Tue, Feb

Town of Camp Verde employees were able to cut spending by nearly $500,000 last fiscal year, said Town Accountant Lisa Elliott, helping to manage a budget shortfall that forced town leaders to tighten the money belt.

Because of a drop in expected tax revenue and a previous budget process that Town Manager Michael Scannell called incomplete, the town had to find a way to fill a $1.8 million hole; departments that were able to curtail their expenses helped out a great deal, Elliott said.

According to preliminary figures, the town’s general fund had excess revenue of $360,000.

The previous budget for 2007-08 had counted on $6.7 million in spending before the shortfall was discovered. Continued declining revenues led to the town passing a $5.3 million budget for 2008-09.

Despite the shortfall, the town was still able to end the fiscal year on a “good note,” Elliott said.

But the town is still feeling the sting of an underperforming economy.

Scannell told the Town Council last week that the “lack of economic activity will manifest itself” when the numbers for the first quarter of the current fiscal year [July through September] come in.

Still, the town continues to work on improving its financial system, found by an auditor last year to be severely lacking in adequate internal controls.
To that end, Scannell and Elliot have been working on a new financial operations guide that will clearly define how the town handles its money.
“It’ll help everything run a little smoother,” Scannell said.

Mayor Tony Gioia said he was pleased with the work being done to overhaul the town’s finances.

“The council members have been looking for this type of action for a long time,” Gioia said.

The Mingus Union High School District Governing Board hired Nancy Alexander as the interim superintendent, now that the current superintendent, Scott Dunsmore, has been placed on administrative leave.

Alexander served as superintendent for the Sedona-Oak Creek School District from its inception in 1991 through 2004. She will fill in two to three days a week at $425 a day for the remainder of the 2008-09 school year, according to the contract the board and Alexander signed.

Mingus business manager Kirk Waddle told the board that the amount was the going rate for an interim superintendent.

The announcement came at a special Mingus board meeting Friday, Oct. 3, at 7 a.m. in the school’s cafeteria after the board approved the contract with a three to zero vote. Council members Jim Ledbetter and Andy Groseta were out of town.

“These are very difficult times. I think Ms. Alexander is exactly the right person to come in until we get things cleared up,” board member Tom Parmartar said. “Whether the board is screwed up or the superintendent is screwed up, I want to ensure that education goes on as smooth as possible and we take a deep breath.”

On Sept. 29, in another special board meeting, board members said the school has experienced some communication problems among the administration, the board and staff.

At that meeting, the board performed an open-meeting evaluation of Dunsmore’s performance, at his request. At the end of that meeting, following a 30-minute executive session, the board voted five to one to place Dunsmore on administrative leave.

Alexander presented three goals for the interim position. They included the successful completion of the school year, a transition strategy for the new superintendent and to continue to promote a professional learning community throughout the school district.

She also listed several priorities that will be her focus, including to oversee the bond project, improve communications and provide support for the staff and community outreach.

Alexander began her duties Oct. 3 at 8 a.m. and will hold the interim position until June 30, 2009, when a new superintendent will be hired for the 2009-10 school year.

She said performing superintendent duties is something she enjoys doing.
“You take a set of skills you’ve honed over 30 years, come in and pull on those skills and problem solve. That’s a welcome challenge for me,” Alexander said.

While superintendent in Sedona, Alexander said she worked with Mingus on many projects, such as forming the Valley Academy of Career and Technology Education.

“I have a very high regard for this school,” she said.

Mingus Board President Bryan Detwiler said the board is pleased to have Alexander on board to help with the transition to a new superintendent.

“As a former superintendent of schools, she has an excellent working knowledge of the needs of our students, staff and parents. I am confident that Ms. Alexander can help the board and administration team put together a comprehensive transition plan for our district,” Detwiler 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..

Monthly sewer bills will increase if the Camp Verde Sanitary District approves a new long-term rate plan devised by a utility consulting firm.
Utility rates are on the rise nationwide, said Dan Jackson, with Economists.com, the group hired for the study.

It’s not easy to come in and tell people their rates are going up, Jackson said, but it’s today’s reality.

“It’s important to understand what’s happening in the industry,” Jackson said. “It’s not going to be as inexpensive as it was in the 20th century.”

The causes are numerous, Jackson said, from rising employee insurance premiums and inflation to stricter federal environmental regulations — often in the form of unfunded mandates that leave municipalities and districts holding the bill.

On average, Jackson said, Arizona utility rates increase about 5 to 6 percent a year.

If the rate plan is adopted, users’ bills will increase over the next few years before eventually decreasing, although the bill will still be higher than it is
right now.

Currently, the minimum monthly charge is $9. Since the district does not have access to water usage data controlled by the privately owned Camp Verde Water Company, bills are calculated based on the number of “fixture units” in a home.

An average home has around 16 to 20 fixture units, Jackson said, but that doesn’t mean that all fixtures are equal. A toilet is worth more units than a bathroom sink, for example.

The district now charges $1 per fixture for residential users and $1.50 for non-residential customers. Under the new plan, that rate would increase gradually to $1.97 and $2.81, respectively, by October 2012. A resident who pays $16 a month in usage fees today could expect to pay more than $31 in four years.

The plan calls for the tax rate to remain the same at $1.20 per $100 of home value, along with another tax levied to help pay off debt incurred by the new wastewater treatment plant and the new current sewer expansion project.

According to projections that assume a refinancing measure on the ballot passes in November, that rate would start at $1.82 per $100 and gradually decrease to $1.26 by 2012.

A customer with a $225,000 home and 16 fixture units could expect their monthly obligation to peak at around $76 in 2009 before dropping to nearly $71 in 2012.

The numbers also assume that connection fees will increase from $500 to $1,750 next year.

Jackson warned that his projected numbers depend heavily on growth and revenue. The current state of the housing market and economy aside, Jackson said he feels his growth projections are “extremely conservative,” with the number of customers almost doubling by 2018.

If growth is less than expected or something else unpredictable comes along, Jackson said these numbers would have to be readjusted.

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Downtown merchants and concerned residents filled Camp Verde Town Council chambers last week to express their concern over the recent decision to demolish Rio Verde Plaza.

The town bought the shopping center four years ago for $380,000 with the idea of tearing it down to possibly make way for new town facilities. That idea got put on hold, and the town has been in the commercial real estate business ever since.

The building is in need of repair, and earlier this month the council decided it would be more cost effective just to tear the building down.

The council recently changed the rent structure for tenants in the plaza after deciding the rates were tantamount to subsidizing commercial businesses.

The plaza is home to a handful of businesses including a toy store, an art gallery and a pizza restaurant.

Lawman’s Pizza was bought by its current owners since the town purchased the building; the business recently spent thousands on an expansion of its dining room.

“We really like this town,” said Mark Kipena, Lawman’s co-owner. “We came here to serve the people of Camp Verde, and that’s what I hope we’ll be able to continue to do.”

Kipena said that his business had paid for a lot of the upkeep on his establishment, and that if everyone works together, repair costs for the building can be reduced.

That’s not to mention the pizza itself, Rimrock resident Patrick McDowell said.

McDowell said that with the limited dining choices in Rimrock, his family often comes to Camp Verde to eat. They enjoy the food at Lawman’s Pizza, McDowell said, and he’d like the council to take a “hard look” at its decision.

The Artisan’s Gallery calls the plaza home, and artist Vada Lavato said the business has been a boon to Camp Verde.

“The gallery is run like a co-op,” Lavato said. “We love sharing our work at good prices. Everyone wants to save the plaza. I want the council to step up and say ‘We were hasty.’”

The town also needs to consider the state of the overall economy, said Harry Rhodes.

“I don’t know if you watch TV, but the economy’s gone to pot. I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of it,” Rhodes said, adding that forcing businesses to relocate or shut down just doesn’t make sense.

The anger over the council’s decision has been simmering for two weeks, but Councilwoman Norma Garrison said she didn’t take part in the unanimous vote to raze the plaza without looking at all the facts.

Garrison said she looked at what keeping the building would cost the taxpayers of Camp Verde — her primary responsibility.

“I didn’t make this decision without looking at what it would cost all the citizens of Camp Verde,” Garrison said. “ … I didn’t take it lightly.”
Garrison requested that the Rio Verde Plaza issue be placed on the council’s agenda at the next regular meeting in order to further elaborate on why the decision was made.

The issue was on the agenda at last week’s meeting, and the council couldn’t legally discuss it.

No one from the plaza or business community was present to speak at the meeting when the decision to demolish was made.

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If upper Verde Valley voters decide yes on unification of the three separate school districts, it will create three new school districts.


The idea of unification is to create fewer school districts in Arizona, according to information from the School District Redistricting Commission that decided smaller school districts should unify. The members mandated that the question should go to voters Tuesday, Nov. 4.
The voters will be asked if the Mingus Union High School District should be split in two based on Clarkdale-Jerome and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school district boundaries. Then, if Mingus and Cottonwood should unify, voters living within the Clarkdale-Jerome School District will have just one question: whether the Mingus Union High School District should be subdivided.

Voters in the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District will have two questions: whether the Mingus Union High School District should be subdivided, and if so, whether Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District and one of the subdivided Mingus districts should unify.

“Effectively what a ‘yes’ vote will do, folks, is Mingus will cease to exist.

It will become two new high school districts with Cottonwood-Oak Creek becoming a K through 12 district and Clarkdale-Jerome will have two districts, with a high school that does not exist,” Yavapai County Superintendent of Schools Tim Carter said.

Carter visited Cottonwood on Thursday, Sept. 18, to give the facts on unification and answer some questions. About 35 people attended the meeting.

Another issue arises should Mingus become subdivided. What would happen to the district’s assets?

“The county attorney [Sheila Polk] and I agree there could be a lot of lawsuits,” Carter said.

Former COCSD Superintendent John Tavasci said splitting a high school district is like a divorce. “You not only have to deal with the assets, but the liability,” he said.

If the answer from voters is “no” on any part of the questions, nothing happens. The existing districts will not change.

The question of unification of the three school districts has come up before and voters turned it down. Now, the state legislature has mandated that 78 school districts across the state put the question to the voters.

The redistricting commission was signed into law by Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2005.

The commission considered several factors when looking at districts, including school size, district size, teacher salaries, travel time of students, district geographic boundaries, primary and secondary tax issues and aligning curriculum kindergarten through 12th grade.

“The districts here work together and they work together very, very well. I’m a conservative, local control guy. My political view is simple: The people of the Verde Valley should decide what is best for the districts of the Verde Valley,” Carter said.

COCSD Superintendent Barbara U’Ren told Carter that the three superintendents meet regularly to discuss curriculum. She said the districts already have the ability to align services and do not need to unify for that purpose. For example, COCSD provides food service for Mingus.

Carter also told the audience that voters always have had the ability to consolidate, unify or subdivide districts.

One person in the audience asked why CJSD was not part of the unification question. The commission decided to eliminate the district because with the voting history in Clarkdale-Jerome it would not pass, but it thought there was a significant chance it would pass in Cottonwood, he said.

Ron Agoglia asked Carter if the voters give their approval, where would the teens in Clarkdale go to high school?

“I don’t know. It would be up to the new board. They could find a place in Clarkdale, or could make a new unified district,” Carter said, while saying that it would only make sense for the current Mingus campus to serve as the high school.

Agoglia said, “Aren’t you creating more problems?”

Carter said with the subdivided, unified move, if approved, it would create some very complex questions that have to be answered.

On one issue, Mingus teachers have a higher salary schedule than do COCSD teachers — a difference of approximately $750,000, according to research.

“I doubt if the new district would adopt the lower pay schedule. How to make up the difference would be up to the new board,” Carter said.

Carter defined the difference between consolidation and unification.

Consolidation is putting two like districts together, such as two high school districts or two elementary districts. Unification involves bringing an elementary district and a high school district together to form a kindergarten through 12th grade single district.

Ballots will be mailed out Thursday, Oct. 2, and Carter said the anticipation is that 75 percent of voters will cast ballots early.

“We’re expecting less than 15 percent of voters will go to the polls,” he said.

Carter gave his telephone number for anyone who wants to call him with questions regarding unification, (928) 925-6560.

“If I don’t know the answer, I will get it,” he 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 Unified School District Board has approved an agreement with the Camp Verde Water Company to provide a new connection to school buildings.

The agreement must now be approved by the water company before it can be finalized.

The new two-mile water line became a pressing issue when the Environmental Protection Agency raised its standards on the acceptable levels of arsenic in drinking water.

The school buildings off Camp Lincoln Road were fed by a well that suddenly found itself in violation of federal arsenic rules, like many in the western U.S.

The school district had been operating on its current well under a special allowance from the EPA while the district tried to figure out who had to pay for the new line.

The Arizona Attorney General ruled that the school district was responsible for the bill. The school board plans to pay for the new line over the course of two fiscal years to help spread out expenses.

The water company had also agreed to shoulder some of the costs of hooking the school district up to the new line.

The Arizona School Facilities Board will still pay the more than $250,000 needed to prepare the school campuses for hooking on to the new line, said Superintendent Jeff Van Handel.

The district will also have control of a meter in the line near the Camp Verde library.

The school district will maintain its current well for irrigation and firefighting purposes.

In other business, Van Handel informed the board that the district was another step closer to opening three charter school programs. The district wants to possibly open three new programs: a language immersion program for elementary students; a college prep program at South Verde High School; and an International Baccalaureate-type school.

The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools approved the applications as being administratively complete. The merits of each application will now go on for further review with a decision expected around the beginning of November.

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.

Residents in Fort River Caves, Reddell Ranch Acres and Yaqui Circle have had their roads torn up for months while waiting for a sewer expansion project to finish up.

The Camp Verde Sanitary District has set October as the date for the roads to be finished.

But when Camp Verde Town Engineer Ron Long saw the plans for rebuilding the roads, he said he couldn’t sign off on them in good conscience.

“This road design is substandard,” Long said.

It wasn’t always, Long said. When the project was first conceived, Long said the plans presented by the sanitary district were adequate enough to meet town standards.

But as costs for the sewer project mounted, Long figures someone decided to save money by cutting back on the street design, or “value engineering,” as Long called it.

That’s not to say the streets proposed by the district will be worse than before. The proposed design would pretty much be equal to what was put in during the 1970s.

While those roads were once acceptable, the Town of Camp Verde has higher standards today, Long said.

“It’s not much of a step up from a gravel road,” Long said.

If built as planned, Long said he figured the roads would have a life expectancy of about five years before constant maintenance would be required.

Long said he came to the town council for direction because he wouldn’t sign off on substandard roads for anyone, be it a commercial developer or the sanitary district.

Of course, the district board isn’t happy about it either. Last month, board member Rob Witt said the situation was regrettable but that there just wasn’t enough money to fix the streets up as the district would like.

The town has pledged $240,000 for road construction. It would cost somewhere close to $1.5 million to bring the damaged roads up to town standards, Long said.

There’s also a time limit. If the roads aren’t finished by October, Long said, work crews will have missed a weather window for road paving that likely wouldn’t open again until next spring.

Long said he was hoping that the district would have sat down with him and town officials to work out a solution.

“But that didn’t happen,” Long said.

The council members were obviously disappointed, but most expressed an understanding that the streets couldn’t be left in their current condition for another six months.

The council asked Long to see if he could come up with any possible solutions that could extend the life of the roads, including perhaps grinding up what’s left of the current roads and using the rubble for additional base material.

In the meantime Councilman and liaison to the district Charlie German said he would try to meet with district officials as soon as possible to start working toward finding a solution that would work best for the residents of the affected neighborhoods.

Looking a little like military commanders planning the next campaign, the Camp Verde Town Council sat down last week, poring over maps of the town’s 118 acres of parkland.

It was the first step in meeting with consultants and representatives of the town’s Parks and Recreation Department to chart a course for the land’s future.

Owning a large town park has been recognized as a critical town need for decades.

Things were finally set into motion when earlier this year the town obtained the land, near the White Bridge on Highway 260, from the U.S. Forest Service for $2.4 million.

Last month, the town awarded a $49,000 contract to RBF Consulting for help in developing a master plan for the site.

While the company promises heavy public participation in the design of the park, last week’s meeting was termed a “visioning” session for the town council to brainstorm on what its members would like to see in the park.

The park has the potential to become “a real crown jewel in the Verde Valley,” said Kevin Kugler, a consultant with RBF.

The possibilities are endless, as evidenced by a set of posters on the wall listing some potential uses.

The list included facilities for nearly every kind of sport, a possible rodeo ground, a dog park, shooting range, fishing pond, amphitheater, a BMX cycling track and even an observatory.

While wish lists are nice, Mayor Tony Gioia pointed out that a wish list will only get you so far if there’s no money to pay for it.

While some things might be feasible in the future for the currently cash-strapped town, all of the town’s leaders agreed that ball fields should be the park’s top priority.

There are other uses that could be implemented relatively cheaply, Councilman Ron Smith said, such as the creation of a trailhead that would give visitors access to the huge network of trails on Forest Service land in the nearby White Hills. Whatever ends up getting built, Smith said, the No. 1 priority should be to focus on the needs of Camp Verde’s children.

A big question to be answered will be where to put the main access point to the park. From three possibilities, McCracken Lane, Highway 260 and the access road to the Sanitary District Wastewater Plant, Kugler said RBF felt that McCracken Lane was the most feasible and most likely to get a signal light from the Arizona Department of Transportation.

The land closest to McCracken Lane is the land most likely suitable for ball fields, Kugler said, meaning it would be initially cheaper to build an access road to the part of the park which is the council’s top priority.

Not everyone was immediately sold on the idea, including some McCracken Road residents in attendance who felt that additional traffic would make the road more dangerous. Councilman Bob Kovakovich said he would prefer the sanitary district road for several reasons, including the increased visibility for traffic on Highway 260.

Whatever the park ends up being, Councilwoman Norma Garrison said, she wants the public to be involved at every step of the way.

“I don’t want so much the council’s fingerprints on this as the community’s,” Garrison said. “We get one chance to do this, and we need to do it right.”

RBF is also planning a meeting with the leadership of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, Kugler said, and the first big public input meeting is set for 6 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 16 in Rooms 206 and 207 in the town complex on Main Street.

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