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Man shot three times recovering

A man shot three times at a local gas station is thanking the community for their support and asking that people pray for the man who shot him.

Cody Newman says he doesn’t understand what drove Samuel McDonnell to reportedly shoot at him seven times, but is grateful he survived.

“I believe this happened for a reason. I don’t know what it was,” he said. “I am really thankful for how things turned out — I am alive.”

On the morning of May 7, Newman, branch manager at Griffin’s Propane, said he stopped to get gas at the Giant station on South Beeline Highway before heading to Rye for a reported gas leak.

He says he pulled into the station behind McDonnell, who was driving a white Jeep Cherokee. When McDonnell stopped between two pumps, Newman said he asked McDonnell to move forward so he could pull into the station and get off the Beeline.

Newman, who was driving a white Suburban, said he worried another motorists on the Beeline would hit the rear end of the vehicle.

Newman said McDonnell got “agitated” when he asked him to move and when it became clear he would not pull forward, Newman drove around, stopping at the pump in front of McDonnell’s Jeep.

“It went south from there,” he said.

Newman said he could not go into specifics about the incident since it is still under investigation.

He did say McDonnell tried to ram him twice with the Jeep, striking him once.

He said they yelled back and forth, but never got into a physical altercation.

When Newman saw McDonnell pull out a gun, he ran away, toward the store. He believes McDonnell shot seven times, striking him three times. He was hit in his left scapula, buttocks and a bullet grazed his left shoulder. That bullet hit his sunglasses, which exploded in his face, scratching his left cornea.

One of his lungs was punctured, he fractured his pelvis and he has nerve damage in his shoulder. He says he has no feeling in his left arm between his elbow and fingers and in his left leg between his toes and mid-shin.

Doctors believe he will regain feeling.

“I am hanging in there, I am still alive,” he said Wednesday, speaking from a Valley rehabilitation facility. He was moved into the facility after undergoing surgery.

Newman said he was on the phone with his wife throughout the whole incident.

He never lost consciousness and remembers a man, who he later learned was a retired paramedic, at his side.

“He kept reassuring me the whole time. I didn’t know where I had been shot and I couldn’t see out of one eye. I was trying to cover the holes and keep pressure and he kept me calm,” he said.

Newman said he would like to thank the man one day, but doesn’t know is identity.

Newman said he is asking everyone to pray for McDonnell.

“I will put this in black-and-white so everyone understands, yes I have forgiven Sam and yes he is in my prayers I do not want to hear negative things said about him, he made a poor choice that will be dealt with by the law,” Newman wrote on his Facebook page.

Newman said he wanted McDonnell to pull forward because it is “common courtesy” to do so at a gas station.

Police Chief Don Engler said they reviewed surveillance video from the store and there were empty pumps available at the station at the time.

Newman said after he was flown to the Valley and woke up the morning of May 8 he was grateful to see his wife and know he would survive.

“And knowing that my kids are going to have a dad. And I am still here. I am still alive,” he said. “Even if I don’t get everything back, I can still enjoy my life.”

Newman has six children.

Newman thanked the police, firefighters and paramedics.

“What a wonderful group. They took care of me. They told me, ‘You are not going to die; you are going to live,’” he said. “I can’t say enough good things about the officers and firefighters. They were just amazing.”

There are several community fundraisers planned for Newman, including a golf tournament. A GoFundMe has been set up at https://www.gofundme.com/f/for-shooting-victim-cody-newman.

“I am so overwhelmed by the love and support of the community,” he said.

A grand jury indicted McDonnell May 15.


Keith Morris / Keith Morris/Roundup  

The Gary Hardt Memorial Spring Rodeo drew a crowd despite the cool temperatures May 17 and 18. Things heated up for John Mast, of Page, Friday night when he found himself in harm’s way as Salt River Rodeo Company bull Pistol Whip charged. Bullfighter Luke Kraut (right) tried to distract the angry beast. Read more about the rodeo on page 12.


Local
Payson rate case prompts Corporation Commission soul-searching

Rim Country water customers couldn’t block a 52 percent rate increase.

However, their protests did spur an ongoing Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) debate about whether the rate review process mostly ignores customer complaints.

ACC Commissioner Andy Tobin voted against the Payson Water Company (PWC) rate increase and attended a hearing in Payson.

Last week, he wrote an open letter to his fellow commissioners reflecting in what part customer complaints play in the rate making process.

“I attended the commission’s open meeting remotely from the Payson Public Library and was joined by residents of the community,” he wrote. “Together, we observed the commissioners demonstrate significant inconsistency regarding their treatment of Arizona’s customers, especially in rural Arizona, where economies of scale are limited, infrastructure has not been maintained, and low-income status represents a larger portion of the overall customer base.”

With more than 36 percent of residents in Payson living on incomes less than $35,000 per year, Tobin cautioned that PWC’s 1,133 customers would struggle to cover the $300,000 revenue increase the ACC approved.

The private water company serves several unincorporated communities, including East Verde Estates, Gisela, Mesa del Caballo, Geronimo Estates, Whispering Pines, Deer Creek Village, Flowing Springs, Mead Ranch and Tonto Creek Shores.

The vote to increase rates will add from $15 to $30 to customers’ monthly water bills.

“It is apparent that decisions are being made in rural Arizona without due veneration for customers’ demographics or the potential rate shocks that could significantly impact their daily lives,” he wrote.

“The rush to make improvements without a reasonable payment solution and lack of gradualism to reduce the potential rate shock is one reason I could not find all the company’s investments prudent in this case.”

In particular, Tobin cautioned against the ACC staff making agreements with PWC prior to the rate hearing in front of the commissioners.

“When the only two adversaries in a case are the utility company and the internal commission staff and they reach internal agreements before decisions come for approval, the public is left wondering which party was acting as the watchdog on behalf of the customers,” he wrote. “For small water companies in rural Arizona, the commissioners are often the only watchdogs. Here, this protection was missing ...”

East Verde Park resident Tom Bremer made the same point in his protest of the rate increase.

Bremer has monitored the PWC rate cases. He intervened and testified in the first rate hearing five years ago and wrote a protest in the most recent case.

“Commissioner Tobin is saying what Bill Sheppard (from Geronimo Estates) and I have been saying: The ACC rate-making process and the culture of ACC staff don’t consider the concerns of customers,” said Bremer in an email response to Tobin’s statement.

In order to make sure the ACC considers customer concerns, Bremer suggested two changes:

First, ACC staff needs to focus on customer’s needs and not just the water company requests.

“They get paid the same whether they advocate for customers or not — so why not make the extra effort to challenge the utility’s claims or dig into the true picture of the utility’s profitability or really understand the customers’ concerns?” he said.

Second, he said change the calculations on the company’s investment.

Currently, rates are based on what the staff calculates the equipment’s value is — not the money spent. Nor does it take into consideration the devaluation of the equipment over time.

“Do utilities ever reduce rates as asset value decreases due to depreciation? Of course not,” he said.

Tobin suggested phasing in rate changes - a challenge to the other commissioners who voted against a phase in of the Payson Water Company rate increase.

“I believe investors have a responsibility to not only keep their systems maintained and make capital expenditures, but also to consider rate increments that their customers can actually afford,” he wrote. “I ask what signal (the commissioners) are sending to the rest of our customers in underprivileged and underserved communities and I ask that they take a hard look at how they want to treat all customers moving forward, especially in rural Arizona.”


Events
Summer roars into Rim Country

Summer gets off to a roaring start Memorial Day weekend in the Rim Country with events starting Friday, May 24 and continuing through Monday, May 27.

Payson hosts several events for the Memorial Day weekend. There are three formal tributes scheduled; a Dutch oven cooking activity; the Taylor Pool in Rumsey Park opens for the summer and there is a concert.

Memorial Day events

The Payson Patriotic Events Committee and the Town of Payson have announced the schedule for the annual Memorial Day programs.

Two programs are planned Sunday, May 26. The Annual Pioneer Cemetery Tribute begins with a flag raising ceremony at sunrise and opens the cemetery for visitation. The program is at 9 a.m., sponsored by the Pioneer Cemetery Board. The Annual Mountain Meadows Tribute in Round Valley is at 10 a.m. and is supported by the Payson Patriotic Events Committee, the Rim Country Detachment of the Marine Corps League, the VFW and the American Legion.

The primary program is at 10 a.m., Monday, May 27 at the Veterans Memorial in Green Valley Park. The Payson Patriotic Events Committee presents the program.

The Monday, May 27 Memorial Day program in Green Valley Park opens with patriotic music played as the audience gathers at 9:45 a.m.; the welcome and opening remarks by Col. Bill Sahno, USMC, ret., are scheduled at 10 a.m. Ceremonies then feature an invocation, presentation of colors by the Civil Air Patrol cadets and the national anthem.

Speakers, including Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey, Payson Police Chief Don Engler, Payson Fire Chief David Staub and a representative from the Tonto Apache Tribe are scheduled to address the audience.

Bagpipe music by Eric Landau, “Taps” and tributes to the branches of the service, including the National Guard, follow. The program concludes with a benediction, moment of silence, a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace” by Landau and closing remarks and march music.

Dutch oven gathering

The 16th Annual Payson Area Dutch Oven Gathering is from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday, May 25 at Rumsey Park, ramada 5. Meet an assortment of cast iron chefs and sample their savory creations May 25, the Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend.

You can also participate. The event is free, both to participants and gourmands who prefer campfire cooking. Anyone eager to learn the secrets of seasoning and chat about cast-iron cookery is welcome.

Cast iron chefs who’d like to participate are welcome to get more details or RSVP, with a call to John Swenson at 817-228-2710 or email him at swensonjohna@gmail.com.

Taylor Pool opens

The Town of Payson’s Taylor Pool in North Rumsey Park on North McLane opens Monday, May 27 for an open swim from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The pool’s classes, lessons and swim team begin June 3. Swim lesson registration for Session 1 started May 20. Register online at https://www.paysonrimcountry.com/aquatics. Right click on the X to show the schedule or click on “Download Document.”

The pool hours during the season, June 3 through July 27, include lap swim, water aerobics, swim team practices, swimming lessons and open swim. Lap swim is from 5:30 a.m. to 7 a.m., Monday-Thursday; water aerobics are from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., Monday-Friday; swim team practices are 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., Monday-Friday; swim lessons, which will be offered in four, two-week sessions, are from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Monday-Thursday; open swim is from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday.

Admission: $3 per person per day, includes open swim, lap swim and water aerobics. Pool passes are also available: punch cards, with 10 punches are $20; a season pass for water aerobics is $80, as is a season pass for lap swim. A season family pass, for immediate family members, is $250. The cost for swimming lessons is $40 for a two-week session. Go online for the swim lesson schedule.

The pool can also be rented for private gatherings from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Monday-Saturday.

Payson Flute Circle

The Payson Flute Circle meets at noon, Sunday, May 26 at Unity of Payson, 1000 N. Easy St.

A flute circle is a gathering of Native American flute players, of all skill levels, who take turns and share their music with others in the circle.

Native drum players are also expected.

Everyone is welcome to come and listen. At the beginning of each circle the leader, Bette Acker, offers instruction so all attending can learn something new about the instrument. There is no charge for this event.

Breakfast in

Christopher Creek

The Christopher-Kohl’s Fire District Firebelles invite everyone to the fire station from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., Saturday, May 25. A choice of biscuits and gravy, pancakes or breakfast burritos are on the menu for $5.

Also $50 raffle tickets for a Prowler XL and the new CKFD challenge coin for $20 are available. The station is at the west end of the Christopher Creek Loop Road.

Shop and eat in

Pine-Strawberry

Pine and Strawberry will be packed with shoppers over the Memorial Day weekend. Book lovers need to gather up their sturdy totes — the Library Friends’ Memorial Weekend Book Sale is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 24, 25 and 26 at the Library Activity Building behind the cultural hall at the Pine-Strawberry Community Center. All kinds of books, magazines and more are available.

The first of the Pine Strawberry Arts & Crafts Guild’s Arts & Crafts Festivals is Saturday, May 25 and Sunday, May 27 at the community center. The hours Saturday are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday the event is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. About 80 vendors from throughout the state and elsewhere are expected to bring great items to buy for gifts, home décor and more.

The guild has hosted these festivals for more than 30 years. Similar festivals take place for Fourth of July and Labor Day at the Pine-Strawberry Community Center in Pine.

The guild shares the community center grounds with the Mountain Village Foundation, which offers a pancake breakfast at 8 a.m. each day of the festival. The Senior Citizens Dining Room serves up terrific Navajo tacos for lunch, plus there are plenty of other food vendors to provide fuel for all the fun.

Contact the reporter at tmcquerrey@payson.com


Local
Payson sales tax collections continue to rise

Payson continues to stash money in its long-depleted reserve fund, thanks to a boost in its sales tax rate, according to its March financial tracking report.

The town has collected $7.6 million in sales taxes since the start of the fiscal year last July. That’s about $900,000 more than the same period last year — a 13 percent increase.

Chief Financial Officer Deborah Barber said much of the increase comes from the previous council’s decision to boost the local share of the sales tax from about 2.3 cents to 3 cents on every dollar.

Overall, local sales are running way ahead of 2016-17, but have bounced around from one month in the last two years. Local sales taxes spiked last year in April, then plunged in May. Sales spiked again in November and plunged in December. This year, collections have remained much more steady from one month to the next.

Generally, sales tax collections remain right about where budget planners predicted back in July, said Barber.

The town has shifted a big chunk of the increased revenue into its reserve fund. The town’s financial policies call for reserves totaling at least 5 percent of the $18 million general fund — but for years the reserves have remained below about 1 percent.

“Although there is still a shortfall between actual reserves, the gap is considerably less than it has been for the prior 10 years or more,” Barber wrote in the March financial tracking report.

Additional money will go to broad employee pay raises and an attempt to catch up with the worst the town’s long deferred capital and maintenance budget, she said.

“Some of the larger capital items that routinely must be replaced include fire engines and command vehicles, police cars, technology upgrades, artificial turf for our recreation fields, water and street department equipment and service vehicles, park improvements and many other items,” wrote Barber. “Delaying those purchases does not eliminate the necessity and does not significantly reduce overall costs. Instead, delayed attention causes demands to pile up to an unmanageable level.”

Still, town revenues have risen along with spending in the general fund and water department.

The town relies mostly on sales taxes — a large share paid by visitors. Most other revenue sources have risen much less than the 13 percent rate of local sales tax gains.

State-shared sales tax collected statewide and distributed based on population rose only slightly — up 5 percent to $1 million.

State-shared income tax based on collections two years ago distributed each month on a population basis actually declined slightly for the months from July to March. State-shared sales tax dropped 2 percent to $1.4 million.

Vehicle license taxes distributed by the state rose about 4 percent to $742,000.

State-shared gas tax money rose 7 percent, a boon for the town’s deferred road building and maintenance plans.

The report offered one potentially worrisome sign that growth has slowed — especially in the once-vital construction sector.

Payson’s building permit revenue dropped 6 percent to $240,000.

The plan review fees for future projects dropped a whopping 14 percent to $139,000.

Overall, the town collects about $18 million in taxes, with the sales tax accounting for about $12 million. Roughly 70 percent of the town’s general fund goes to pay salaries.

Payson also collects $470,000 in bed taxes on hotel rooms. The town originally assured hotels it would spend most of that money to promote tourism. However, the general fund tourism budget is only $81,000.

This year the town also is getting $870,000 from Gila County’s sales tax for roads projects after the county agreed to share its voter-approved take with cities.

Thanks to the increased revenue the town has made an extra $600,000 payment for police and fire retirement plans, added $100,000 to its capital plan, shifted $200,000 to repay a loan from the water department, increased the general fund reserve to $1.1 million, bought new computers and software and added three positions to the fire department.

The water department has the town’s biggest budget — about $7.4 million — which comes payments on water bills, impact fees and grants.

Most of the town’s departments remain safely under budget, with 75 percent of the fiscal year already passed. The town’s general fund — which doesn’t include the water department — spends about $1.8 million monthly. So far for the year, the town departments have spent about $2 million less than originally budgeted.

Much of that savings comes from the police department, which has a budget of $6.7 million — but is so far nearly $1 million under budget for the year.

The fire department’s the next most costly function, with a budget of $4.5 million. So far, the fire department’s about $400,000 under budget.

The Magistrate Court is over budget at the moment. The town-operated court has a $213,000 budget for the year and so far is running about $12,000 over budget.

Contact paleshire@payson.com