Tue, Feb

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.

Faced with an unexpected $1.8 million budget shortfall, Camp Verde has been taking drastic measures to make sure there’s enough to make ends meet for the rest of the fiscal year.

Soon after Town Manager Michael Scannell came on the job last October, he discovered that the town’s financial controls and procedures were in trouble.

Due to a budget process for the current fiscal year, Scannell called “shoddy and incomplete,” he found that a good portion of the town’s money wasn’t where it should have been.

Scannell, with the blessing of the Town Council, implemented emergency measures to make sure Camp Verde’s budget stays in the black.

Scannell’s efforts aren’t helped by the state of the economy.

Projected loss of income from sales tax revenue was predicted to be around $360,000 less than expected when this year’s budget was drafted. After looking at the latest numbers, losses are expected to be more in the neighborhood of $470,000, said Lisa Elliott, with the town’s finance department.

Revenues from building permits and check fees are still down as predicted, Elliott said.

Fortunately for the town, Elliott said that town employees have done an excellent job of reigning in expenses. An early look at what the town’s departments were spending predicted that employees could cut speeding by $300,000 for the rest of the fiscal year to help close the budget gap; Elliot said that number will be closer to $400,000.

In order to keep spending down, the finance department is requesting that any expenditure of more than $1,000 will have to be reviewed by the town manager for approval, Elliott said.

The town is also putting a freeze on hiring any new employees unless absolutely necessary, Scannell said, adding that towns across the state were suffering from similar ill economic effects.

“We’re a sales tax-driven city; we have no property taxes,” Scannell said. “We rise and fall on the performance of the economy …. We only want to do what we have to do to keep the system running.”

Scannell and the finance department are also in the process of developing new budgeting procedures for the Town Council for upcoming financial planning for the 2008-09 fiscal year.

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.

Camp Verde’s long-time residents will certainly remember the flood of 1993, when the Verde River and nearby creeks swelled to dangerous levels.
When the water receded, life eventually returned to normal for most of the Verde Valley.

While the flood may be out of sight and out of mind for most people these days, it left visual reminders for a handful of people along the banks of the Verde River.

People like Marie Avery, who owns property along the Verde River just off of Buffalo Trail.

The view from her land is typical of the natural beauty that has drawn so many to the area over the years. Standing on her land, one can see green mountains dominating the skyline above lush riparian grasslands, the Verde River meandering its way between tree-lined banks and over the rusted hulks of construction equipment.

Fifteen years ago, the flood washed a dump truck and a large excavator into the river where they remained, slowly rusting and sinking into the riverbed, becoming seemingly permanent parts of the river’s landscape.

“She’s been trying to get it out of the river since day one,” said Eddie Sass, a caretaker who lives on the property.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality knows about the problem, spokesman Mark Shaffer said, but since the area affected on the property is less than an acre in size, it falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

This weekend, at least one of the eyesores was removed, not with the help of the Army, but with a personal favor to a friend.

After a failed attempt a couple of months ago to pull the truck from the river by the Fort Valley Towing Company, of Flagstaff, a decision was made to bring in the big guns.

Jesse Sensivar, who runs Route 66 Heavy Duty Towing, also in Flagstaff, arrived with the large equipment needed to pull the truck up out of the river, over the bank and on to dry land for the first time in a decade and a half.

Sensivar said that as a friend of the property owner, he was glad to help get the truck of the way. The proposition was made more attractive by ballooning prices in the scrap metal market over the past few years, Sensivar said.

“We also did it for the entertainment value,” Sensivar said, acknowledging that pulling heavy equipment from a river can be a challenge that serves as its own reward.

Sensivar said he’d like to get the excavator out of the river as well, but admits that’s going to be a much bigger project.

“Over the last couple of years there’s be a lot of this kind of stuff popping up,” Sensivar said. With scrap prices what they are, Sensivar said this might be the perfect time for the town or other property owners to go about cleaning up the area’s waterways with little expense.

“[Scrap metal prices] definitely make this more financially practical,” Sensivar said.

Avery’s property isn’t alone. Over the years, other equipment and junk has found its way into the river.

Until about 18 months ago, Kala Pearson said she had to look at a cement truck, a crane and various mining equipment that had been in Beaver Creek for years.

Pearson, who runs the Luna Vista Bed & Breakfast, said the sight of abandoned equipment about a half-mile from her property was a real eyesore.

“Someone finally removed it at great expense,” Pearson said.

You can find similar situations at several places along the Verde River and its tributaries, Sass said, and just because most people don’t see it on a daily basis doesn’t mean it should be ignored.

“[Mayor Tony Gioia] and everyone else talks about protecting our rivers and creeks because they’re endangered,” Sass said. “Well, they need to start by cleaning up junk like this.”

Mark Lineberger can be reached
at 567-3341 or e-mail
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With a nonprofit corporation being formed to raise money for a new library, what role does the Camp Verde Library Commission play?

It was a question the commission took to the Town Council last week in a discussion of how the nonprofit could potentially work.

Some of the commissioners told the council they felt like they were being left out of the loop.

Mayor Tony Gioia told them to remember that everyone’s ultimate goal was the construction of a new library, and that commission members should feel comfortable raising money anyway they can.

Linda Harkness, an officer of the forming corporation, told the library commission that she welcomed its involvement in the nonprofit and stressed that she wanted to work together, not face off as adversaries.

While the town could raise money to build a new library, there are limits on what a government can spend before it triggers certain requirements under state law. The town can spend a maximum of $250,000 on architectural services and $500,000 on engineering costs. A penny more and the town would be required to start a bidding process between contractors vying for a project.

While a nonprofit would likely put out a bid request just to keep prices competitive, Harkness said she thinks a nonprofit could get additional cost savings from a contractor than the town government — savings possibly as much as 15 percent.

Just because the town could theoretically spend $750,000 on a library, it’s doubtful that architecture or engineering costs would be that much on a project of this size.

Nor does it mean, as Gioia pointed out, that the town would have anywhere close to that much money available for a library.

There’s also the question of what role the nonprofit would play in the future operations of the new library.

Would it manage it as part of the contract to raise money and get it built? The library commission questioned where that would leave library employees who currently work for the town.

This and other questions made it clear that there’s a lot to work out until there’s enough money to actually build a library, something that could take years.

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Faced with a November recall election following charges of mismanagement, Camp Verde Sanitary District Board member Al Dupuy defended his board’s actions last week.

Dupuy and Board Chairman Rob Witt are the focus of a recall initiated by a grassroots citizens group unhappy with the direction the board has taken and their heavily increased tax bills paying for a sewer expansion project.

Dupuy said he’s willing to work with anyone who has ideas on how to help the sanitary district, including the Sanitary District Fairness Group, the organization responsible for the recall.

Both Dupuy and Witt offered a vacant seat on the board to the opposition group’s president, James Strava, and vice president, Bill Mitton.

Mitton turned it town due to other obligations, Dupuy said.

Strava said he believed he could help the board if he took the seat, but declined citing personal reasons that don’t allow him the time needed to serve as a board member.

Strava said that he also is planning to take a less active role in the leadership of the Sanitary District Fairness Group in the coming months, and offered his support to anyone who could step up and aggressively pursue the group’s objectives.

The recall petition listed seven complaints against Dupuy and Witt.
Dupuy said he was worried that some members of the public have painted him as a man who doesn’t care about the tax burden on district.

In a public statement last week he answered the charges one by one.
? Abuse of tax levy authority.

Dupuy said that as a special taxing district, the sanitary district has the authority under state law to enter into an agreement with a private entity for the construction of a sewage collection system and wastewater treatment plant.

The Fairness Group has expressed concerns over a $6 million private loan obtained by the district last year that leaves district members with the bill.
? Failure to disclose future tax levies during the budget process.

Dupuy said all budget decisions and financial agreements were discussed in public meetings, as was the $6 million loan.

“The board has always been upfront that certain taxes will need to go up,” Dupuy said. “Unfortunately, no one can predict exactly where they will go.”

? Inappropriate allocation of district assets.

Dupuy said that to the best of his knowledge, the district’s funds are being used to complete the $15 million sewer expansion project.

? Inadequate record keeping and financial reporting.

Dupuy said that other than a few minor issues, a recent audit of the district found no serious problems with the board’s financial reporting and no evidence of intentionally mishandling funds.

The audit confirmed that the district’s books were in the clear, noting a few issues with internal controls over handling finances.

? Unauthorized destruction of public records.

Dupuy said that if the complaint was concerning the destruction of tapes after meeting minutes were transcribed, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office had already talked with the board about the issue.

Dupuy said the tapes were used to help record the minutes of meetings, and to his knowledge, the district no longer destroys any tapes.

? Withholding meeting minutes and other public records.

Dupuy said that, to his knowledge, the district has always allowed public records requests. He pointed to one instance where the minutes of a five-and-a-half-hour meeting were not recorded within 72 hours, and the attorney general considered it a “blip on the radar.”

“In other words, [the sanitary district] has a good record with minutes and public record compliance,” Dupuy said.

? Failure to keep the public properly informed of district business.
Dupuy said that the board holds public meetings every month, and that at most of those there are television cameras and newspaper reporters present.

“The decision to build a larger plant and increase taxes has always been done in public,” Dupuy said.

Dupuy also directly addressed personal criticism against his role on the sanitary district board.

“There is a perception that I personally don’t care about the burden the tax increases have put on the people within the district, but this is simply not true,” Dupuy said. “I am willing to listen to any and all suggestions that will help reduce our taxes. I am willing to work for and with district members that are willing to offer positive suggestions to improve our current situation.”

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.

A structural failure early this year during the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant has left the Camp Verde Sanitary District with the bill — for now.

The district has to have someone fix the walls of the new aeration basin that cracked and bowed during a testing phase.

The district hired an independent engineer which the district thinks puts the blame for the failure squarely on the shoulders of the project engineers, Phoenix-based Coe and Van Loo.

Coe and Van Loo is reviewing the independent engineers report and hasn’t yet accepted any official responsibility for the problem.

While district board is confident that someone eventually will be held financially liable, construction of the project can’t proceed much farther without the needed thousands of dollars in repairs.

If the project were to be put on hold until the board had a check in its hands, it would likely cost the district more money for having to demobilize construction workers while waiting for repairs and then pay to bring them back, board member Al Dupuy said.

“I’m not comfortable fronting the money for repairs,” Dupuy said. “We need to be more aggressive in pursuing those at fault.”

Construction on another part of the sewer project, the expansion of sewer lines in Camp Verde, is expected to resume shortly, board member Gregg Freeman said

Determined to move forward with an eventual town takeover of the Camp Verde Sanitary District, the Town Council and district board agreed last week to research hiring a full-time administrator to oversee the affairs of the district.

The district and town have been renegotiating an agreement signed last spring, one that was designed to pave the way for the town’s takeover of district affairs pending the results of the November 2008 election.
The agreement was derailed over the last year, and the town failed to take over billing operations at the beginning of the year as outlined in the document.

Because the district, faced with mounting financial costs from its project to expand the sewer, didn’t expect to still be handling the day-to-day accounting at this point, board members have asked the town to pay for the full-time administrator.

After a two-hour closed-door meeting last week, the town and district agreed to research how exactly to go about hiring this administrator, with plans to meet again next week and share what information each side has learned.

As far as the agreement between the district and town, board member Al Dupuy said he would still like to see the takeover measure on the November ballot.

The town has requested that the election issue be postponed until the town is fully capable of successfully running the district, something Town Manager Michael Scannell has said he feels is farther into the future.

Both sides would like to see actual progress made on any changes to the agreement, and Councilman Ron Smith said he felt the best thing to do would to be to craft an entirely new agreement.

“We could go back and beat that dead horse,” Smith said. “But we aren’t going to get it to run for us. We need to go out and work on a new colt.”
Both sides agreed that the ultimate goal was to eventually have the sanitary district run by the town.

Both the district and town agreed to move forward with revising the agreement, but elected a small group from each side to work on the project; Dupuy said it would be easier to make progress if both the council and board didn’t have to meet together every time a suggestion was made.

The town and district appointed Mayor Tony Gioia, Councilwoman Norma Garrison, Scannell and board members Al Dupuy and Gregg Freeman to work on a new agreement and bring updates back to their respective groups.

“We have to move forward,” Garrison said. “We’ve gotten further and further away from each other and there’s been less and less communication. Feb. 21, 2008 is the day of new beginnings.”

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.

When Camp Verde incorporated in 1986, its new borders contained a great deal of National Forest land.

Fully aware that their voices will not likely affect how the U.S. Forest Service conducts business, members of the Camp Verde Town Council narrowly voted last week to send a letter asking that the Forest Service not sell off public lands inside town limits to private developers.

It was an ideological debate, with Mayor Tony Gioia arguing that the town should strive to guarantee its wide open spaces that have drawn many residents to the area and Councilman Ron Smith arguing that town government has no business telling anybody what to do with their land.

When all was said and done Gioia was joined by Vice Mayor Brenda Hauser and Councilwoman Norma Garrison and Councilman Charlie German in supporting the letter.

Councilmen Greg Elmer and Bob Kovacovich sided with Smith in voting against it.

Congress recently changed the rules to allow the Forest Service to trade or sell off land, Gioia said.

Smith argued that that had enabled the government to trade off some lands in order to obtain more valuable wilderness areas worth preserving.

Gioia maintained that the open lands inside Camp Verde give the town much of its appeal and character.

“We own the land as citizens of the United States,” Gioia said. “We don’t want to see that land developed.”

see that land developed.”

Smith countered that between the Yavapai-Apache Nation picking up as much land as possible for expansion and other features of the landscape, Camp Verde needs as much land as possible available for future growth and development.

“I’m opposed to any government telling property owners how to use their land, including the Forest Service,” Smith said. “I don’t believe that government should have that power.”

Gioia said the letter wasn’t telling the Forest Service anything, and was simply making a suggestion on behalf of the Town of Camp Verde.

As for selling off land in Camp Verde to protect other areas, Hauser said that argument didn’t sit with her.

“I don’t think there’s any land in Arizona more important than our land right here,” Hauser said. “We’re not going to see that. All we’ll see is rooftops. It’s worth asking.”

Gioia added that as far as commercial development goes, the town already has empty land waiting for infrastructure and development.

It probably won’t matter anyway, German said, who has had family members with careers in the Forest Service.

German, who owns property adjacent to Forest Service lands, said when he bought it he was told that only an act of Congress would change the nature of the landscape.

“That’s exactly what it took,” Gioia said.

Camp Verde resident Jennifer Dutton voiced her opinion in support of the letter.

“People love the feel of Camp Verde,” Dutton said. “They like our surroundings in the community, the public lands. We’re just blessed. I feel like we’re trading ourselves away when we do this.”

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.

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