the high school and middle school and treating the mold underneath, Barker said.

Work could start as soon as October or November, Barker said.

The district is no stranger to mold problems; in recent years extensive work had to be done at the elementary school that required some classrooms to stay empty.

Barker said that he thinks there will be money available from the state to pay for the work, avoiding any huge strain on the district’s already tight budget. However, Barker did give a nod to the current financial crisis the state is dealing with and said that nothing is ever certain.

“The state can do what it wants to do,” Barker said.

In the meantime, the school district is working to keep as much water away from the school buildings as possible, water that could help accelerate mold growth.

There are plans to continue to build additional channels to divert water away from the schools, but Barker is confident an extensive redesign of the district’s drainage system won’t be necessary.

Earlier this year, a rainstorm led to extensive flooding around the schools; Barker said in June that there was no major damage and that the drainage system “did what it was supposed to do.”

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.

Mingus Union High School and Cottonwood-Oak Creek Elementary school districts recently entered into their second intergovernmental agreement.

The elementary district will provide services to the high school in the new agreement for transportation management. They already provide food services for Mingus students, and have for many years.

“I don’t think you have to unify to save money but you do have to think out of the box,” Mingus Superintendent Tim Foist said.

Foist and COCSD Superintendent Barbara U’Ren think the agreement will be beneficial for both districts and the taxpayer.

By pulling money from education Foist said the government and the state are forcing districts out of the box.

“This IGA is a starting point for us to say this is what we can do this year. It’s a good move,” Foist said.

According to the draft IGA, Cottonwood-Oak Creek will provide direct reporting, driver training, safety training, driver hiring [on an advisory capacity] and report quarterly to the Mingus governing board.

Mingus approved the draft IGA at the board’s Aug. 13 meeting. COCSD board approved the document at its Aug. 11 meeting. The IGA will now be given to the districts’ respective counsel for review.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for both districts. We already have the food services and that’s working well,” U’Ren said. “We hope to have some things that will make it good for taxpayers.”

Foist, U’Ren, Mingus Business Manager Kirk Waddle, COCSD Business Manager David Snyder and Debbie Wheaton, director of transportation services for COCSD, created the draft IGA, according to U’Ren.

“We’ll bring the two districts together and see what’s working best and combine them,” she said.

Foist gave an example. Mingus has a hoist that can lift an entire school bus so mechanics can more easily work under the bus when necessary. It could be used for both bus barns, he said.

Wheaton will take care of the reports for the Arizona Department of Education and some driver and safety training. She’ll also work closely with Dennis Chambers, U’Ren said. Chambers is the Mingus coordinator of operations.

U’Ren and Foist emphasized bus routes will remain the same and elementary students will not be on buses with high school or middle school students.

“As we move forward with our transportation services, I believe the only change parents might see is the voice of our dispatcher at the office here,” Foist said.

Looking to the future, Foist said he would like to start a Verde Valley-wide consortium on services that could be shared.

“All of those boards and all of that leadership, we can come up with wonderful ideas we can bring to the table,” he said.

The agreement is effective for one year from Aug. 5 until Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010. The IGA has a termination provision in which either party may provide the other with a 30-day written notice of termination.
Financial responsibilities are still to be determined.

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 mayors and council members of Clarkdale and Cottonwood finally met Friday, Aug. 14, in Cottonwood to discuss the offer by Clarkdale of an intergovernmental agreement.

An earlier meeting to address the same topic was scheduled for June 3, but was abruptly canceled by Cottonwood.

The intention of Clarkdale’s agreement is to render unnecessary one of two large proposed annexations by Cottonwood, one of which is 8.5 square miles of U.S. Forest Service land and the other is 10 square miles of state trust land.

The proposed intergovernmental agreement concerns only the USFS property.

Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens announced the city’s annexation plans for the forest land at about the same time she announced its intention to annex state trust land that begins near Bill Gray Road and extends northeast along both sides of State Route 89A to within six miles of the city limits for Sedona.

Cottonwood has already paid consultants Coe and Van Loo more than $110,000 to map out a large planned community along 89A, encompassing neighborhoods, schools, parks, trails, and enough wastewater plants and retail and commercial endeavors to service approximately 23,000 new homes.

Opponents to that annexation cite worries over the lack of available water for what could amount to more than 50,000 new residents.

According to USFS Red Rock District Ranger Heather Provencio, the forest parcel in question is relatively pristine, home to endangered and threatened species and adjacent to Tuzigoot National Monument and to Tavasci Marsh.

She said it currently suffers little or no impact from adjacent lands.
Although past annexations of forest land have triggered land exchanges leading to development, Joens said the annexation is justified to prevent Clarkdale from doing so, a reason that could be considered disingenuous considering Clarkdale does not currently have the legal right to annex the land.

Even so, Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig and his council unanimously offered to sign a one-year, renewable agreement promising to keep their hands off the land in the interest of removing any future worries on the part of Cottonwood.

However, before discussing the intergovernmental agreement, Joens told Von Gausig she wanted Clarkdale to agree to “de-annex” the land it annexed years ago during the Ruskin land trade, an action she considers a wrong against her city.

In answer to Joens, Von Gausig said the two parcels of land bear no resemblance to one another, the 820 acre parcel being relatively small, and regularly trespassed by four-wheelers, transients and illegal dumpers who have degraded the property as compared to the eight square miles of pristine property that Cottonwood wants to gain.

Although the forest land Cottonwood seeks is more than six times bigger in size, Joens said, “In fact, I don’t think they are different.”

Since it wasn’t clear that Clarkdale could legally and retroactively “de-annex” that piece of property, public comments were solicited from the audience regarding the current annexations.

Rob Rothrock of the Verde Valley Land Preservation Institute strongly opposed drawing the forest property into Cottonwood’s city limits.

“Lands that are annexed into a community become based in exchange and can be offered in land trades,” Rothrock said. “Payson has annexed many acres and each time they were then exchanged.”
Dr. Robert Richards agreed.

“Cottonwood argues that it can be a better steward, but I don’t know why they believe that,” Richards said. “Annexation will increase the likelihood of this being acquired by a developer.”

Retired USFS ranger Robert Gillies also opposed the action.

“There are already 3,044 acres of USFS land within Cottonwood’s city limits, including prime property on Highway 260,” Gillies said, suggesting the city develop those parcels first.

However, Carolyn Olds, Margie Beach and Diane Lovett were all for it.
“Whenever this land is right for development, it will be developed no matter which city owns it,” Olds said. “Not annexing this land would not stop development.”

Beach lives in Verde Village, an unincorporated community adjacent to Cottonwood.

“I’m so glad Cottonwood bought our water [company.] We’re already getting better service and the city is mitigating our water for arsenic. I wish we had been annexed into the city,” Beach said. “Yes, Cottonwood has many acres within the city limits, but when you’ve seen the growth that happens here, it won’t take long for those acres to fill up. Cottonwood is doing the right thing. [This property] is going to be developed.”

“Cottonwood has done a great thing,” Lovett said. “I haven’t seen a sign yet on I-17 that says you can’t come here. We need to plan for the future.”
Joens subsequently polled her council as to their positions.

Cottonwood council members Terence Pratt, Tim Elinski and Linda Norman were opposed to putting the forest lands in jeopardy.

“I would be more apt to hold off on the forest annexation; I think the main concern is for it to remain open space,” Pratt said.

“Everyone in this room would agree that we don’t want to see the forest land developed,” Elinski said. “I’d like to see [Clarkdale and Cottonwood] combine forces to preserve it.”

Norman said she concurred with Pratt and Elinski.

However, Vice Mayor Karen Pfeifer sided with council members Duane Kirby and Darold Smith.

“Now is the time to move on both parcels,” Pfeifer said. “We’ve been hemmed in. We have no other direction to grow; we’ve been pushed in this direction.”

“I’m not confident we can trust Clarkdale if we don’t do it,” Kirby said.
Smith said he thought Cottonwood had to annex the forest land in order to annex the state land.

When informed by other city officials this wasn’t the case, he said, “Then why are we doing it? What do you mean we don’t have to have it as a contingency?”

However, later in the meeting, Smith changed his mind and said he felt the city had to do both annexations to accommodate future development. No decisions were made at the meeting.

Nearly 300 people filled the bleachers at the Camp Verde High School football field Sunday afternoon, but they weren’t there to cheer on their favorite sports team.

Instead, the community organized event was what those in attendance hope will become a Camp Verde tradition.

Soft music played from loudspeakers set up on the track, and voices mingled from the audience in prayer to God for the new school year.

There were pleas to keep the students safe, to have them set a positive example for their peers and the community, and for the Camp Verde Unified School District’s leaders to be guided by wisdom in their decisions.
Many of those leaders, from school board members to teachers and administrators, were present as the crowd separated into groups for individual prayers that lasted around 20 minutes.

Organizers weren’t sure how many people to expect.

Randy Strickland, pastor at Parkside Community Church, said originally they had hoped to have enough people to surround the entire field.

They lowered their expectations when they took into account the short notice, and the fact that this was the first time something like this had been done, but Strickland said he was pleased with how many people still showed up to pray in the 100-degree heat.

Strickland said he hopes the numbers continue to grow with each new school year.

The event had to be community organized, said Superintendent Dan Brown, given the nature of issues surrounding the separation of church and state, but he was excited to see the community come together and was honored to have been invited.

Church and state separation was at the center of a recent controversy involving the Camp Verde town government after a woman complained about a cross that a local food charity had put up in the town gym.

School Board President Tim Roth, who brings a Bible to meetings, instituted a moment of silence for board meetings, stopping short of calling for outright prayer.

But the members of the community, as private citizens, face no such restrictions on expressing their faith and used Sunday’s event as an opportunity to come together and do so publicly.

“If this [event] had been done when I was in school, I would have felt a lot more secure,” Anna Bassous, a recent Camp Verde High School graduate and event organizer, said.

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.

Monday, Aug. 3, was one of the most exciting days Mingus Union High School had in a very long time, according to district Superintendent Tim Foist.

The school presented a grand opening of its newly renovated auditorium, and more than 400 people showed up to celebrate.

“We are opening a state-of-the-art auditorium, and we have the biggest enrollment ever,” Foist said as he looked over the guests in the cafeteria.

Fourteen hundred students registered for classes for the fall semester. Foist proclaimed 2009-10 as a new beginning for a new year with a newly remodeled building.

Teachers, staff, community leaders and local residents who joined Mingus in the celebration expressed awe at the changes and upgrades the campus received through the $15 million bond, especially the auditorium.

Leland Wieweck was on the Mingus governing board for many years when it had met in the library. Now the library is moved from behind the auditorium to where the front offices are along East Fir Street. The windows overlook the Verde Valley.

“This is fantastic,” he said. We came out ahead,” he said about the larger, brightly lit room.

Longtime and current board member Andy Groseta said the project looks different in reality than it did on the plans.

“When you see it with your own eyes, it’s outstanding. This turned out just how we planned. I’m very pleased. I hope the community is pleased,” he said.

He talked about the school having a new entrance and gathering area for the students just outside the cafeteria.

“It’s nice, it’s clean, it’s colorful, bright, and it feels new and different,” Groseta said.

“It’s so much better and so much more than it was,” Rex Williams, a resident of Clarkdale, said.

Senior and MUHS Student Body President Lesli Kinkade said the campus looks modern and professional.

“It finally makes us look like a unified school,” she said.

Just before the crowd went to have a seat in the new auditorium, five more busloads of people arrived from Camp Verde.

“We brought every single teacher and staff member from the Camp Verde Unified School District to see the auditorium and to listen to the speaker and what he has to say we could use,” CVUSD Superintendent Dan Brown said.

The guest speaker was motivational speaker Steve Birchak, also known as “Dr. Bird.” He talked about “Tapping Into Your Best Even When You Feel Tapped Out.”

He covered subjects about civility, conscience and collaboration. Building relationships and stopping negative behaviors and thought can turn around not only one’s perspective but that of others too.

Birchak is the author of “How to Build a Child’s Character” and “The 5 Golden Rules for Staying Connected to Children.”

The theme for the opening school year was Our Best Year Ever, which MUHS Principal Marc Cooper said will be carried through each successive year.

“We want every year to be the best year ever,” he said in his first speech in the new auditorium.

He used the Spanish term “no mas” — no more. No more construction interruptions, no more teachers traveling with all of their supplies because of lack of classrooms, no more skeleton library, and no more need to have performances in the cafeteria.

“We now have more than an auditorium. We have a concert hall,” Cooper said to the 400 people who sat in the new maroon and gray seats.

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.

Today’s economic climate forced both the city of Cotton-wood and town of Clarkdale to ask their residents to chip in a little extra for fiscal year 2009-10.

Cottonwood raised its sales tax to 3 percent in November 2008 bringing some extra revenue for the city during fiscal year 2008-09. FY 2009-10 will be the first year the city will see an entire year’s worth of income from the increase.

Clarkdale followed suit implementing a sales tax increase to 3 percent June 1 and adding a property tax increase and possible franchise fee.

Both communities’ staff said their municipalities made cuts to tighten their budgets.

Clarkdale Town Council adopted a final budget setting its expenditure cap at $33,699,902 for FY 2009-10, around $27 million higher than its FY 2008-09 final budget.

Cottonwood City Council adopted a budget of $132,562,405 for FY 2009-10, approximately $55 million larger than the city’s estimated FY 2008-09 final budget.

Budget caps are normally higher than the actual amount spent due to state statutes which say a town or city can not spend beyond its budget cap.

Towns and cities include any money they could potentially spend — from incoming grants, revenue increases — in the original budget cap to give them breathing room throughout the year.

City of Cottonwood

Cottonwood City Council unanimously approved its final budget Tuesday, Aug. 4. Councilman Terence Pratt and Councilwoman Linda Norman were absent.

Cottonwood Finance Director Rudy Rodriguez told council the $132 million budget includes capital projects and merit pay increases for employees but not cost of living.

Merit increases are based on pay grades with a range, and employees can achieve different levels based on an annual evaluation by their supervisors, City Manager Doug Bartosh said.

Councilman Darold Smith said there is a perception in the community the city doesn’t give raises to employees but is “spending money like water.” He understands that is not the case, but the public does not.

The misconception originates in the public’s misunderstanding of capital versus operation costs, Mayor Diane Joens said.

Capital costs are a one-time expense while operations costs are ongoing, Bartosh added.

The city is moving forward with capital projects to “pump money into the economy the best we can,” Rodriguez said.

In the 16 years Vice Mayor Karen Pfeifer said she’s served on council, the city has saved and saved and saved. Now, the city sees it can spend some of the money its saved to help the so-called recession.

Town of Clarkdale

Clarkdale Town Council adopted its final budget July 28 setting its expenditure limitation at $33.7 million for FY 2009-10. The town finished last fiscal year, FY 2008-09, with an estimated final budget of $6,258,757.

Town Manager Gayle Mabery said this year’s budget cap is much higher because the town included funding it could receive from the federal stimulus program.

Town staff first presented its budget plan to council in March to jump-start the process early. In April, the town held four budget workshops for the public to gather input on changes to taxes, which town staff said were necessary to balance the budget.

Town Council implemented a 0.75 percent sales tax increase June 1 and voted unanimously July 28 to raise property taxes to 0.9121 for every $100 in value from 0.71.

“Everybody wants more of what I have until my pocket is empty,” Bill Rowland, a Clarkdale resident, pleaded to the council.

Rowland was one of three residents who voiced their opposition to the town’s proposal to raise property taxes.

Rowland said he couldn’t believe the council considered rasing taxes at a time like this. People are biting the bullet and living within their means and the town should do the same.

“I can’t afford any more taxes,” Clarkdale resident Phyllis Douglas said.

In August, the council will adopt an ordinance to set the new rates.

“We are not the only taxing body that shows up on your real estate taxes,” Vice Mayor Jerry Wiley said. Residents can question the benefit they receive from each entity that appears on their bill.

“We, as a council, only control 9 percent of that tax bill,” Wiley said.

Town staff also proposed enacting a 2 percent franchise fee on residents’ Arizona Public Service bills Friday, Jan. 1, 2010, if more money is needed.
Town Finance Director Kathy Bainbridge said, however, if revenues don’t drop as anticipated, the council could elect not to implement the fee.

The town currently collects franchise fees on residents’ Cable One and UniSource bills, which brings in $36,000 a year.

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.

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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