Thu, May

As the sun went down, the people arrived in downtown Camp Verde for a little taste of the Cajun life in the desert.

A native of Metarie, La., Village of Oak Creek resident Tom White talks about eating crawfish earlier this year in his home state while chowing down on a big plate of the freshwater crustaceans at the Camp Verde Crawdad Festival on Friday, June 4. Before sitting down to eat himself, White helped several people at his table figure out how to crack open the crawdads. The annual Crawdad Festival has become a Camp Verde tradition over the past several years, but for many of those years, the town was the chief sponsor.

Tight budgets caused the town to pull out of sponsoring local events, but the Verde Valley Rangers Sheriff’s Posse stepped up once again to make the event a success.

Last year, the posse worked with the town to keep its right to sell beer at the festival. A money maker, beer sales help the rangers establish a fund for public service projects throughout the year.

It was smooth sailing this year, as the rangers had everything in place to pull off a memorable festival. The group went a step beyond this time around when it came to giving back to the community. The rangers offered thousands of dollars in cash and prizes to lucky winners of a raffle held both nights of the festival, Friday and Saturday, June 4 and 5.

Friday night, around 600 to 700 people showed up, according to organizer Kirk Smith.

“We had a good crowd,” Smith said. “Everyone seemed to be having fun.”

While the smell of cooking crawdads and shrimp dominated the ramada where visitors were chowing down, a fresher selection of the festival’s namesake arthropods were spending time at the bottom of a tub of murky water. Young Bryan Peoples was among several children doing his best to put an end to their relaxation. Peoples was crowded around the tub with a fishing rod in hand, baited with just a bit of hot dog.

“I’ve caught four already,” Peoples said.

He was lucky to have an expert on hand. Peoples’ dad, Sam Peoples, calls Glendale home. But he was raised in Louisiana, and is no stranger to catching the critters.

Hot dogs may work fair to middlin’ for catching crawdads in Camp Verde, but back in Louisiana, Sam Peoples used to use bacon to draw the critters out. The fact that crawdads seem to enjoy pork products aside, Sam Peoples said the trick is in keeping a steady hand.

“You’ve got to keep it steady,” Peoples said. “If you jerk your hand too much they won’t come out.”

His methods were seemingly on the mark, if his son’s record was any indication.

While the festival was a family-friendly event, the organizers still made an effort to keep a little Louisiana in the atmosphere. Right at the gate, the rangers were handing out beads, masks and other bits of flair for folks to get into that “laissez les bon temps rouler” spirit. And the good times did indeed roll as folks enjoyed a meal and a cold beverage listening to Aces ’N’ Eights, a regional band that knows how to draw a crowd.

There was even a costume contest just to make sure everyone was in the mood.

“It’s been fun,” said Sandy Walsh, visiting the Verde Valley over the weekend on a getaway from Phoenix. “We couldn’t pass up some good eats.”

Passage of Proposition 100 took some pressure off local school districts to cut more deeply into already reduced budgets.

New Mingus Union High School Principal Tamara Addis and school district Business Manager Kirk Waddle look at the new mathematics textbooks May 26 which, pending school board approval sometime later this summer, could be adopted by the MUHS district thanks to funding from the passage of Proposition 100. The books are on display in the district office for parents to examine.For the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, the election made the controversial proposal to close Oak Creek School less likely in 2010-11, COCSD Business Manager David Snyder said.

COCSD already cut its budget using several strategies, including the termination of teacher contracts, Snyder said.

Belt-tightening imposed at the Mingus Union High School District in 2010-11 will probably remain in place through 2012-13, assuming the governing board gives final approval in July, MUHSD Business Manager Kirk Waddle said.

MUHSD cut its budget using several strategies, including the termination of teacher contracts and the restructuring of class schedules to eliminate teacher positions, Waddle said.

The total COCSD budget should come in just under $16 million, of which

$12.3 million will go for operations, including salaries, benefits, plant and ground maintenance, etc., Snyder said.

The total MUHSD budget should come in under $8.1 million, of which

$6.7 million will go for operations, including salaries, benefits, plant and ground maintenance, transportation and supplies, according to Waddle.

The maintenance and operations budget is up slightly at MUHSD thanks to an increase in enrollment, which translates into more money for the school, and savings from last year, Waddle said.

The COCSD maintenance and operations budget is down nearly $1 million compared to last year, Snyder said.

The kindergarten-to-eighth-grade district expects to eliminate 19 teaching positions due to a decline in enrollment and cut back the kindergarten to half days, he said.

“Fortunately, all the additional services our students receive such as P.E., music, computer labs, nursing and counseling are projected to remain the same,” Snyder said.

The story is the same at MUHSD.

“Because we made the necessary reductions starting in 2008-09, combined with attrition, and a couple of layoffs, no programs are impacted,” Waddle said.

The 2010-11 budgets for salaries and the like, however, are back to 2004-05 levels at MUHSD, Waddle said.

Some MUHSD class sizes may also increase in the core courses, he said.

“The economy also has made it necessary to potentially change from the four block schedule to a modified block schedule, which requires fewer teachers,” Waddle said.

“We’ve kept our baseline spending even with the 2008-09 budget and next year’s budget should be very similar and so we are in good shape going into the next two to three years,” he said.

Snyder was less upbeat. He expects more cuts down the road.

“There may be a possibility of an extension of federal funding, as in additional federal stimulus funds, but I do not anticipate any additional revenue from state sources,” he said.

The COCSD board is expected to give final approval to its budget Tuesday, July 13.

The MUHSD board is expected to give final approval to its budget Thursday, July 15.

Crime statistics in Yavapai County look pretty good compared to four years ago when the Methamphetamine Advisory Task Force Yavapai County Substance Abuse Coalition came into being.

Whether the decrease is due to MATForce’s existence is difficult to pinpoint, MATForce Co-Chairman Doug Bartosh said. Yet, it has had great successes in bringing about awareness, education and legislation regarding drug abuse. Bartosh co-chairs with Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk.

“With any crime statistics there are a lot of factors that play into it. Certainly MATForce is a major factor,” Bartosh said. “The most important element with MATForce is it is not just one entity; it’s everybody in the community.”

Former Sedona Police Chief Joe VernierRecently retired Sedona Police Department Chief Joe Vernier said MATForce is probably one of the most effective, private, public and nonprofit partnerships he has seen in 38-plus years of law enforcement.

“Working with different agencies on education, treatment and in the courts has made far greater impact than law enforcement and the courts alone,” Vernier said. “I’ve seen people turn corners.”

Vernier likened the drug crime process before MATForce to a circle. People would get arrested, incarcerated, released, arrested, then incarcerated.

“From a traditional cop’s perspective, dealing with chemical addictions we see the same people. The cycle continues, sometimes for generations. Where MATForce has had a real impact is to break that cycle,” Vernier said. “When MATForce came together and included resources, all of a sudden there is help for these people.”

MATForce has representatives from law enforcement, business, schools, youth organizations, parents and caregivers, faith-based communities, government, the media, health care agencies, and the treatment and recovery community.

“We here in Sedona had some major decreases since 2006. MATForce is one factor — a significant factor,” Vernier said.

In Cottonwood, Bartosh, the former police chief and now city manager, said the crime rate is down 40 percent, and in Yavapai County, felony crimes are down 30 percent.

“As we all know, a major portion [of felony crimes] are drug related,” Bartosh said.

Methamphetamine Advisory Task ForceIn the 2010 Executive Summary for MATForce, which presented figures for 2008, the percentage of youth in the county who used alcohol during their lifetime dropped for all three grades polled: 12th, 10th and eighth. Bartosh said 2010 figures were not yet available.

In the 12th grade in 2006, 80.6 percent admitted to using alcohol. Two years after MATForce started, the percentage dropped to 78.9. For 10th grade the percentage went from 77.7 to 68.3 and eighth grade dropped from 51.8 percent in 2006 and to 49.7 percent by 2008.

Use of marijuana showed similar decreases, but with methamphetamine the decreases were more drastic. Twelfth-grade students went from 6.1 percent admitting use in 2006 to 3.5 percent in 2008. Tenth-grade figures dropped from 3.7 percent to 2.7 percent and eighth grade numbers decreased from 2.7 percent to 1.3 percent.

Within MATForce people saw a problem with drugs and were anxious to do something about it, Bartosh said.

More than 300 community members became involved in the fight against drug use through MATForce. A Dump the Drugs program was instituted and has taken nearly one ton of over-the-counter and unused prescription drugs out of the hands of abusers, especially teens. MATForce instituted a speakers’ bureau; helped put decals on school buses; put substance abuse messages on movie theater screens; put box topper advertisements on pizza boxes; produced and distributed thousands of pens, lip balm,

T-shirts, cups, bumper stickers and Faces of Meth posters.

MATForce has participated in multiple community events; placed large banners across key community streets; organized community forums; and trained coalition members on drug use identification, substance abuse trends and other relevant topics.

The coalition has provided materials to schools, implemented youth video and poster contests, conducted parenting classes, created a service provider resource directory, created a recovery coaching program and other assistive programs.

One of the biggest events is the annual March Against Meth parade in Cottonwood, along with a community fair.

The list is long for a 4-year-old organization, Bartosh said.

Cottonwood City Manager and MATForce Co-Chairman Doug Bartosh“[Cottonwood] was the first to put Sudafed behind the counter, which put a halt to easy access of the main ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine, pseudoephedrine. Mexico has made pseudoephedrine illegal. That has cut off the supply as well,” Bartosh said. “Unfortunately, rural areas are experiencing ‘smurfing.’ Drug addicts get kids to buy Sudafed, then they make their meth.”

Due to this new trend, MATForce is looking at getting legislation passed to make pseudoephedrine prescription-only.

“We don’t want to see that epidemic return,” Bartosh said.

Having a number of people from different agencies involved has allowed the group to keep up with the new trends in the drug world. For example, Bartosh said MATForce knew prescription drugs would fill the void left by the lack of methamphetamine.

“This has been a county-wide effort. Sheila Polk really deserves a lot of credit. It was her vision,” Bartosh said.

Bartosh’s drive behind MATForce stemmed from his first year as the Cottonwood Police Department chief.

“We had six drug-related homicides in 2005: The one on State Route 260 where four people were killed by someone driving with meth in his system. Then there were two people at an apartment complex killed by a man on meth,” Bartosh said. “Since then we’ve had one, maybe two.”

Another way Bartosh said he knows MATForce has made an impact is through conversations with narcotics officers.

“They tell me it’s tougher to get a buy on any drugs, and they’re not seeing as much meth,” Bartosh said.

For more information about MATForce, call 708-0100.

A group of Yavapai-Apache citizens are calling for more effective tribal government, and are threatening to initiate a recall of the entire tribal council.

They’ve set up a website, yavapai-apachevoices.org, to try and get more members of the tribe involved in local politics, especially those members who don’t live on local reservation land, Roberta Pavatea said.

YAN_election_websitePavatea has been outspoken against tribal government as of late. In March, she was one of around 30 tribal members who approached the council after collecting signatures from people demanding the council change the way it disperses per capita funding to each member of the tribe.

Around $8 million in principal funds are set aside under a savings program set up in 2004.

There are also people upset over a perceived difficulty for members who live off the reservation in receiving services, Pavatea said, pointing to the food bank and other social services as an example.

Opponents to increase the amount of money dispersed argued that the money held in an account is a one-time deal and dispersing it would mean there would be less available for future generations, while others argued that if the money is there, it ought to benefit people in the here and now.

The tribal council argued that increasing disbursement of money would result in further cuts to services, according to Gah’nahvah/Ya ti’, the Nation’s newspaper.

Ultimately, Pavatea said she’s arguing for a more transparent tribal government, and the best way to achieve that goal is to get more people involved in the political process. The Nation’s constitution also need to be rewritten, Pavatea said, in order to more clearly define the responsibilities of government and to better suit the needs of the Nation’s citizens in the present.

The council is aware of the talk about recalls, said Fran Chavez, public relations liaison for the Nation, but no paperwork has yet been filed.

Unless that changes, Chavez said the tribal government would have no official comment.

“We’ve heard the talk,” Chavez said, “But until anything is actually done we’re treating it as rumor.”

Buses run to and from Cottonwood eight times a day

The buses are running.

Although the Verde Lynx bus service between Sedona and Cottonwood conducted an official opening of the transit building and kickoff for the link at 2 p.m. Monday, Nov. 9, in Cottonwood, the buses began taking commuters to Sedona at 6 a.m.

A commuter link between the two communities has been about 12 years in the making, according to Yavapai County District 3 Supervisor Chip Davis.

“Several people talked about public transportation in the Verde Valley then, but there was a fact that public transportation doesn’t work in rural Arizona — except in the city of Cottonwood and its success with the Cottonwood Area Transit system,” Davis said. “The concept moved, in government terms, at light speed in only 12 years.”

Four buses formed the backdrop for several speakers. Along with a Verde Lynx bus was the Sedona RoadRunner trolley, a CAT bus and a Mountain Line hybrid electric bus from Flagstaff.

“Obviously nobody does anything like this alone,” Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority General Manager Jeff Meilbeck said. “It took a lot of people to put this system together. It took cooperation from both communities.”

Putting the transit system together also took money. It came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act which gave NAIPTA more than $4 million to improve public transit in Northern Arizona.

The money bought the buses, $180,000 each, and built the $2.8 million, 100 percent solar powered transit building on Happy Jack Way in Cottonwood.

Local contractors did the work, the buses were built in the United States and customized by Arizona companies, Meilbeck said.

“We are pleased we could use the money to increase access to public transit,” Meilbeck said. “[U.S. Representative] Ann Kirkpatrick [D-District 1] has been instrumental in getting the funding for us.”

Kirkpatrick could not make the ceremonies, but District Director Virginia Turner spoke on her behalf.

“She passes along her congratulations for doing a tremendous job and sees this as a cornerstone in continuing to bring public transit to the Verde Valley,” Turner said.

Joanne Keene passed along Gov. Jan Brewer’s congratulations for a job well done.

Sedona Mayor Rob Adams said he at first was not a supporter of the proposal when he served on the NAIPTA board two years ago but has turned 180 degrees with his opinion.

“Seeing the buses and how they connect to all areas of our communities is my vision of how a community should operate,” Adams said. “This is demonstrating regionalism, which is a word we didn’t use 10 years ago. We all did our own thing.”

Adams walked to the speaker’s podium hand-in-hand with Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens to signify joining of the communities. Their gesture caused laughter throughout the crowd.

“This is an A-1 operation we worked on as cooperating communities. It will improve the quality of life for our citizens,” Joens said.

Statistics show it costs approximately $8,000 a year to operate a car, according to Cottonwood Chamber of Commerce President Lana Tolleson.
“Unfortunately, not everyone in the Verde Valley can afford a vehicle.

his system affords them a way to get around,” Tolleson said, citing that the cost to ride the bus system is far less when one buys a $40 monthly, unlimited ride pass. The daily cost to ride the Verde Lynx is $2 for each one-way trip.

The Verde Lynx will make eight trips a day Monday through Saturday and three on Sunday.

For more information, call 282-0938.

Lu Stitt can be reached at 282-7795, ext. 122, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Camp Verde Town Council is expected to approve a local transportation study next month that’s been two years in the making.

The $124,000 study was carried out by Jacobs Engineering, a firm that considered public input as well as research with other local groups, including Yavapai County and the Yavapai-Apache Nation.

The consultants used the information to come up with several suggestions for improving transportation in and around Camp Verde for both the short- and long-term, including automobile, bike and pedestrian traffic.

Camp Verde shouldered 20 percent of the cost of the study; the Arizona Department of Transportation paid for the rest.

The plan is to use the data as a blueprint of sorts when making future decisions about road projects, said Vamshi Yeselty with Jacobs Engineering.

“It helps to be more proactive in identifying potential problems,” Yeselty said.

Some of the firm’s suggestions have been on local wish lists for years, notably the need for widening State Route 260. The plan also takes into account a possible future expansion of Interstate 17 to six lanes through the area. Yeselty said there is also a need for more emergency access roads to keep local traffic moving in case there are problems with State Route 260 or I-17.

The study takes a look at the possibility of widening Montezuma Castle Highway and connecting Cherry Road with Reservation Loop Road.

Mayor Bob Burnside noted the maps the consultants were working with don’t show the new alignment of Cherry Road and State Route 260 by the recently installed traffic light near the Yavapai County Justice Center.

While the old maps don’t significantly change the consulting firm’s suggestions, Burnside said he wished newer maps could have been used considering what the study cost taxpayers.

The town has also discussed giving the Yavapai-Apache Nation control of parts of Old Highway 279; town engineer Ron Long said that plan was moving slowly due to legal issues surrounding these types of transfers.
“We’re still making progress,” Long said.

The council is currently reviewing the study and is tentatively scheduled to vote on it at the Wednesday, Oct. 7, meeting.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Verde Valley received a piece of President Barack Obama’s health care money, and now Yavapai County has to hurry up and spend it.

The county received $254,166 from a United States Health Resources and Services Administration grant through the federal stimulus package within two weeks of submitting an application.

“This is the first stimulus money that’s arrived in the county to my knowledge,” Yavapai County District 3 Supervisor Chip Davis said.

The application was submitted in mid-March, the grant awarded two weeks later and the money was to be in use by March 27, according to Peggy Nies, county director of community health centers.

“I can’t even spend the money fast enough,” Nies said. More people have to be hired to expand services, which the county is in the process of doing.
And the good news for this side of the mountain is, all the money ended up in Cottonwood, Nies said.

The grant will be used at Cottonwood’s primary health care center and dental center.

The philosophy behind the grant is “increase demand for services,” according to Nies. Since the economy slumped, community health centers are seeing more patients.

“We’ve got people coming in for the first time,” Nies said.

Doctors at the medical center see approximately 450 patients per month.
Since the dental office opened in November, 195 patients have been treated. The center started its first month with 50 patients. By March, that number was up to 90.

“Now more than ever we’re seeing the critical need,” Davis said. People who have never had to access government programs for assistance are coming into the center.

At the primary care center, Nies said the money will be used for budget shortfalls caused by the state of Arizona cutting funding to the center. The center will be able to retain one medical provider that would have been cut otherwise. People from all socioeconomic groups are using the county’s services.

The funding for the dental center will be used to expand the current level of service. One dentist treats patients two days a week – Tuesday and Thursday. The grant money will pay for an additional dentist to be hired to see patients for two more days each week, a part-time office manager and a part-time dental assistant.

The medical center is open to any Arizona resident but different fees apply based on whether an individual has insurance or not. Nies said approximately half of the patients don’t have insurance, one-third are on Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, Arizona’s Medicaid program, and the rest are covered under private policies.

“It’s truly a community health center,” Nies said. “You could come here if you were a millionaire.”

Once a patient establishes the county medical center as his or her primary health care provider, the patient can also be treated at the dental center. However, if a person is not a patient of a county doctor, dental services are not available.

Trista Steers can be reached at 282-7795, ext. 124, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Jerome State Historic Park will be closed to visitors for the immediate and possibly long-term future. The Arizona State Parks Board decided Friday, Feb. 20, to close the park this week.

“The board decided to close the park, along with McFarland in Florence and Tonto Natural Bridge in Payson because of needed repairs,” State Parks Public Information Officer Ellen Bilbrey said Monday, Feb. 23.

She said right now the closing of the three is a safety issue. They will be closed first to make the repairs, but also because the state is going to “Sweep $27 million out of our account Saturday, Feb. 28,” Bilbrey said.

One wall at the Jerome park’s building is caved in and the roof is in disrepair, she said. However, the park is also closing because of the budget crunch. According to state park officials, the parks that will be closed could possibly reopen once the financial woes have passed.

“We are closing. That’s it. We’ll be closed by no later than the end of the week,” Jerome Park Ranger Nora Graf said. “As far as I know, that’s the plan.”

Of concern to the town of Jerome is the drop in visitation to the town. Mayor Al Palmieri said it will be a big loss.

“The park draws a lot of people, so it’s going to hurt us. A lot of people you talk to in Jerome have either just come from the state park or are going to the state park,” Palmieri said. “I just don’t see the sense in closing those buildings and leaving them there — empty.”

Park rangers will be reassigned.

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