Tue, Feb

The Camp Verde Sanitary District Board is still looking into who was responsible for a costly shutdown of a sewer line expansion project ordered last month by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
ADEQ shut construction down just after the new year when officials realized the district hadn’t obtained a necessary permit to begin putting pipe in the ground.

While ADEQ has since allowed the project to resume in exchange for the district’s agreement to upgrade some pumps on Main Street, the shutdown still cost the district well over $100,000 and the price tag keeps going up.

The pumps, originally estimated to cost $50,000 to improve, will likely cost “substantially more,” said district employee Rick Spears.

Still, the shutdown may not have as much of a financial impact on the district as the numbers would suggest, said Eric Lauren, project manager with Coe and Van Loo, the engineering firm that made the final revisions to the new sewer plans.

Lauren said his company, hired to replace former engineering firm HDR in 2004, had been told by the previous district board that all of the permits had been applied for and there was no need to resubmit the plans to ADEQ. At the time, that was true. The necessary permits were in place, but one key permit expired in 2006.

Coe and Van Loo made some changes to the original plans submitted by HDR, but Lauren said the consensus was that the changes weren’t significant enough to warrant re-submission to ADEQ.

Normally, resubmitting the plans would have been “normal procedure,” Lauren said, but given the circumstances the company decided against it, considering they were operating under the assumption that all the permits were in place; resubmitting the plans could have doubled Coe and Van Loo’s $32,500 bill for their work, Lauren said.

Lauren suggested the board look for a silver lining.

While it’s impossible to know for sure, Lauren said if plans had been resent to ADEQ, “they could have been more adamant about redoing the plans.”

Lauren pointed to some concerns raised over whether some of the slopes of the new lines were adequate.

If ADEQ had re-reviewed the new plans before the work started, the district might have had a lot more work to do, from an engineering standpoint, than upgrading pumps on Main Street, Lauren said.

“We benefited this time from the tremendous pressure on ADEQ [to keep the project going],” Lauren said.

District Board Chairman Rob Witt said in that light, the biggest costs of the shutdown were in terms of demobilizing the contractors and now having to bring them back into the field. Spears said that some work on the new pipes should resume Monday, Feb. 25, with the rest of the project up and running by the second week in March.

The district board also had set aside time last week to question former district chairwoman Suzy Burnside about the lack of the necessary permits for the project.

While Burnside e-mailed the board she had nothing further to contribute to the issue, she defended her board in a letter to district attorney Brett Rigg.
Burnside wrote that any original problems with the plans for the new sewer lines had been met to ADEQ’s satisfaction, and that the permit in question had actually been reissued by ADEQ in December 2006. Prior to that date, no further changes had been made to the plans, Burnside wrote.

The new board was seated in January 2007, and Burnside wrote that she has no knowledge of any changes to the plans that were or weren’t made after that.

A month after the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality shut the project down, the Camp Verde Sanitary District has received the OK to continue putting new sewer lines in the ground.

The project was halted in January when ADEQ discovered that the district hadn’t obtained an aquifer protection permit, a measure the state requires before granting permission to build.

There had been a permit in place, but it expired in 2006 and the lapse apparently went unnoticed.

Last week the district board signed a consent order with ADEQ to get the project back up and running.

The order came after the district submitted its plans to ADEQ for review following the shutdown. While the state didn’t have any problems with the design of the new pipes, it was concerned that two lift pumps on Main Street designed to pump water through a new sewer pipe under the White Bridge weren’t powerful enough to meet the state’s sewage velocity requirements, a potential cause of future backups.

By signing the consent order, the district agreed in effect to upgrade the pumps in exchange for permission to keep building sewer lines.

The pumps are only three years old, and they met state requirements when they were installed.

Since then, ADEQ has made its velocity requirements stricter, district board Chairman Rob Witt said.

Early estimates put the cost of upgrading the pumps at around $50,000.
“One of the problems is that they do change the rules a lot and don’t supply the resources for it,” Witt said. “But it’s their job to make sure the water supply is safe, and if things aren’t right, then it’s probably better to fix them now before there’s a problem later.”

Basically, the board decided that it would be better to do what the state wants and get the project moving forward instead of potentially starting a costly fight on the taxpayer’s dime.

“One of the things [ADEQ] has made perfectly clear is that we’re going to do it their way or we’re not going to do it at all,” Witt said.

The district now has 180 days to install the upgraded pumps or face increasing fines from ADEQ.

“The consent order will stabilize the Camp Verde Sanitary District’s wastewater treatment planning and help the district come into, and stay in, compliance with the law,” ADEQ Director Steve Owens wrote in a statement released by his office.

“We are working closely with the district to fix the sewer lines and ensure the wastewater treatment plant is built correctly,” Owens stated. “We recognize the challenges the district faces in trying to put a large commercial area on the sewer, and we intend to help the board members work through those issues.”

The sewer expansion project could legally restart right away, Witt said, but if it started tomorrow it could cost the district as much as $250,000 to remobilize construction crews.

“We’re trying to be as flexible as we can with the contractors,” Witt said. “We want to reduce costs whenever possible.”

Witt said he hopes the machinery will be up and running within 60 days.
If Witt is concerned about keeping costs down, it’s because they keep adding up.

Just addressing the shut-down order alone cost the district more than $75,000 in preparing plans and acquiring the permit.

Money also had to be spent putting together a state-mandated operations manual for the current wastewater treatment plant, money Witt said he originally didn’t want to spend because the plant will become obsolete when the new plant comes on line this summer.

The district has also stopped accepting new sewage from septic tanks, at least until the new system is online.

Things aren’t any cheaper at the new plant. A recent stress test of one of the new aeration basins at the new plant failed when its 18-foot walls started to crack after being filled with water.

The basins are designed to be placed in the ground; the test was done above ground to look for any problems before they are buried.

It’s going to cost the district at least $24,000 to analyze the engineering plans to find out what went wrong. Once the problem is known, it will cost another $26,000 to come up with a plan to fix it, and thousands more to actually implement the repairs.

That money could be recovered by the district, however, once the investigation determines whether the designer or the contractors who built the basin are at fault.

“We’re doing everything we can to get the plant running by the end of June,” said J.R. Pooler, district project manager. “The one [organization] I can’t see who would be to blame is the Camp Verde Sanitary District.”

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.

After issuing an ultimatum to three members of the Camp Verde Sanitary District to resign or face recall, it appears the grassroots Sanitary District Fairness Group will have to make good on its threat.

Fed up with paying increasing taxes for a service members don’t receive to what many of them believe is a mismanaged sanitary district, the group approached sanitary district board members Al Dupuy, Kathy Scherich and Chairman Rob Witt for their resignations.

The answer was a resounding “no.”

It doesn’t mean they haven’t thought about it. Witt told the group in December that he’s considered it at times, given the time he devotes to managing the district, and Dupuy already resigned in December before reconsidering.

The group is also concerned about the fact that Scherich, while owning property in the district, doesn’t live in the district.

The group also wants Witt to be held accountable for a $6 million loan he obtained for the sewer expansion project “using the district members as collateral,” SDFG Vice President Bill Mitton said.

Now the group has recall petitions in hand and plans to start circulating them for signatures this week. The recall effort needs 133 signatures, SDFG President James Strava said, a number he doesn’t think the group will have any problem obtaining.

The group is armed with a lawyer, David Gordon, of Cottonwood, and Mitton said Gordon is compiling a list of alleged violations committed by the sanitary district board.

A recall election would cost about $3,000, Strava said, and the group already has a list of potential replacement candidates.

“We’re not going to go through all this and lose,” Mitton said. “That’s not in our vocabulary.”

Witt said he’d leave the question of his future with the sanitary district to the electorate at large.

“If the people don’t want me to represent them, then that’s their decision,” Witt said.

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

It’s shaping up to be a race.

Potential candidates need to have their ducks in a row by Wednesday, Dec. 10, to meet a deadline to run for a seat on the Camp Verde Town Council in next spring’s elections. Nine people have shown interest for the five seats up for grabs.

It could be at least a three-way run for the mayor’s seat, which carries a two-year term.

While nothing is official until the paperwork gets to the county’s Elections Department, Mayor Tony Gioia has pulled the necessary packet to run for reelection. He could be joined by two others in that bid.

Tim Sykes, a library commissioner who once tried to apply for the seat left vacant by former Councilman Mike Parry and was disqualified because he didn’t live inside the political boundaries of Camp Verde, has also pulled the mayoral packet.

He was joined late last week by Bob Burnside, a plumber who ran an unsuccessful bid as a write-in candidate for the Camp Verde Sanitary District.

Three four-year seats on the council are up for election. The seats are currently held by Ron Smith, Bob Kovacovich and Vice-Mayor Brenda Hauser.

Kovacovich has signaled he plans to run to retain his seat. Also potentially running for a four-year seat are Robin Whatley, Samuel Plunkett, George McClure and Jackie Baker, a former councilwoman and vice-mayor.

Whatley and Baker had also applied to fill Parry’s empty seat now held by Councilman Charlie German.

The remaining two years of former Councilman Greg Elmer’s seat are also on the ballot following his resignation Nov. 30. Raymond Williams has pulled the paperwork to potentially run for that seat.

Whatley, who attends nearly every council meeting and once served as Gioia’s campaign manager, also serves on the Parks and Recreation Commission and a committee formed by the town to make recommendations about funding nonprofit organizations.

Whatley was the first person to pull a packet to run for the council and to gain the needed signatures from local registered voters.

Now she’s concerned that her bid may be challenged due to a technicality. When Elmer’s resignation opened up a two-year seat on the council, potential candidates had to indicate whether they were running to finish that term or for one of the four-year seats.

Whatley collected her signatures before Elmer announced his resignation and didn’t have to indicate which seat she was running for.

She checked with the town’s legal council who advised her she might want to redo her entire packet, signatures and all. By that time, Whatley said it was too late for her to go through everything again.

She hopes her run for office doesn’t stumble over a legal snag, and she has a solid argument, since people who signed her petition assumed she was running for a four-year seat, the only one available at the time.

Regardless of who has pulled a packet, the election slate will be finalized Dec.10 at 5 p.m., the deadline to file.

Tourism was up at Fort Verde State Historic Park in 2007, where more than 18,000 people stopped in to take a look at the former military base that originally put Camp Verde on the map.

It’s nearly a 10 percent jump in visitors over 2006.

But those numbers pale in comparison to other local destinations like Montezuma Castle National Monument and the Out of Africa Wildlife Park, two popular attractions that brought in about 618,000 and 300,000 visitors respectively.

To call the jump in visitors at the fort “growth” is misleading. There were more visitors to the fort last year than in 2006, but just barely more than the number of visitors in 2005, and nowhere near numbers in the early ’90s, when the fort saw upwards of 40,000 visitors a year.

So how do you get some of the thousands of visitors to the area more interested in downtown Camp Verde?

It’s a problem that the Camp Verde Chamber of Commerce has been wrestling with for quite a while, said Roy Gugliotta, chamber director.
“We need more business, and we need more infrastructure,” Gugliotta said.
Specifically, the town needs a restaurant capable of accommodating groups of tourists, Gugliotta said, as well as an overall unifying “theme” for downtown with more places to shop.

There are already nearly 160,000 staying in local hotels, according to chamber estimates. With a few more rooms and more places locally for tourists to shop, the town could potentially see an influx of $100 million to the local economy.

Of course, bringing in new business takes infrastructure, Gugliotta said, like an expanded sewer system that stores and restaurants could hook onto.

More businesses could also keep more local money inside town limits. Gugliotta points to Wal-Mart in Cottonwood, where he estimates Camp Verde residents spend $260 million a year.

The town is still a popular destination for people traveling the country in RVs, but there’s more to Camp Verde than just the scenery.
There’s the history.

In that respect, the town’s location in the Verde Valley is a boon, Gugliotta said.

“People can go to Sedona for the red rocks, then they can come to Camp Verde to see a Western town and the history here, to see what was Southwestern and who was Southwestern, ” Gugliotta said.

Every town nearby has something different to offer, and Gugliotta said that works to Camp Verde’s advantage if tourists can be enticed to spend a few days here to get a taste of the entire Verde Valley.

So what’s the answer to get more tourism dollars spent locally?
“The No. 1 thing we can do is promote Camp Verde,” Gugliotta said.

The chamber has been running advertisements in publications around the country, touting what the town has to offer. Gugliotta said getting the town’s name out there is an important first step in getting more tourists to spend money here.

As for bringing in more businesses, that will be a challenge, Gugliotta said, but he feels it’s not an insurmountable one. Gugliotta said the best chance of succeeding, however, will depend on the entire town pulling together to meet the needs of the community.

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Camp Verde is facing a $1.8 million shortfall this year thanks to a budget process that was “shoddy and incomplete,” Town Manager Michael Scannell told the Town Council last week.

The revelation comes on the heels of an auditor’s report that the town’s finances suffer from a severe lack of internal controls.

The shortfall is the result of several factors, including lower than expected sales tax revenue, about $360,000 less, and a slowdown in the overall economy. As a result, the town has issued fewer building permits than town leaders had counted on when formulating this year’s budget.

The budget also didn’t set aside the $170,000 needed this year to pay the debt down on the new Camp Verde Marshal’s Office.

Events are also costing the town money, and Scannell said sponsoring so many events is expected to create a loss of $110,000.

While there are several anomalies in the budget contributing to the shortfall, a huge part of the problem can be traced to the town’s Arizona Highway User Revenue Funds — the fund the town uses to pay for public works improvements.

The town is obligated to pay the Camp Verde Sanitary District $240,000 from the HURF fund to help resurface streets torn up in the recent sewer expansion project.

The Town Council was told it had $1 million in the fund. It turns out the fund was actually in the red with a negative balance of $140,000.

Scannell, on the job since October, has been serving as a de facto finance director following the resignation last year of former director Dane Bullard.
It’s not all doom and gloom, Scannell told the Town Council. While he said the town may be forced to make some “painful decisions,” he and other department heads have a plan than could potentially get Camp Verde out of this financial quagmire.

“I didn’t come here to preside over the demise of Camp Verde,” Scannell said.

Among the ideas to help keep the town afloat are:

  • Suspending new money into the town’s parkland acquisition fund.
    Currently, the town channels a portion of sales tax revenue into the fund for obtaining new land for a potential park.
  • Scannell estimates the town could redirect that money into the general fund for a cash infusion of $270,000.
  • Keeping an eye on how much the town uses its attorneys. The town is on track to spend $20,000 less than projected this year on legal fees.
  • Starting with Fiscal Year 2008-09, Scannell wants the responsibility for using the attorney put on the heads of each town department.
  • Giving up the town’s goal to buy the Camp Verde Water System, at least for now. The town has saved $450,000 to eventually buy the water company, money that could be freed up to help with the shortfall.
  • Transferring money. Scannell is recommending that the town move $722,000 from the town’s capital outlay fund into the HURF to help get the budget back on track.
  • Keeping the purse strings tight. Scannell said the town’s management team has looked carefully at the spending habits of each department and figures the town could cut expenditures by as much as $300,000.
  • Dropping sponsorship of so many events. Scannell said that while promoting Camp Verde is important, he is suggesting the town limit its involvement to two or three a year.

Along with some other unexpected income and a few other cost cutting suggestions, Scannell said he feels confident the town can make ends meet for the remainder of Fiscal Year, 2007-08.

The town will keep a close eye on the budget month by month, Scannell said, making any adjustments needed as the end of the fiscal year approached in June.

The council put its confidence behind Scannell, directing him to do what has to be done to keep things running.

While relieved that it looks like the town will be able to cover the budget for the rest of the Fiscal Year, Councilwoman Norma Garrison wasn’t happy that the town’s finances had gotten to this point in the first place.
“This is the most information on town finances I’ve had since I’ve lived in this town,” Garrison said. “I was told that we have an audit every year to serve as a safeguard …. Why wasn’t that giving me the bad news?”

Garrison said this latest round of bad news had shaken her faith in the auditing process.

“Somebody failed this town,” Garrison said. “Something has failed drastically. It’s been a gradual path this town has walked on until it all just fell apart.”

Scannell said he’d prefer to move forward looking how to fix things for the future, rather than spending too much time looking for a root cause of the town’s financial problems.

Mayor Tony Gioia said while he wouldn’t rule out looking at the failure of the budgeting process, he would also prefer to look forward and, armed with this knowledge about the true state of the town’s finances, prevent the mistakes of the past.

“There were the dark ages, the middle ages and then came the Renaissance,” Gioia said. “Fiscally, I believe we are starting Camp Verde’s Renaissance.”

Blendena Carter opened her mailbox earlier this month to a shock that hit her in the face like a cold splash of water. Nearly $1,900 worth of water. Carter’s bill from the Camp Verde Water System for December was for $1,878.67.

Water can be expensive in the West, but it’s quite a jump for a woman whose bill the month before was a reasonable $33.99.

Carter was charged for using 314,800 gallons of water in one month at her modest home on Verde West Drive. That’s enough to fill 18 average swimming pools, 13 firefighting Boeing 747s or one really big bathtub. It wasn’t a mistake, said Stan Bullard, water company vice president.

Just to be sure, Carter’s meter was sent to the Arizona Corporation Commission Utilities Division for testing, where it was found to be in perfect working order. In the 13 days between the end of the billing period and the test, it read that Carter had used an additional 38,000 gallons of water.

A new meter was installed and seems to be reading more normal levels, Bullard said, around 800 gallons since the installation.

Carter said that she had a tiny leak in her yard that had been fixed by a family member, but that there was no way she could believe it had spilled out nearly 315,000 gallons over the course of a month without her noticing.
Bullard speculated that it’s possible some may have drained into a well near Carter’s property, or perhaps a frozen pipe could have been the culprit.

Either way, Bullard said it’s important to stay on top of potential problems on your property.

Regardless of where the water did or didn’t go, it doesn’t matter to Carter. Bullard said the water company has no way to offset the cost of the water, and Carter is still responsible for paying the bill.

The best the water company can do is offer Carter six months to pay the money. If she doesn’t come through with making an arrangement to somehow pay her bill, Carter’s water was expected to be shut off, possibly as early as this week.

As a senior citizen living off a fixed income from Social Security checks, her bill might as well be $100,000.

“I just can’t afford it, either now or over six months,” Carter said.

She may not be entirely out of options, said Deb Regan, who works for the Arizona Corporation’s Utilities department.

Regan said that the commission was aware of Carter’s situation, and would be working with Carter and the water company to see if Carter has any options available to her

Camp Verde lacks sufficient checks and balances over its finances, according to a recent auditor’s report.

After the recent forced resignation of town Finance Director Dane Bullard, Phoenix-based Lisa Lumbard & Associates took a good look at how Camp Verde conducts its business.

In short, the firm found that the town has little oversight over who is doing what with its money.

In many cases, the person responsible for taking money is the same person responsible for balancing the books. There isn’t an official investment policy in place, only a draft that was never formally adopted, and too few people are looking after the town’s money.

The report also revealed that the town has 54 credit cards through 12 different companies, with credit lines as high as $15,000.

Some town departments have been using the cards to pay for operating expenses, the report states, a violation of the town’s policies and procedures.

Bullard was also the only person previously authorized to make payments and withdrawals from accounts, including an account worth more than $270,000. No records of income, interest, dividends or ledger reconciliations could be found, the report states.

Blank checks were also being left out in plain view of the public, the report states; the town has since put its checks into a safe.

Presently, the town requires purchase orders to be filled out for any expenditure over $100. Lumbard recommends that the town raise that number to something more efficient.

Often, the policy results in added expense from filling out paper work to, in some cases, double payments for services while the paper work is processed.

Lumbard said that while she realized the town’s staff was small, every effort should be taken to segregate financial duties. The town’s staff has been eager and willing to put such safeguards in place, Lumbard said, and her auditors recommend that town employees cross-train for different jobs to ensure one person isn’t left with total responsibility over the town’s finances.

The problems are severe enough for the town to suspend its search for a new finance director.

Town Manager Michael Scannell said that, after
interviewing candidates to replace Bullard, he feels it’s best to get reliable policies in place before bringing in someone new, at least for the rest of this fiscal year.

The report also verified that the town’s hiring policies were not followed when Camp Verde Sanitary District employees were put on the town’s payroll after an agreement signed last May.

While Lumbard found that the sanitary district approved the transfer, there was no record of the town ever giving official consent.

In the end, Lumbard said the town should make sure there are more fingerprints on every transaction it makes; having one person handle everything opens the door to fraud.

“It seems we got pretty sloppy in the way we did business,” Councilwoman Norma Garrison said.

Mayor Tony Gioia said he wanted Scannell, who has an extensive background in public finance, to look at the auditor’s report and devise a plan to fix Camp Verde’s problems with financial oversight.

“We need to stabilize things,” Scannell said. “We need to build a foundation that’s solid so we can go forward.”

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