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Tue, Sep

Arizona cities and towns want a civil dialogue with state legislators, but at least two laws proposed by Arizona Sen. Steve Pierce [R-District 1] alarm local leaders, who plan to meet the senator to discuss state budget issues Monday, Feb. 7.

Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig, who also serves as vice president of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said communication with legislators is much improved since the league passed a resolution encouraging collaboration with the governor and Legislature to resolve budget issues.

However, Senate Bills 2020 and 2021, proposed by Pierce, could so fundamentally alter funding for municipal services, local leaders hope to persuade the senator his legislative goals can be accomplished without the legislation he supports, Von Gausig said.
The league’s formal analysis is not completed, but both proposals could wreak havoc with the way cities and towns pay for roads, parks, recreation and other services, said Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens, a league member.

Senate Bill 2020 would freeze state revenue sharing for 20 years, denying cities and towns a portion of the income tax collected on their behalf by the state.

Revenue sharing came about as a way to discourage cities and towns from imposing municipal income tax. Instead of imposing their own income tax, Arizona cities and towns are given a share of income tax collected by the state, Von Gausig said. The proposal would deny municipalities their share of any increase in income tax collected by the state through 2040, he said.

“I don’t know if he really understands what the impact will be,” Von Gausig said. “We’re trying to quantify what the impact might be on services we render and products we provide the public.”

Senate Bill 2021 would limit the type of taxes a city may collect to those imposed by the state. For example, if the law passed, Cottonwood and Clarkdale would no longer be allowed to tax rental income, as they presently do, because the state does not tax rental income, Von Gausig and Joens said.

“That bill is a huge concern,” Joens said. “It would eliminate the ability of cities and towns to respond to local issues. It would force a one-size-fits-all approach for the entire state. Citizens who live in Verde Valley communities have lots of different ideas about how they want to live their lives. The state seems to feel they know that better than local people. I don’t understand that.”

Both Joens and Von Gausig said the actual impact of the law in terms of dollars has not yet been determined. Neither of Pierce’s proposals is contained in the governor’s proposed budget, Von Gausig said.

The league’s new approach to communicating with the Legislature is less adversarial. It has made a positive change in the relationship. A two-hour lunch meeting between league officials and state legislators in January was dominated by talk about how to collaborate, Von Gausig said.

“People on the league like the new philosophy and are committed to it and the Legislature really appreciates it too,” Von Gausig said. “It’s not a panacea, but the communication is a lot better than it was.”

Verde Valley Food Council will give a Valentine’s Day present to area farmers when it meets with food bank representatives and local food growers Monday, Feb. 14.

The We Love Our Farmers presentation at Mingus Union High School starts at 6:30 p.m. The purpose of the meeting is to bring local growers together with “food system” representatives like restaurant owners, school lunch providers, hospital cafeteria operators and food bank volunteers, according to the council’s executive director, Debra Emmanuelle.

“We want to show our local farmers how much we appreciate them,” Emmanuelle said.

The council also wants the meeting to start a conversation among key food providers that leads to an increase in the amount of locally grown food, she said.

“In my dealings with different farmers, stores and restaurant owners, I kept hearing why we couldn’t grow more and distribute more locally, so I thought, ‘why don’t we get people together to brainstorm solutions?’” Emmanuelle said.

Farmers say they are not going to grow more because they don’t know if they have a market for their produce. Food system operators complain they can’t buy local food because there’s not enough produced here, she said.

Emmanuelle said she interviewed local farmers who say they have more land than resources to cultivate it. Conversely, there are others “who are just dying to have land to farm on,” she said.

Compared to times past, when much of the Verde Valley was tilled, roughly 5 percent of the area is used for agriculture today, Emmanuelle said.

“We will have to put the green back in Verde,” she said.

Ultimately, food system businesses like restaurants, grocery stores, school lunch programs and hospital food programs all need to commit to area farmers that they will buy as much locally grown food as possible.

The need for more locally-produced food is greater than ever before because of the dramatic rise in the number of people who need emergency food supplies. A recent study conducted by the council showed 1 in 7 Verde Valley residents do not have food security and must turn to food banks for assistance, Emmanuelle said.

In 2009, 15,000 people out of 72,000 Verde Valley residents were relying on food banks. Each bank is supporting more than 1,000 people per month, not including other emergency food providers like Meals on Wheels programs and local churches, Emmanuelle said. Nationally, 1 in 4 children lacks food security, she said.

“We need support from the farmers and food providers to keep up with the numbers,” she said. “The number of Verde Valley residents who rely on emergency food supplies increased by 50 percent every year since 2008.”

A Yavapai County Health Services spokeswoman for the Women, Infants and Children program will also attend the meeting to discuss what county government might be able to do to assist.

“Many of the roadblocks to grow and serve locally grown food come from government regulations that impose limits,” Emmanuelle said. “Having somebody from the health department to hear from people at the grassroots level could help.”

For more information, contact Emmanuelle at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 282-8738.

The Jerome Grand Hotel will likely reopen Thursday, Jan. 20, thanks to an order by Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Tina Ainley.

Ainley ruled Jerome town officials lacked cause when they declared the hotel unsafe Dec. 8, hotel co-owner Robert Altherr said.

Ainley entered a preliminary injunction against the town Friday, Jan. 14, following a hearing at which town officials attempted to justify their decision to revoke the hotel’s certificates of occupancy. The hearing was continued from Jan. 7, when hotel owners Robert and Larry Altherr presented evidence to show the town’s actions were improper.

Attorney and expert witness fees reportedly cost the hotel at least $50,000, costs the hotel owners will ask Ainley to order the town to pay. Hotel attorney John Phillips is expected make a formal request for payment of costs and fees as a result of the Jan. 14 court ruling, he said.

A lawsuit filed against the town asking for damages caused by the closing continues. Altherr said his attorney had not heard from town officials since the Jan. 14 ruling and no negotiations with the town were planned as of Monday, Jan. 17.

Larry Litchfield, a safety engineer who once headed building departments for the cities of San Francisco and Phoenix, testified Jan. 7 the hotel is safe and should not have been closed.

Litchfield testified the hotel was in “very, very good shape.” It should be considered “non-combustible,” he told Ainley. “It will not burn.”

“It’s the safest building in Jerome,” Larry Altherr testified.

Town officials argued the building was unsafe based on inspections conducted in August and September by Fire Chief Rusty Blair, Police Chief Alan Muma and Chief Building Code Official David Stiever.

Altherr testified the business and building together were valued at $7.5 million. Closure of the hotel was costing roughly $17,000 a month and $2,000 a day in lost revenue. Hotel employees who had to be laid off have applied for unemployment insurance, he said.

“We haven’t been taking reservations for more than a month, so we’ll start hiring back employees incrementally,” Robert Altherr said Jan. 17. In the meantime, he and his son anticipate working 12 hour days to get the hotel reopened.

Ainley’s ruling allowed Robert Altherr to plan an open house for the reopening on Thursday and Friday, Jan. 20 and 21, from noon to 3 p.m. A live radio broadcast from the hotel is also planned for Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 22 and 23, from noon to 3 p.m.

Gifts and prizes will be given away during the broadcast, Altherr said.

Town of Jerome officials could not be reached for comment.

A study released last week recommends Arizona should look at privatizing the operations of some of its state parks.

The Arizona State Parks system, which oversees 28 parks of natural or historical significance, has fallen on hard times in the past couple of years. The agency saw its budget gutted as the State Legislature looked for ways to cut spending and solve other financial shortfalls since the economy took a turn for the worse.

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The study was commissioned by the Arizona State Parks Foundation, a nonprofit group founded in 2004 to help support the state’s park system. The 63-page report was prepared by PROS Consulting, an Indiana-based firm.

“The paramount issue is that the state of Arizona is going through a period of severe financial turmoil,” the report reads. “The financial scarcity of state funding has cast a spotlight on the debate between what are appropriate government functions, and where government has grown beyond what is necessary and affordable.”

The answer isn’t complete privatization of all parks, according to the study, but the potential creation of a “quasi-governmental agency” that would outsource some operations while leaving in place a public oversight function dedicated to ensuring that the state’s historic and cultural resources are preserved.

The study points out that the state has already had some success in cutting costs while keeping several parks open, thanks to other funding sources, including partnerships with local governments. In several cases, the parks are in towns that depend on the parks to bring people in to generate local revenue.

“To demonstrate the effectiveness of recent measures at Arizona State Parks, the field operational costs of state parks in [fiscal year] 2010 cumulatively were only $326,765 in excess of earned revenues as a result of reduced staffing and operating schedules,” according to PROS Consulting.

Five parks were closed, five parks were being operated by another entity or agency and other parks were kept open with the help of $500,000 in support from local governments.

By way of comparison, the operational costs were $1.7 million over revenues in fiscal year 2009 and a $2.3 million in fiscal year 2008.

The consulting firm looked at each park individually in order to come up with suggestions for increasing efficiency and expanding privatization opportunities.

In state parks in the Verde Valley, the study suggested a number of possible options.

At Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, the park actually brought in $110,000 more last year than it cost to operate. Still, the state could look at expanding offerings through private organizations, including offering amenities like a café, a bed and breakfast or even an equestrian center.

The picture is some what different in Camp Verde, home to Fort Verde State Historic Park. The town, along with the support of Yavapai County, instituted emergency funding measures along with the community helping to organize a massive volunteer operation to keep the 19th-century military post open. Just over 12,000 people visited the park in fiscal year 2010. The fort brought in a little over $35,000, but cost nearly $150,000 to operate.

The study recommends that the park could be closed from November through March, with a reduced operating schedule the rest of the year, along with management by a possible regional park authority, the aforementioned private-public “quasi-governmental” agency.

The same seasonal closure and reduced scheduling was also recommended for Jerome State Historic Park where more than 60,000 visitors brought in just over $160,000 in fiscal year 2008.

The park cost more than $270,000 to run and received $30,000 in temporary financial assistance from Yavapai County.
Red Rock State Park outside Sedona also operated at a loss, with nearly 60,000 visitors in fiscal year 2010. The park enjoyed $160,000 in financial assistance from Yavapai County and the Benefactors of Red Rock State Park. Once again, the study recommends closure from November to March, along with increased use of volunteers and outsourcing as many functions as possible. An environmental education center and an amphitheater were suggested as potential future revenue sources.
Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon operated in fiscal year 2010 as one of the state’s more successful properties, bringing in $710,000 in revenues with a cost of $490,000 to run. A café and a zipline or canopy tour could bring in additional revenue, according to the study.

“The best solution for privatization of Arizona State Parks is to transition the current agency to a quasi-governmental entity accountable to the state of Arizona for purposes of managing state parks, promoting rural economic development, and developing financially beneficial partnerships,” the consulting firm determined. “While future funding mechanisms for the quasi-governmental agency can be determined at a later time, it is critical that the current agency funding be held harmless through the transition.”

The study is available online at the Arizona State Parks website.

Yavapai College administrators would not comment about the substance of a closed-door executive session conducted by Yavapai College District Governing Board when the purchase of 20 acres of Verde Valley property was discussed.

The board considered but did not decide on the purchase of land owned by the school’s nonprofit foundation during an executive session Dec. 14.

Vice President for Administration and Finance Clint Ewell said he could not comment on what took place during the executive session or why purchasing the land was under consideration.

Situated on Windmill Lane in Clarkdale, the land was part of the initial 50 acres purchased by Yavapai College Foundation to build the school. The current campus consists of 30 acres. The remaining 20 acres continues to be owned by the foundation, Ewell said.

The land, situated next to the southern boundary of the college, is currently vacant. It has been held by the foundation for the benefit of the college for several years. The original intention was for the foundation to hold the land until the college was ready to expand, Ewell said.

The land has been held separately by the foundation because state law prohibits community colleges from owning capital assets like undeveloped land held for future development, Ewell said.

“The foundation has offered to sell the property to the college,” he said. “A final decision is expected in January.”

“The purpose of the Yavapai College Foundation, its sole reason for existence, is to support Yavapai College,” Ewell said. “Its two boards work very closely together.”

In the past, the foundation has leased buildings it owns to the college to be used as classrooms or for other purposes, he said.
The property under consideration was valued by an independent appraiser at $400,000, according to Yavapai College Foundation Executive Director Steve Walker, who made the announcement at a recent meeting of the foundation’s board of directors, Ewell said.

The newest member of the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Governing Board is a 40-year veteran of the district with experience as a teacher and administrator.

Yavapai County Superintendent Tim Carter appointed Mary Valenzuela, longtime assistant principal and former first-grade teacher at Oak Creek School, to fill a seat on the board vacated by Mark Miskiel. The appointment is official Saturday,
Jan. 1.

Since retiring as assistant vice principal in 2009, Valenzuela has been substitute teaching for the district and conducting college classes for teachers. Her most recent class, Literacy: Reading theory, decoding and language, will be offered at Yavapai College this spring.

Although her new position will prevent her from continuing to substitute teach, she said she would continue to volunteer in district classrooms because she loves the children.

“I don’t have to get paid to do that,” she said.

Newly appointed school board member Mary Valenzuela considers some of the challenges facing the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District during an interview at her Cornville home Thursday, Dec. 16. Valenzuela was appointed to the position vacated by Mark Miskiel for a one-year term, which begins Saturday, Jan. 1.Reflecting on the new job Thursday, Dec. 16, Valenzuela said she knows she’s walking into a tough situation. Due to an expected decrease in state education funding, Valenzuela said the district is facing a severe budget shortfall that could reach into the millions of dollars.

The budget crisis has board members and administrators searching for answers, she said.

One hotly debated proposal for closing Oak Creek School, which is a Cornville community center, has created a lot of tension in the district between parents who want to see the school remain open and the governing board, which points to declining enrollment and increasing costs at the school.

Valenzuela said she is withholding judgment on the issue until taking her seat in January but believes alternatives to closing not yet considered could be forthcoming from district stakeholders. She urged everyone with an interest in the district to come forward with ideas.

She said her long affiliation with Oak Creek School could make whatever decision is reached about its fate more palatable for the Cornville residents who know her.

The role reversal that comes with the job, where Valenzuela becomes one member of a board that supervises administrators to whom she once reported, is not likely to change relationships with people she worked with for decades, especially COCSD Superintendent Barb U’Ren.

“I’ll never be [U’Ren’s] boss,” Valenzuela said. “You pick a person to run the schools. You look to make sure the policies you set are being implemented, but otherwise you show them they have your confidence and support.”

Valenzuela said she would rely on U’Ren to get her up to speed on the issues confronting COCSD, especially with regards to the budget.

She knows first hand the caliber of the teachers and administrators who work for the district and expressed confidence their talents and diligence would see the district through its current difficulties.

Carter appointed Valenzuela after Miskiel unexpectedly resigned Dec. 10 because his wife was hired to work for the district, posing a possible conflict of interest.

Miskiel was one of three candidates who filed to run for one of three seats in the Nov. 2 election. Only three candidates filed to run. Consequently, Carter canceled the election to save money because the outcome was certain.

Instead of putting the candidates to a vote, Carter appointed Miskiel and the other two candidates, Jason Finger and Janice Rollins, to fill the four-year positions.

Town fire, code inspectors declared building unsafe and closed it to the public

Owners of a historic hotel in Jerome served notice on town officials Dec. 15 of their intention to sue the town and requested a Yavapai County Superior Court judge to order the building reopened.

Robert Altherr, owner of the Jerome Grand Hotel, which was closed by the town of Jerome on Dec. 8 due to alleged building code violations, explains Dec. 15 his frustration over dealings with the town’s fire and building officials. Altherr, whose family has operated the landmark hotel since 1996, said the actions have forced him to file a lawsuit against the town.The hotel was closed Dec. 9 after fire and building officials declared it unsafe to occupy.

On Monday, Dec. 20, Jerome Town Manager Candace Gallagher and Fire Chief Rusty Blair each declined to comment on the Jerome Grand Hotel’s legal action or the events leading up to it.

However, Gallagher issued a press release Dec. 8 stating the hotel “was deemed as unsafe by the town’s fire official and chief building code official, resulting in its closure following checkout of its guests.”

The closure means the hotel’s 10 employees will not have a job come Christmas, hotel owner Robert Altherr said. Altherr agreed to pay his staff until Christmas even though the hotel has no guests.

The closure came after town building officials revoked the hotel’s certificate of occupancy, originally issued in 1996 shortly before the historic building reopened for lodgers for the first time in more than 40 years, Altherr said. The hotel originally served as a hospital from the time it opened in 1927 until closing in 1950, he said.

“They have deemed the building unsafe but the truth is the Jerome Grand Hotel is one of the safest buildings in Jerome,” Altherr said. “Built virtually fireproof in 1926, in 1995 fire sprinkler and fire alarm systems were installed and both the town and the state approved the hotel to open in 1996.”

Altherr greeted reporters at the entrance to the hotel Dec. 15 just as videographers and producers of the Travel Channel show, “Ghost Adventures,” were setting up to film an episode.

By order of the town, Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Hall escorted the video crew inside the hotel, but would not allow it to film on the upper floors, where paranormal activity has been frequently reported, Altherr said.

The Arizona State Fire Marshal and Jerome Town Fire Marshal inspected the building for fire safety in 1996 and approved the same exits, exit signs, corridors and stairwells Blair faulted during court-ordered inspections in August.

The town was forced to obtain a search warrant after Altherr stopped an inspection in July before it was concluded.

Altherr said he objected to the inspection because Blair wanted to go into areas of the hotel which would normally not be open to inspection and test the safety of electrical wiring without the proper credentials to do so.

After the August inspection, the town directed Altherr to make a number of improvements, including widening the driveway in front of the hotel and creating a turn-around area that could accommodate fire trucks. Altherr said he was forced to eliminate several parking spots as a result.

“We resolved all but a few issues with the Jerome Fire Department and building department,” he said. “In our attempt to have these disagreements heard, we have been silenced, criminally charged and now formally shut down.”

Although Blair allegedly told Altherr the hotel would not be shut down during the busy season, town officials decided to revoke the certificate of occupancy one week prior to a Dec. 15 meeting scheduled to work out any further issues, Altherr said.

Altherr said the hotel halted construction of renovations months ago and did not require permits to proceed as alleged by the town. He also claimed he resolved all of the building inspector’s concerns except hiring an architect to redraw plans for the entire building, plans which are not required when only building renovations are proposed.

One pass is not the same as the other.

Recreation Resource Manage-ment representatives said they are cutting pass prices for frequent visitors to three of their day use sites in the Sedona area. Fees for camping and day usage will also be reduced.

A new pass, called the “Big Three Pass,” is currently being offered for $18 a week, or $40 for a one-year period. The Big Three Pass will be honored at Crescent Moon, Call of the Canyon and Grasshopper Point day use areas, areas where the Red Rock Pass can no longer be used.

Warren Meyer, president of Recreation Resource Management, said he felt like his company had an opportunity to reduce fees during a recent concessionaires’ bid process. The annual pass, he said, offers substantial savings for those who live in the area.

“There’s a lot of demand locally from folks that live next to these places,” Meyer said. “For example there are a lot of people that live around Crescent Moon Ranch that want to be able to go out there every day and walk their dog and have some kind of annual pass. That was something we were happy to offer. It’s sort of a 365-day visit for the price of five. I think it will be quite a bargain for local folks who were, I think justifiably, disappointed that the pass went away last year.”

While the pass is currently available at the Call of the Canyon, located at the West Fork Oak Creek trailhead, they will soon be available at the Oak Creek Visitor Center, Grasshopper Point and Indian Gardens.

In 2011, fees at Crescent Moon and the Call of the Canyon day use areas will be reduced to $9 a vehicle from $10 a vehicle. Grasshopper Point day use fees will stay at $8 a vehicle.

Campground rates will also drop at Cave Springs, Manzanita and Pine Flat. The Chavez Crossing and Clear Creek group campground will also be reduced. Cave Springs, Manzanita and Pine Flat will drop to $18 per night. Clear Creek and Beaver Creek campground rates will remain at $16 per night.

“We’re dropping our fees there in the Big Three at the Oak Creek Canyon area from $10 to $9, whereas state parks raised their fees at Slide Rock from $10 to $20. I know that people in the Sedona area can be suspicious of private enterprise but there are real advantages to being able to run a business independently in that you can keep the fees down.”

District Ranger Heather Provencio, of the Coconino National Forest's Red Rock Ranger DistrictRed Rock District Ranger Heather Provencio said the district wanted to offer the new pass for local residents who frequent the sites.

“Crescent Moon is a very popular place for locals to hike,” Provencio said. “We wanted an opportunity for them to be able to get a yearlong pass, since we are not able to offer that with our Red Rock Pass now.”

Provencio said fees are required at sites run by concessionaires, and the Red Rock Pass does not apply there.

“The Red Rock Pass is good at any of our sites that are developed in the 160,000 acres that surround Sedona,” she said. “The Big Three Pass is for our concessionaire sites. That would include Crescent Moon, Grasshopper, and West Fork of Oak Creek, also known as Call of the Canyon. Those are sites run by the concessionaires and people pay a fee to go to those. People are required to pay a fee separate from the Red Rock Pass because those sites are run by concessionaires.”

When it comes to changes for the Red Rock Pass, Provencio said work is continuing on seeking public comment regarding whether the pass is needed.

“We’ve just hired someone to help us with that public process, gathering comments, and we’re looking for feedback on what people think about a pass. We want to share with them some of the benefits we have as a result of that pass and kind of talk through some various scenarios on that pass,” Provencio said. “Do we keep things the way they are? Or do we look at possibly shrinking our area where that pass is required or possibly just keeping it at our more developed sites and we’ll be talking to people about the trade-offs and about other ways for managing recreation in the area beyond that kind of fee.”

Within the next three months, Provencio said people will have the opportunity to comment on the pass. Comments are also welcome on their website, found at www.fs.fed.us/r3/coconino.

“Instead of one pass there’s two, but the prices of the two passes combined are very competitive with the old Red Rock Pass,” Meyer said. “The Forest Service is still offering a Red Rock Pass that applies to the Forest Service-run facilities. We’re offering it to the Big Three. If you compare the prices, it’s roughly equivalent to what the combined passes used to be like. Largely, we’re trying to get back to where we were a year ago.

“The goal all along, both ours and the Forest Service, was to get back to having the ability to have a pass for both Forest Service and concession-run facilities at a reasonable price and that’s what I think we have done.”

Sedona City Council members revoked Resolution No. 2002-32, opposing the Red Rock Pass, during their regular meeting Nov. 10, in favor of a more neutral stance on the matter. Members said they plan to revisit the Red Rock Pass issue during the upcoming public comment period hosted by the Coconino National Forest. Council members voted unanimously to revoke the resolution during the November meeting.

Nearly 4 million people visit the red rocks of Sedona each year. Of that 4 million, an estimated 1.5 million make their way into the Coconino National Forest annually. There are 16 developed campgrounds within the Red Rock Ranger District, with seven wilderness areas, three public cultural sites, roughly 300 miles of trails, two historic cabins and more.

Recreation Resource Manage-ment operates over 150 parks in 12 states throughout the country. Besides the Forest Service, the private management firm also works with water districts, state and county agencies. In addition to parks and campgrounds, the firm also runs more traditional concession operations such as stores.

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