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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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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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