Mon, Nov

Northern Arizona Council of Governments named Cottonwood 2010 Employer of the Year for several reasons, not the least of which was its decision to hire 15 employees in the past year, including 12 new firefighters.

Humans Resources Director Iris Dobler said there were many reasons NACOG and the Yavapai County Workforce Investment Board chose the city for the award.

“It is a great place to work and we treat our employees very well,” Dobler said.

The award was presented to the City Council during its regular meeting Aug. 23. NACOG Economic Workforce Development program spokeswoman Sharon Jackson said the city’s decision to hire new employees during a time of high unemployment was unusual compared to other Northern Arizona employers.

Not only did the city hire so many new workers, it has managed to keep them employed and provided many with on-the-job training, thanks to two different federal stimulus grants, Dobler said.

The first grant was used to hire a dozen new firefighters. The second grant, valued at $74,000, was used to provide the firefighters with on-the-job training.

The city is able to retain employees in part because of the excellent wages and benefits it pays, Dobler said.

“The new employees hired through these programs enjoy their work and are really glad they got the jobs,” she said.

NACOG is a public organization that serves local governments and residents of Northern Arizona by “dealing with issues and needs that cross city, town, county and state boundaries,” according to the group’s official website.

NACOG provides communication, planning, policy making, coordination, advocacy and technical assistance, the website states.

The grants obtained to hire and train new employees were obtained through NACOG’s assistance and support, Dobler said.

For the sixth time since the topic was introduced during budget discussions earlier this year, Mingus Union High School District Governing Board will consider the daily, six-period class schedule introduced for the 2010-11 school year at its regular 6:30 p.m. meeting Thursday, Sept. 9.

Kylee Heflin, a Mingus Union High School sophomore, right, discusses the pros and cons of the new six-period class schedule with her friend, sophomore Ashleigh MaKuchy.The switch from a schedule that allowed students to take four, 80-minute blocks each semester to a daily class scheduled comprised of six, 60-minute classes, continues to cause controversy nearly 30 days into the school year.

On a four-block schedule, students could receive eight credits per year. Under the new system, six credits may be earned per year, according to Superintendent Tim Foist.

The new system also means some students must arrive at class by 6:30 a.m. The early schedule probably contributed to a decline in enrollment in Heather Mulcaire’s senior agriculture class, among career technology classes, Mulcaire said.

“We officially registered 196 kids on the National FFA roster last school year. This year our enrollment is down to 160,” Mulcaire said.

Math teacher Craig Mai said the new schedule means teachers must change they way they organize the material they wish to cover in a single class, but there are advantages.

Under the block schedule, students could opt out of taking math for one semester, which they usually did, Principal Tamara Addis said. That means they were not actively working in a math class when Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards is administered.

Mai said students who were enrolled in math for a full year, including the period in which AIMS tests were administered, performed better than students who did not study math during the testing period.

Mulcaire and Mai said the new schedule has required students and teachers to adjust.

“It’s not like we decided to change the class schedule for no reason,” Foist said. “It was necessary to accomplish the $2 million in budget cuts we had to make this year.”

Previously, the board voted 3-2 to go to the six-period schedule. Board Chairman John Tavasci and members Jim Ledbetter and Brenda Zenan voted in favor, and Andy Groseta and Mike Mulcaire voted against. Groseta and Mulcaire asked the item be again added to the Sept. 9 agenda.

Foist said the new schedule allows MUHS to maintain all of its programs, including music, physical education and art despite a loss of 14 teachers in the past two years. A return to the block schedule would require the district to hire additional teachers or cut programs, he said.

In addition, switching back to a block schedule 30 days into the school year would cause MUHSD to lose all of the state funding it received based on enrollment between the first day of school and the day the block schedule is reinstated.

Foist, who has a record of creating career technology programs at other school districts he administered in the past, said he fully supports the MUHS CTE programs and regrets the schedule change may be having an impact on some CTE enrollment.

“People come here because we have a well-rounded school,” Foist said. “People come here for CTE, but they also come here for P.E., music and the arts.”

The schedule change was introduced to preserve all programs, he said.

“We are one of the few, perhaps the only, school district which instead of cutting, actually added programs to the schedule,” Foist said.

The youth pastor at a Cottonwood church indicted by a Yavapai County grand jury Friday, Aug. 27, is a citizen of New Zealand whose visa was put on hold by Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week.

The 43-year-old suspect was indicted on 20 counts, including five counts of sexual conduct with a minor, 11 counts of sexual abuse and four counts of luring a minor for sexual exploitation, according to court records.

The suspect remained at Yavapai County Detention Center in Camp Verde on Aug. 20 on $250,000 bond, increased from the original bond amount of $50,000 imposed after his arrest Aug. 20. The suspect’s case was transferred from Verde Valley Justice Court to Superior Court on Aug. 25.

The suspect was pastor for children at Emmanuel Fellowship Church, 1580 Fir St., which advertises a youth meeting at 6 p.m. and a meeting at 7 p.m. every Wednesday, according to ChurchAngel.com, a website where area Christian churches publish information about worship services.

According to the complaint, the suspect allegedly engaged in sexual contact with the 16-year-old church member between May 30 and July 10.

Numerous other sexual acts are alleged in the complaint, all undertaken by the suspect when he knew the alleged victim was a minor and while he was acting as her pastor.

The complaint does not state where the alleged assaults took place.

Frank Navarez, Emmanuel Fellowship pastor, referred all inquiries to the church’s attorney Dean Cox. Cox was out of town and unavailable for comment.

“We’ve made all the comments to the media we’re going to make,” Nevarez said.

About half the firefighters who serve at Cottonwood Fire Department could qualify for advanced life support training, but the $4,000 cost of tuition imposes an obstacle for most, according to Patrick McIniss, an emergency medical technician and firefighter who is collecting money for scholarships.

Lt. Shawn Kuykendall, left, a firefighter and paramedic with the Cottonwood Fire Department, explains a heart monitor printout Friday, Aug. 20, from a demonstration on firefighter Greg Gaiser of one of the advanced lifesaving skills paramedics are qualified to perform. Two CFD firefighters are now in school to become paramedics and two more begin classes in September, training which must currently be paid for by the firefighters themselves.McIniss said Cottonwood Firefighters Association, a nonprofit charity, is seeking donations to pay these training costs for worthy firefighters.

To qualify for the scholarship, city firefighters will be asked to submit a statement of interest in the training and will be asked to explain how training would help them improve safety and efficiency at the department, he said.

The charity plans to award scholarship money based on statements of interest and maybe personal interviews, though details of the criteria and award process are still being worked out, McIniss said.

The association hopes to have enough money collected for at least one scholarship by December.

Two city firefighters are currently receiving the advanced life support training, but paying for it with their own money, he said.

“Since the economic recession, educational funding along with many other programs has been cut back in the city budget. The city can no longer help pay the cost of the training,” McIniss said.

Of the department’s 24 firefighters, 12 are emergency medical technicians and 12 are paramedics. Advanced life support training is paramedic training.

Advanced life support training gives paramedics credentials authorizing them, in urgent care situations, to start IVs, administer medications and interpret monitoring equipment for the heart and other organs, McIniss said.
Paramedic training can run from nine to 18 months and cost from $3,500 to $4,000, he said.

“It allows us to provide a much higher level of care to the patients we deal with every day,” McIniss said.
Paramedic training may not play any role in advancement at the workplace, or result in any pay increase, but it does give a firefighter advanced skills that are marketable, McIniss said.

Donations to Cottonwood Firefighters Association receive tax-exempt status, which means the donor may use the donation as a tax deduction, he said.

The association plans to award at least one scholarship by December. Association representatives are currently touring businesses in the community asking for help. No other fundraising activities or events are planned, McIniss said.

Sienna Shields, 8, plays kickball with other club members outside the Cottonwood branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northern Arizona on Aug. 18. The umbrella of tax exemption on donations to the local club is possible because of the nonprofit status of the larger regional organization.About two dozen Cottonwood nonprofits could lose their special tax status with the federal government if they fail to file proper tax forms before Friday, Oct. 15.

A list of the at-risk nonprofits, including those with Cottonwood addresses, was published by the Internal Revenue Service earlier this month.

The list includes an assortment of noprofits such as the Betty Turner Youth Foundation, the Cottonwood BookMarks, Flip City Booster Club, Fraternal Order of Police, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Knights of Columbus, the Verde Valley Alternative Lifestyles Directory, the Verde Valley Gem and Mineral Show and the Verde Valley Guidance Clinic Foundation.

According to the IRS, a federal law approved in 2006 directed small nonprofits with less than $500,000 to begin filing form 990N, a form of tax return, in 2007.

Previously these nonprofits were not required to file forms.

Many nonprofits did not learn of the law and now face the loss of their tax-exempt status unless they file the proper paperwork before the deadline.

Any nonprofit that fails to file proper tax forms in each of the three years since 2007 is scheduled to lose its tax-exempt status Oct. 15, according to the IRS.

Of the Cottonwood nonprofits on the list that could be contacted, all stated their tax returns were in order. All expected to maintain their tax-exempt status after Oct. 15.

Hailey Bruemer, executive director of Cottonwood Boys & Girls Club, said the club is now a branch of Boys & Girls Clubs of Northern Arizona and shelters to that club’s tax-exempt status.

Donations to Cottonwood Boys & Girls Club are tax deductible and will continue to be so, she said.

Lynette Prouty, treasurer of Flip City Booster Club, said her club’s tax forms were filed and she was waiting for IRS confirmation of the Booster Club’s continuing tax exempt status.

Deana King, president of the Cornville Community Association said another name mix-up could explain the association’s name on the list.

The association changed its name from the Greater Cornville-Page Springs Community Association in 2005.
“They should have the correct paperwork,” King said. “We’re trying to get somebody to explain it to us. Our tax-exempt status is intact and it will continue to be.”

Pam Egerton, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, was unavailable for comment.

Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District’s new food service contractor violated state law when it collected fingerprints from students Monday, Aug. 16.

Arizona law forbids schools from collecting “biometric information,” including finger scans, without proper advance notice and written consent from parents.

Sodexo Food Service, which instituted a breakfast and lunch program at COCSD starting Aug. 3, gave parents notice Friday, Aug. 13, it planned to implement a computerized system for buying meals, known as Touch and Go, starting Aug. 16.

To implement the system, Sodexo began scanning students’ right index fingers Aug. 16, but did not provide notice of its intention to do so 30 days in advance as required by state law. An unidentified number of Cottonwood Middle School students were scanned.

The letter sent to parents Aug. 13 also failed to include a notice in large, boldface, capital letters that the finger scans could not be collected without written consent from parents, also required by state law.

A proper notice will be sent out 30 days in advance of the next date for finger scanning, Superintendent Barbara U’ren said.Alerted to the situation Monday, Sodexo stopped taking finger scans and deleted all of the scanned information collected. A proper notice will be sent out 30 days in advance of the next date for finger scanning, Superintendent Barbara U’ren said.

“Lunch lines will be a little bit slower for the next 30 days, but that’s OK because we want to make sure we do this right,” U’Ren said. “We greatly apologize for any concerns this might have raised for our parents.”

Use of Touch and Go will be optional, Food Services Manager Shawn M. Stevenson wrote in his Aug. 13 letter to parents.

The system gives students the option of using a finger scan to identify his or her lunch identification number.

“The students will have accounts that will be utilized to deposit funds for meals and/or a la carte purchases,” Stevenson wrote.

Touch and Go also allows parents to link restrictions on diet and use of funds to the students’ identification numbers and tracks how students spend funds on deposit with Sodexo, Stevenson wrote.

“With this system you may request to view your child’s account history at any time by contacting the food service office,” Stevenson wrote.

Stevenson told parents the system is secure and all data collected is kept confidential.

“It is important to understand that the system does not store an image or photo of the student’s fingerprint,” Stevenson wrote. “The scanner examines a few points of a fingerprint and generates unique numbers based on those points to create a secure key called a ‘string.’”

The string is retained for reference back to the student, but the numbers cannot be converted into an actual fingerprint image, according to Stevenson.

The Internal Revenue Service executed a tax lien against a Verde Valley nonprofit after-school program, sweeping its bank accounts clean of cash two days before payday July 28, leaving dozens of employees without a paycheck.

Stone Durkaleck, Buena Vista Bright Futures child-care recipient, enjoys a snack of fruit and yogurt Aug. 11. Executive Director Erin Mabery Lamb said without immediate financial help, services provided to the community by Buena Vista could be negatively affected.Buena Vista Children’s Services owes about $77,000 in taxes, interest and penalties after the nonprofit failed to withhold about $12,000 in payroll taxes in 2005, according to Buena Vista Children Services Executive Director Erin Mabery Lamb.

Lamb said the nonprofit hasbeen negotiating with the IRS and recently made an offer in compromise to settle the tax debt.

“We were told by our agents that the matter was still in the settlement and compromise stage,” Lamb said. “Usually with the IRS, when you have a compromise on the table, they’re not going to hit you with things like levies.”

The IRS action forced Buena Vista to delay paying its staff, many of whom agreed to accept partial payment in order to keep the nonprofit operating as the school year begins.

“This has impacted us greatly and we are very frustrated that we have not been able to make payroll and that so many of our employees have been tremendously inconvenienced and hurt by this,” Lamb said.

Buena Vista serves hundreds of children throughout the Verde Valley, she said.

The nonprofit sponsors Discovery Connection programs at Clarkdale-Jerome and Dr. Daniel Bright schools, preschool programs at Dr. Daniel Bright and Tavasci Elementary schools, child care at Verde Valley Medical Center and a kindergarten extension program at the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District.

Through its scholarship programs, Buena Vista provides after-school services at reduced cost to many low-income families, Lamb said.

The nonprofit has been working for the past 18 months to rectify the situation, she said.

“We have continued to do our part in working with the IRS and have complied with every request. We have nothing to hide,” Lamb said.

The IRS notified Buena Vista it is investigating what caused the accounts to be swept and reassured Lamb the money will probably be released back to the nonprofit at some point in the future. In the meantime, Buena Vista is asking for volunteers and donations.

The problem started in 2005, when the Arizona Department of Education demanded the return of grant money paid to Buena Vista in violation of the grant’s requirements.

“This is usually the death of a nonprofit agency such as ours but with widespread community support and a few generous donations, we pulled through,” Lamb said. “However, due to the turbulent times and with all the financial matters involved, we had some minor discrepancies in some of the taxes we paid and what the IRS felt we should have paid.”

The nonprofit’s administrative staff and board changed since 2005 and it wasn’t until late 2008 that the current administration learned of the tax deficiency, Lamb said.

To donate or volunteer, call 646-5200.

Volunteers who want to keep property taxes low and simultaneously encourage projects that increase health and safety for Verde Valley residents are working with a local nonprofit group to support Verde Valley Fire District.

Members of the Verde Valley Fire District Charities are ready to wash cars at Station No. 31, located on Godard Road on Saturday, Aug. 14, to raise money for the purchase of free bike helmets and car seats for distribution to needy Verde Valley families.More than 20 people have already volunteered to help Verde Valley Fire District Charities raise $6,000 to buy car seats and bike helmets for residents unable to afford them, Doug Longfellow, VVFD Charities president, said.

The relatively new organization was awarded its 501(c)(3) designation in late July, which will allow supporters to make tax-deductible donations to the group, Longfellow said.

VVFD Charities is looking for donations and volunteers to help meet the demand for safety equipment and training.

With certified car seats for infants costing as much as $100, VVFD Charities saw a need arising out of the recent recession and decided to fill it by continuing the district’s program of buying safety equipment and donating it to those in need, Longfellow said.

“This has no doubt saved lives and prevented a lot of injuries,” Longfellow said. “The first part of your body to make contact with the road when you get into an accident riding a bicycle is your head.”

Bike helmets and car seats will be distributed at special events, like a bike rodio, to be scheduled in late August or early September.

Likewise, local ambulance companies use the car seats to transport children to Phoenix. Infants must be transported in a certified seat. VVFD Charities wants to save VVFD and ambulance companies the expense of buying infant car seats.

A retired firefighter, Longfellow said VVFD Charities has other plans, including raising money to purchase an all-terrain vehicle with an ambulance attachment and to help pay tuition of firefighters taking paramedic training, which can take one year and cost $3,500.

“Assisting some of these young firefighters with the $3,000 to $3,500 it costs for paramedic training helps everyone in the Verde Valley because it improves the quality of our emergency response,” Longfellow said.

A car wash and bake sale at 2700 E. Godard Road are scheduled to start at 8 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 14, and last until noon. All proceeds will go to the free car seat and bike helmet program, Longfellow said.

A chili cook-off is planned for later in August with details to be announced.

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