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Tue, Oct

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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A recall election for Camp Verde Sanitary District Board Member Rob Witt is set for next Tuesday, Sept. 2.

His challenger is Dick Rynearson, a former trucking company owner and husband of current District Board Member Carol Rynearson.

The road to recall started late last year as some residents noticed dramatic increases in their tax bills to help fund a sewer expansion project and the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant.

While the sewer expansion has been in the works for years, it was the tax hike that stirred people to action, particularly a group of residents concentrated in the Salt Mine Road area.

The Salt Mine Road area was originally incorporated into the district when it formed in the early 1970s. Many residents voted to sign on because the plan was to extend sewer service to a nearby school. The school has long since moved, and the residents in that area still don’t have sewer service.

Despite that, they’ve been paying sewer taxes for more than three decades.
When the tax increase took effect, a grassroots campaign led to the creation of the Salt Mine Road Sewer Opposition Group.

The group’s original goals were to either get out of the district or to see the rest of the town incorporated into the district.

When the group’s members realized that they were still on the hook for their tax bills no matter what, their focus shifted to recalling members of the board they felt were responsible for getting them into this predicament in the first place.

To make their image seem less confrontational, the organization changed its name to the Sanitary District Fairness Group.

They targeted then-Chairman Rob Witt, along with members Al Dupuy and Kathy Scherich.

Witt stepped down from the chairman position after the recall effort became official.

Board member Ben Bueler wasn’t targeted because some group members expressed the feeling that they could work with him.

Nevertheless, Bueler has publicly expressed his anger that the group seemed to be cherry-picking board members for recall when every decision that had drawn their ire was approved unanimously by the district board.

The group is upset that, while a ballot measure to secure funding for the sewer project was approved by the voters, a private loan costing millions more was obtained without a vote from the public.

The group has also expressed concern that the district board hasn’t been transparent in its business practices.

Board members have consistently argued that every
decision has been made in public meetings, and there has never been any attempt to do anything behind the backs of the people they were elected to represent.

The fairness group leveled charges of abuse of tax levy authority, failure to disclose future tax levies during the budget process, inappropriate allocation of district assets, inadequate record keeping and financial reporting, unauthorized destruction of public records, withholding meeting minutes and other public records and failure to keep the public properly informed of district business.

Since the Salt Mine group’s efforts began, the composition of the sewer board has changed dramatically.

Former Board member, and Camp Verde Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Roy Gugliotta, resigned from the board; budget cuts unrelated to the district forced him to leave town. He now has a new job with the chamber of commerce in Rohnert Park, Calif.

Scherich resigned after she learned that she was ineligible to serve because she didn’t live in the sanitary district.

Dupuy had promised that if the recall effort gained enough support, he would resign rather than spend tax dollars on a recall election, and he stuck to his word.

While Dupuy still volunteers for the district because of his intimate knowledge of the expansion project, Witt and Bueler remain the only elected members of the board, serving alongside new appointees Bob Frasier and Carol Rynearson, both former members of the Salt Mine group, and new District Chairman Gregg Freeman.

The Tuesday election will determine if Bueler will be the only originally elected member of the board.

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It’s going to be a contest.

Two open seats on the Camp Verde Sanitary District Board for the November election looked to be sewn up when only two candidates had put their names in the race: Chairman Gregg Freeman and Chip Norton, a volunteer who has worked closely with the district.

It was at the last minute last week when two challengers joined the race as write-in candidates: Bob Burnside, a plumber and husband of former District Chairman Suzy Burnside; and Mike Garrison, a pastor and husband of town Councilwoman Norma Garrison, former liaison to the district.

Both men said they were motivated to run so that the citizens in the sewer district would have the opportunity to vote.

“My biggest concern was to get the people the opportunity to pick and choose who they wanted to represent them,” Burnside said. “Until I read the articles in The [Camp Verde] Journal, I was unaware that people weren’t going to have that opportunity.”

While the district has advertised the cutoff date for pulling packets to run for elections in the past, Freeman said that had been a courtesy to the public, and with the district facing a tight budget in the face of a sewer expansion project, the board decided not to spend taxpayer’s money this time around.

Advertising that information isn’t a requirement, according to the Yavapai County Elections Department.

While Burnside was married to the woman who was chairman of the district for eight years, he said he didn’t discuss sewer issues with her unless there was a major issue.

Nevertheless, Burnside inevitably picked up a good deal of information about the operations of the district over the years, and he hopes to bring his knowledge to the table.

Garrison said he was inspired to run in part from the words of an old pastor who told him that if a person was concerned about a situation, then they should step up and do something about it.

The biggest motivating factor in Garrison’s decision to run was the people with fixed incomes having to carry the burden of increased sewer taxes charged to fund the sewer expansion project.

“There are a lot of people financially impacted by decisions made by the board,” Garrison said.

While Garrison said it’s too late to undo what’s already been done, he hopes to at

least give those people most severely impacted a louder voice.
As write-in candidates, their names will not be on the ballot.
The election is set for Tuesday, November 4.

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It’s going to get a little more expensive to do business in Camp Verde.

The Camp Verde Town Council tentatively approved a measure last week that will raise the price of an annual business license from $10 to $30.

The price has been $10 since the fee was established in the early 1990s, said Town Clerk Debbie Barber. After examining how much it actually costs for the town’s staff to produce a license for a business, Barber said a $30 fee would be more accurate.

The license is required each year for any business that operates inside town limits, Mayor Tony Gioia said, as a way to ensure that every business is in compliance with building, zoning and fire codes.

That includes everything from a fast-food restaurant to someone who may give piano lessons out of the home.

Councilman Bob Kovacovich argued that the town didn’t need to send people into the homes of its residents with regular inspections.

“That’s just big brother getting into peoples’ business,” Kovacovich said.
Barber said that the licenses were important to give the town the right to conduct an inspection if a safety concern ever did arise.

To lessen the impact of required annual inspections, Town Attorney Bill Sims said he would work up some language in the town code that would give the town the right to inspections without making them absolutely mandatory every year.

The new rules add some teeth to the enforcement of the town code, leaving it to the Camp Verde Marshal’s Office to enforce compliance.

Kovacovich also said he didn’t believe the cost of the licenses should increase for the sake of business owners.

Councilwoman Norma Garrison countered that if the business owners didn’t pay to cover what it cost the town to issue a license, it would be unfair to ask the taxpayers to make up the difference.

Mark Lineberger can be reached at 567-3342, or e-mail
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The Camp Verde Town Council revised its code of ethics and conduct last week in an effort to more clearly define how to address complaints.

Drawing heavily on the Town of Parker’s code, the council discussed how to handle problems with staff members.

The discussion took three hours, during which council members managed to keep their tempers while debating sometimes contentious issues.

Though several council members felt it would be wise to have a paper trail to thoroughly document instances where there is a perceived problem so that future councils would have something to turn to, Town Attorney Bill Sims argued that once something is written down, it becomes a public record.

Often, Sims said, the idea of bringing an employee’s conduct to light on the public stage is more than enough motivation to prevent future indiscretions.

When it comes to conflicts and complaints between members of the council itself, it was agreed that any concerns should be taken to the mayor. If the concerns are about the mayor, the Vice Mayor should be notified.

Vice Mayor Brenda Hauser and Councilman Ron Smith sparred over whether the ethics initiative was motivated by the “personal” dislike of some council members for others.

Sims said it might be prudent in some cases to have a neutral third party mediate conflicts.

Councilwoman Norma Garrison said a lot of problems could be resolved simply by dealing with issues personally.

“We don’t handle something when we are offended,” Garrison said. “And then we go out and start talking out in the community.” By the time words and rumors spread on the street, it often makes the problem worse, Garrison said.

Furthermore, Garrison said that all council members and appointed board members should be reminded that what happens in closed-door executive sessions should remain confidential among the people involved.

The Camp Verde Fire District is defending itself against any allegations that it hasn’t been properly enforcing fire codes.

The issue grew out of the controversy surrounding the old Zellner wood yard, now known as Canyon Wood Supply.

Some neighbors in the area have complained that, even though the wood yard was there first and grandfathered into what became a residential area, it has created a safety hazard and detracted from the quality of life in the neighborhood.

Citing claims that the wood yard poses an “extreme fire danger” and that the fire district isn’t enforcing the “minimum codes” at the property that have surfaced in various opinion letters in the local media, CVFD Spokeswoman Barbara Rice said the district finally felt the need to respond.

Rice said that inspectors have been following the guidelines spelled out in the fire codes adopted by the district, but that in a small town like Camp Verde, it’s not always possible to make sure everything is 100 percent to the letter.

Rice compared the situation to a restaurant that wasn’t entirely compliant with a local fire code, but that the district has been working with the business owners to bring it up to an acceptable standard of safety.

“I’m not just going to go in there and tell them to close their doors,” Rice said. “We’re not trying to close down businesses. As long as progress is being made, [the wood yard] is like any other business in a bad situation.”
Rice said that the district follows up on every complaint a member of the public makes about the wood yard out of an obligation to ensure public safety.

As far as code enforcement at the wood yard is concerned, Rice said the district is requiring the business to reduce the size of and increase the space between the wood yard’s piles of wood, because of a lack of water available to fight a fire on the property.

The district also confirmed that a great deal of waste debris has been cleaned from the ground where it could have been a potential fire hazard.

“Camp Verde Fire District’s policy does not include selective or preferential code enforcement,” according to a statement issued by the district last week. “Every member of our commercial community will be treated fairly and we will work with them to ensure they are compliant with the fire codes.”

In the meantime, the fire district will continue working to make the wood yard and surrounding neighborhood safe from fires.
“Life safety is our number one priority,” Rice said

The Camp Verde Sanitary District issued a surprise announcement at the end of a heated public hearing July 9: The tax levied on district homeowners will actually go down this year.

Instead of the worst-case scenario feared by many district residents, CVSD announced a fiscal year 2008-09 budget that covers all of the district’s spending, about $950,000 for FY2008-09, at a cost of $2.23 per $100 in assessed value, an $.08 reduction in the tax compared to FY2007-08.

The assessed value of a home, its “full cash value,” is normally less than its market value. Assessed value is the value of real property as determined by the Yavapai County Assessor each year.

Under the FY2008-09 budget, a district residence with assessed value of $200,000 will receive a property tax bill of $464 for sewer, about $16 less than last year.

The budget was approved 4-0. Board member Ben Bueler was absent.
“I’ve got to congratulate you,” former CVSD chairwoman Suzy Burnside said. “You’ve done some excellent work here.”

A draft budget published by CVSD prior to the hearing suggested the CVSD tax rate for FY2008-09 could go as high as $6.09 per $100 in assessed value.

That had a lot of residents hopping mad, including some who said they would lose their homes to foreclosure if the tax was imposed.

About 50 people showed up for the public hearing at the Community Center July 9 to express their frustration.

The CVSD board sat in the hot humidity of the hearing room for more than an hour, but board members kept their cool as speaker after speaker rose to attack their competence and integrity.

“People who live in Camp Verde are living right on the edge,” district resident Jim Ash told the board. “If this [tax levy of $6.09 per $100 in assessed value], goes through, houses won’t sell. Nobody will want to live here. We need a different approach on this.”

“I protest this thing,” district resident Pat Davis said. “If this thing goes through, I’m going to lose my house.”

The budget adopted by the board arrived shortly before the meeting and was made known to the public for the first time during the hearing. Many in the audience left the hearing once the actual budget became known.

Those who stayed wondered why the board waited so long to announce the good news.

CVSD Board Chairman Greg Freeman explained that the reason for publishing a worst-case scenario budget was due to uncertainty about the actual cost to the district of fixing problems that arose in the last year with the sewer line expansion and wastewater treatment plant construction.
“We waited as long as we could to get a handle on those costs,” Board Member Rob Witt said.

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