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Mon, Jan

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.

Vice Mayor Brenda Hauser choked back tears and Councilman Ron Smith declared he would not run for another term during a discussion of small town ethics at the Camp Verde Town Council meeting July 2.

The discussion arose after Councilman Bob Kovacovich and Councilwoman Norma Garrison asked to clarify the town manager’s role as chief executive officer of the Town of Camp Verde.

Contradictory language in the Town Code identified both the town manager and the mayor as chief executive.

Camp Verde has a council-manager form of government. In the council-manager form, council establishes policy for the town manager to execute. The mayor serves primarily as a figurehead with no more authority or voting power than any other council member.

The mayor’s role came under scrutiny after Mayor Tony Gioia personally negotiated with the Camp Verde Sanitation District in June despite a special committee established by the council for that purpose.

“I do know these basic principles,” Councilman Charlie German said. “The basic principle is if I go out there and speak to anyone, I have to do so as an individual and I cannot speak for the rest of the council.”

“I also know that if there are specific committees that are dealt with, then the protocol would be that those committees or liaisons, seems to me, have been established by the council and therefore that protocol should be followed,” German said.

German complained the current Camp Verde code of conduct fails to provide adequate guidance on the issue.

Garrison agreed. She said she was asking for changes to the town’s ethics code so council members now and in the future can be better guided in how to conduct themselves.

“You know, this isn’t personal,” Garrison said. “This is business. I’ve watched council for years struggle. Now I understand the struggle. It’s because [the code of ethics] is clear as mud.”

After reviewing conduct codes from Payson and Parker, the council directed town staff to modify the Town of Parker Code of Conduct for Elected Officials to insert some Camp Verde-specific changes to the Parker code.

“They don’t leave any stones unturned on how to police themselves,” Garrison said.

Council nearly decided to spend money on an attorney and a relationships council to draft a new code from scratch at the urging of Councilman Greg Elmer, but a Camp Verde resident said she didn’t think much of the expenditure.

“I don’t understand why you can’t get together and you can’t look at something from a Payson or Parker and you can’t sit down and figure this out,” Nancy Floyd said.

“Why do we always have to get an expert for everything?” Kovacovich asked.

Smith made a motion to adopt the Parker code and also asked for other changes, including a limit of two terms for the mayor and council members.
Hauser, who has served as mayor, vice mayor and councilwoman for more than a decade, appeared upset at the idea.

“I won’t vote for that,” she said, struggling to contain her emotions. “I owe everything to this town.”

Greg Ruland can be reached at 282-7795, Ext. 127, or e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Camp Verde’s got some money problems. That much is certain. Faced with sales tax revenue dropping off by as much as 25 percent, the town has had to tighten the purse strings.

That also means the town has had to redirect where it spends its money. For the past several years, Camp Verde has been funneling a portion of its sales tax into certain funds, setting aside one cent of the tax collected to be divided into 60 percent for capital projects and 40 percent for the park fund.

Late last month, the council voted 6-1 to change its priorities. The 60/40 split, once mandatory, has now been restated as a “goal to pursue,” said Town Manager Michael Scannell. Now some of that money will be redirected to pay for more immediate, pressing needs for the town as they arise.

“Quite frankly, the only way that we were able to preserve the integrity of the general fund this year was to radically alter these allocations,” Scannell said.

Councilman Ron Smith cast the lone “no” vote, citing concerns he’s heard from members of the community that it was important to keep money flowing into the park fund.

“They just thought, ‘why is that being messed with?’ ... and kind of the argument was, you know, we were sold a bill of goods that we would increase sales tax one percent so we could forever set aside 40 percent to the park,” Smith said. “The point they were making was, ‘Is this how government works?’ ... You have something and say it’s going to be that way, and then you get down the road and change it.”

Smith suggested that while he understood the tough financial decisions facing the town, the council could put a sunset on the decision to change the tax allocation, possibly reverting back to the 60/40 split in three years.

Scannell said that keeping the general fund healthy required the council to make difficult choices, but that Camp Verde was hardly alone.

The Camp Verde Town Council pulled out the budget knife last week and made some difficult decisions in an attempt to balance the budget for the upcoming 2008-09 fiscal year.

The new budget is about one million dollars less than last year’s proposed budget, an economic necessity in a town that depends on sales tax for much of its revenue.

Council members are already accustomed to tightening the purse strings.
The slowing economy has reduced sales tax revenue nearly 25 percent, a fact that in part forced the council to cut $1.8 million from the current year’s budget.

The new $5.3 million budget is nearly balanced, but at a cost. After several meetings and looking at what the council felt needed to be funded next year, there was a nearly $430,000 gap left to fill.

After meeting with town department heads, Town Manager Michael Scannell came up with a list of recommendations that the town council seemed to agree with. The town must approve a balanced budget by June 30, the last day of the 2007-08 fiscal year.

Notable casualties on the chopping block included funding for a new library.

While a recently formed non-profit organization is raising money for a larger modern library, it had hoped to take advantage of some town funds.

Library Director Gerry Laurito had shot for the moon with a request of $4 million, trimmed to $200,000 after Scannell looked at the budget. But with the new numbers in, Scannell said the town just couldn’t afford to spend money on something that wasn’t absolutely necessary.

The same went for the hopes of a new animal shelter, which saw $100,000 in proposed construction funding slashed from the town’s capital improvements fund.

It’s time to cinch the belt Scannell said, but it’s also time for the town to face the facts and plan for its long-term goals given the economic reality.

That reality means that some aspects of providing services will have to suffer in the interim, Scannell said, citing town streets. It would cost $1 million a year to simply keep the town’s 100 miles of road, Scannell said. This year, the town can only afford $675,000, including money for fixing roads torn up by the current sewer expansion project. It’s a situation Scannell called “very problematic.”

“It’s my opinion that the town of Camp Verde faces an economic struggle with declining revenues,” Scannell told the council. “I think we ought to engage in strategic planning as soon as possible for the long term.”
Town departments make sacrifices

To help fill the budget hole, many town departments agreed to give up some of their funding. The Parks and Recreation Department gave up $10,500 for new software and the Camp Verde Marshall’s Office cut out $15,000 for new evidence lockers.

The pool will be cutting back hours, closing at 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m., and closing entirely on Mondays, if the council approves the budget.

Travel costs were reduced, along with funding for office supplies, furniture and training, although Scannell said he didn’t feel comfortable cutting back too much on training expenses.

“[Cutting training] is not the best option,” Scannell said. “[Our employees] invest in us and we should invest in them … but there’s just no funding.”
There may be cut backs in training, but Scannell said his number one priority when coming up with proposed cuts was to avoid laying off staff at all costs.

In fact, Scannell recommends putting money in the budget to hire a consultant to look at town employees and come back with recommendations that could bring their salaries in line with other municipalities in the region.

Town employees did not receive a cost of living raise last year, Scannell said, and keeping salaries competitive is important when a town is trying to attract and retain the most qualified people for the job.

“To maintain the esprit de corps, it is critical to avoid layoffs,” Scannell said. “ … It’s fitting and proper to compensate our employees fairly.”

Sewer questions

While the budget seems nearly balanced, the council might soon have to look for another $25,000 to $30,000 in cuts if it agrees to partially fund a new administrator for the Camp Verde Sanitary District.

The town, under an existing agreement with the district, was already supposed to be managing the day-to-day affairs of the district.

But after a series of unforeseen derailments, the town and district haven’t been able to come to a new agreement. The district had hoped to have the town pay for a portion of the salary for a sewer administrator, which at first seemed off the table after the town’s most recent budget meeting.

“We’ve had a revised [inter-governmental agreement] on the table since [January] and we haven’t heard one word,” Councilmember Ron Smith said. “At this point, it’s water under the bridge. We’ve got our own problems right now. It’s too little too late. There’s a time for everything and theirs’ has past.”

While other council members seemed to agree at the time, the door was left open at a special Sanitary District Board meeting last week when Councilmember Norma Garrison, council liaison to the district, told the district board that the town council would need something in writing from the district before making any decisions.

District Chairman Gregg Freeman said he understood that the council had agreed in principal to fund a portion of an administrator’s salary.

Whatever the town council decides, they will need a new liaison to the sanitary district. Garrison resigned from that position the next day.

Mark Lineberger can be reached at 567-3341, or e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

An attempt to restrict the mayor’s participation in meetings was rejected last week by the Camp Verde Town Council.

Councilman Ron Smith proposed changes to the town code that he said would bring mayoral duties back in line with Robert’s Rules of Order, a set of procedural guidelines followed by many elected bodies around the country.

Smith’s proposal would have limited the mayor’s ability to discuss issues with the council unless the mayor volunteered to give up his or her position temporarily.

It would have also curtailed the mayor’s right to vote on an issue unless his or her vote would break a tie or create one to effectively kill a motion.

The proposed changes as Smith outlined them were dismissed for lack of a second, but Council members Norma Garrison and Greg Elmer made it known they would like to see some change after voting with Smith against keeping the status quo.

Smith denied that his proposals were aimed solely at current Mayor Tony Gioia, but went on to say he felt Gioia was “steering from the bench.”
Smith said that he felt that Gioia had made too many motions during his tenure as mayor, and was using his position to influence the other members of the council, arguing that if the mayor made a motion, other members might not feel like they’ve had an opportunity to address the issue with their own motions.

Gioia argued that every motion was open for discussion and that each council member was free to make their own motions and vote how they would like; he also said he felt Smith’s proposals were aimed at him personally.

“I feel the mayor has abused his right and has been steering from the bench,” Smith said. “It’s not personal, it’s just in the best interests of the town.”

Gioia disagreed.

“If it’s not personal, then I don’t know how to describe it,” Gioia said. “It seems very politically motivated.”

Elmer said he liked the idea of the mayor voting only to break ties, and that it would take the pressure off individual council members if they didn’t have to be the swing vote on an issue.

Elmer’s vote broke a deadlock earlier this year over an empty seat on the council and saw Charlie German appointed to the board after several other candidates were rejected.

Garrison said she felt that Gioia had overstepped his bounds on occasion, and pointed out a meeting Gioia had with Camp Verde Sanitary District Chairman Gregg Freeman.

“If my actions betrayed your trust in someway,” Gioia told Garrison, “I do apologize.”

The council also shot down proposed term limits for the council after Town Attorney Bill Sims pointed out the council lacked authority to impose them.

Alcohol will no longer be allowed in rented town facilities like the gym, following a split decision by the Camp Verde Town Council last week.

Alcohol will also be prohibited at most of the town’s events, except for Fort Verde Days and the Pecan, Wine and Antiques Festival.

Of course, each event will be reviewed on a case by case basis by the council. For instance, the Verde Valley Rangers Sheriff’s Posse recently won approval to sell beer in this June’s attempt to keep the Crawdad Festival alive. The town recently stopped sponsoring the event due to budget constraints.

Council members Ron Smith and Greg Elmer voted against the ban of alcohol in rented facilities.

The town’s Parks and Recreation Commission had recently advised the council to ban alcohol in town buildings. Parks and Recreation Director Lynda Moore said that while the gym may be booked every weekend with a private event, resources were being spent on clean up, and there was concern that spilled beer was causing damage to the gym floor.

Council member Norma Garrison was the lone opposing vote to allowing alcohol at Fort Verde Days; The Pecan and Wine Festival she said she could understand.

Garrison has been lobbying for more family-oriented events, arguing that selling alcohol leaves the town open to liability as well as hurting local bars that depend on alcohol sales for their business.

Smith argued that drinking is a matter of personal responsibility, and that while the town no longer made money off of alcohol sales on town property, nonprofit organizations did.

There was a brief moment of reminiscence about when people used to just drink on the street as long as they didn’t get out of hand, as well as when one of the attractions in the Fort Verde Days parade was a still on a wagon that passed out whiskey.

However, the council quickly acknowledged those days were long gone.

A grassroots recall effort against two members of the Camp Verde Sanitary District Board became official last week when the Yavapai County Elections Department confirmed enough legitimate signatures had been collected.

The targets of this effort are board members Rob Witt and Al Dupuy; both recently gave up their respective titles, chairman and vice-chairman, in part because of the recall.

The recall was initiated earlier this year by members of the Sanitary District Fairness Group, an organization of citizens primarily from the Salt Mine Road area who have expressed concerns over the direction Witt and Dupuy were leading the district.

Over the course of several meetings, citizens in favor of the recall accused Witt and Dupuy of financial mismanagement and railed against exponential tax increases to support a sewer system they don’t connect to.

The recall effort need 133 signatures to get it on the ballot in November and the group collected over 200 for both Dupuy and Witt, said the fairness group’s president, James Strava. The county stopped verifying signatures once they authenticated more than 170 for each board member.
Witt and Dupuy now have until Thursday, May 22, to respond, and they have three options.

One, they can resign. Two, they can issue a statement to be placed on the ballot in their defense. Three, they can do nothing and see where the chips fall in November.

If they choose to take the matter to the election, any other candidates looking to replace them will get their chance. The interested candidates can fill out the paperwork to run for the seats starting Thursday, May 29.

Applications are available from the county office complex in Prescott.

Witt, who had no comment on the recall being official, said earlier that he was elected by the people, so he’d let a majority of the people in the district decide his future with the board. As of press time, Dupuy was undecided and instead issued the following statement to the voters:
“I received a recall letter from the Elections department Friday, May 16th, and I am very concerned. I have been given two choices: Resign or go through a recall election. At this point I haven’t decided what I’ll do;

however, I would like to inform the group that has initiated the recall that they are not being fair to the CVSD residents. The CVSD is currently at a crucial point and to force a working board member to resign at this time will cause a hardship on the remaining board members and potential added expenses to the CVSD residents.

“I am actively involved in the negotiations with the design engineers and am starting negotiations with ADEQ. These are critical negotiations that could save the CVSD the potential $4,000 day ADEQ penalty and possibly keep all parties involved in the tank failure from going into litigation. Should this matter go into litigation it could stop the project and cost CVSD residents an undetermined amount of money.

“I have repeatedly asked some members of the group to join the CVSD board and been turned down every time. Now I’m asking them to do the fair thing for the ‘other’ people that live in the CVSD and allow me to do my job during the next crucial months; or I’m asking them to step up and take my position — now. It will involve numerous meetings in the Phoenix area, Cottonwood and Camp Verde every week and dozens of daily phone calls. The CVSD board has the experience to deal with the myriad of problems and forcing board members to resign at this time will only harm the CVSD residents.

“I have publicly refuted all charges the group has made with facts and had no response from them.

“At this time I’m undecided if I will allow myself to go through the recall election and defend myself again. I’m absolutely positive that I will not allow the CVSD residents to pay for the recall election, which is mandated by law, so once again I’m asking the group to look at the whole picture and be fair. We [myself and the group] have until Thursday, May 22, to make our decision.”

Mark Lineberger can be reached at 567-3341 or e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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.

James Hopkins knows that when the government wants your land, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. He just wants what he thinks is a fair price.

It’s why Hopkins was in court last month arguing against the Camp Verde Sanitary District.

Hopkins figures he’s got a little bit of heaven on his property nestled away just off Main Street. The land has a long history with Hopkins’ family; it was part of his grandmother’s original homestead a century ago.

It was sold off for a few years, but when Hopkins’ family wanted a place of their own to resettle in Camp Verde, they bought some of it back from the Wingfields. Hopkins still calls the land home, for both him and his horses, and today he still sits drinking iced tea on the porch of the house his father built.

The particular piece of land at the center of the court’s attention is a narrow strip running right across his property, an easement condemned for the sanitary district’s sewer expansion project.

Hopkins said he’s been offered $6,000 for the property, but he thinks it’s worth more. He’s not sure exactly how much more, but he’s gotten a few letters and opinions from friends who worked in the appraisal business that tend to make him think he should fight for it.

Last month, a judge tentatively scheduled some time in January for both Hopkins and the sanitary district to make their arguments.

The sanitary district has been trying to get another appraiser to come to Hopkins’ land, but Hopkins said he’s tired of dealing with the district, and he doesn’t want anybody on his land more than necessary.

“They told me that if I didn’t let them on my property, then they’d get an injunction against me,” Hopkins said. “I told them to go ahead and do that.”

A lawyer for the sanitary district told the court that, basically, all he would need to do was put a qualified appraiser on the stand.

While Hopkins doesn’t have a crystal ball to see how the issue over the value of his property turns out, Hopkins said the new sewer line has caused him headaches in other areas that Hopkins said might have to become another legal matter.

He’s afraid that angles in the sewer line will force workers to have to access his land for maintenance much more than he’s comfortable with.
His property is home to large trees well over 100 years old. Hopkins said that when workers dug up his land, they damaged the ancient root system. Already, Hopkins said, one of his trees is looking half-dead.

If the trees die, Hopkins doesn’t want to be held financially accountable for getting rid of them.

He’s also concerned by raised manholes installed on his property, sticking up inches above the ground.

“I’m afraid one of my horses is going to break their legs on them,” Hopkins said.

As for the manholes, the sanitary district says there is not much they can do. Hopkins’ property is in a floodplain, and the district has to conform with certain rules mandated by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

While ADEQ didn’t return phone calls about an inspection of the property conducted in April, district board member Al Dupuy said that the district is doing everything on Hopkins’ property in accordance with ADEQ guide lines.

The district, already strapped for cash following months of unexpected mounting expenses, is trying to make the best use of its money without putting more debt on the backs of its members.

As for Hopkins, he’s hoping to get his arguments prepared for January and let the chips fall where they may.

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