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Police investigating car thefts

If you leave your vehicle running in the morning to melt the ice and warm up the engine, you might want to think twice.

Recently, thieves stole two vehicles outside of homes that owners had left running while they were inside.

Roughly a week ago, Police Chief Don Engler said an owner reported their vehicle stolen after they left it running. Officers later located the vehicle deserted off West Rim View Road.

On Sunday, Jan. 27, around 5 a.m., a person reported their 2015 Chevy Cruze stolen from their home after they left it running.

The owner pursued and located the vehicle crashed into a wall near Rumsey Park, roughly 50 feet from the north entrance of the park. The thief had fled on foot.

A third vehicle theft occurred Saturday, Jan. 26 around 6 a.m. An officer driving on West Longhorn noticed a vehicle without their lights on. The officer followed and the driver was obviously trying to evade, going through the neighborhoods, Engler said.

In the 400 block of West Longhorn, the officer caught up and ran the plate while continuing to follow. The driver turned on Forest Park Drive and in the 100 block, jumped out of the 1996 Dodge pickup.

The truck, still in gear, continued, rolling into a yard and flipping onto its roof. The truck did not hit the home, he said.

The driver fled into the woods. He is described as having long dark hair and wearing a Carhartt jacket and jeans.

Payson officers, the Tonto Apache Police and Gila County Sheriff’s Office deputies looked for the man, but could not locate him.

Engler said they are following up on some leads and hope to have an arrest soon.

“It is all very strange,” he said of the thefts. “We can’t be sure they are connected, but it is unusual that they are happening in the same area.”

He encouraged residents not to leave their vehicles running unattended and if you do, to lock the doors and use a spare key to get in.

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Six-year sentence for string of crimes

After squandering four years of second chances, Eric Acosta will spend the next six years in prison for stealing a car, shoplifting and selling drugs.

Following a string of arrests, Acosta repeatedly left treatment programs and committed fresh crimes, according to court documents.

“In essence, it is more than apparent Mr. Acosta’s poor choices, continued abuse of illegal drugs, ongoing criminal acts, combined with the fact he tends to gravitate toward negative peers have been the catalyst behind his demise,” according to a probation department presentence report.

The clean-cut, well-spoken 24-year-old had little to say during his sentencing recently.

When Judge Gary Scales asked if he had a statement, Acosta said, “I would like to thank the prosecutor for being lenient in my sentence and apologize to the state for my actions.”

Mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines meant Scales had to send Acosta to prison for at least six years.

The first arrest in 2015 occurred after Acosta stole an acquaintance’s car after the victim asked Acosta and another friend to take the car to a repair shop.

Instead, Acosta and the friend took the vehicle to Phoenix where law enforcement found them the next day.

The next year, an undercover officer observed Acosta steal two quarts of oil from a local convenience store. The officer confronted Acosta who ran away after leaving the oil in a car next to a methamphetamine pipe, the report states.

In August, officers watched as Acosta rode up to a car on his bicycle and sold drugs, the report states.

In the report, probation found Acosta had used meth since the age of 15 and heroin since the age of 18.

He has not worked for “nearly four years.”

The report documented Acosta’s inability to stick to reform efforts.

In 2014, while on probation, Acosta went to an inpatient treatment program, but was unsuccessful.

He then went to jail in 2015. Once out, Acosta completed nearly 90 days at Steps House, before relapsing.

Later that year, while on probation, Acosta twice left supervised treatment programs.

Probation strongly recommended a prison sentence.

“By his actions in these offenses along with his unwillingness to comply with supervision in the community, it would seem unlikely probation will be of any benefit to this defendant in a rehabilitative form,” stated the probation report.

Scales said once Acosta completes his prison sentence, he should perform community service.


Winter storm predicted

A winter storm will move through Arizona over the weekend, contributing to a blessedly near-normal winter for a state plagued by drought for years.

The storm will likely bring snow to the high country on Saturday and Sunday, but may only produce rain in Payson.

The moderate winter storm stands in contrast to the deadly polar vortex storm that has cast the north-central and eastern U.S. into a dangerous deep freeze.

Arizona meanwhile is having a pretty good winter so far, although the storms have come and gone. The forecast calls for a 30 percent chance of rain in Payson today, rising to 80 percent Saturday night. However, the forecast high for Saturday is 5e, with a low of 36, making snow here unlikely. The storm will pass through on Sunday, with a 60 percent chance for rain during the day, dropping to 20 percent overnight. However, a second storm will likely arrive on Monday, with a 50 percent chance of rain overnight and a 30 percent chance for snow on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Groundhog Day will arrive in the midst of the storm, with Punxsutawney Phil in Pennsylvania emerging for a glimpse of his shadow to determine how long the winter will persist.

Normally, Payson gets 2.3 inches of rain/snow in December, 2 inches in January and another 2 inches in February.

Federal measuring stations have put snowpack at near normal levels across the West.

Snowpack on the Verde River watershed is 102 percent of normal, the San Francisco Peaks about 126 percent of normal. The report put the snowpack on the Rim at about 99 percent of normal.

The Sunrise Ski Resort in the White Mountains reported a snow depth of 52 inches, with only four of seven lifts open. The Snow Bowl ski resort in Flagstaff also reports 51 inches of snow at the summit. Neither mountain has had any snow since Jan. 21.

Nonetheless, reservoirs throughout the region remain low, drained by years of drought. However, much of Arizona including Gila County has improved to either “abnormally dry” or “moderate drought,” according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Roosevelt Lake has dwindled to 38 percent of capacity. Most of the boat ramps around the shoreline remain high and dry. The whole chain of reservoirs on the Salt River have filled to just 47 percent capacity, while the Verde River reservoirs are at 33 percent. Nonetheless, flows in the Salt River are currently five times normal, while flows in the Verde River are about 200 percent of normal.

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Town of Payson
Payson Council votes to accept Library Friends' gift of building expansion

After saving for 18 years, the Library Friends of Payson have found the perfect project — expanding the library’s meeting room.

The Payson Town Council agreed with the Friends’ project and voted to approve the 2,200-square-foot expansion at its Jan. 24 meeting.

“I gotta tell you, this is very exciting for the town,” said Councilor Barbara Underwood. “Thank you the Library Friends, because without you, this would never have happened.”

Not only have the Library Friends offered to pay for the expansion, the group has already secured the services of the architect who designed the library originally.

“The Friends of the Payson Library — from even before we built the library — have been very helpful in helping build it as well as furnish it and the ongoing operations of it,” said Town Manager LaRon Garrett. “They have funds in their building fund (from which) they have got some preliminary drawings done from ... the original architect.”

The Friends have thought long and hard about exactly what sort of expansion would benefit the library the most.

“Library operations have changed over the years, especially with electronics as to how people really use the library,” said Garrett. “So they have come up with the idea it would be more valuable to increase the meeting room space on the south end of the library to where the town would have room for bigger meetings and so forth.”

The new space would handle from 92 to 175 people.

“The ability to expand out I think would not only be a benefit to the library, because libraries are moving ever closer to being something like a community center,” said Librarian Emily Linkey.

The expansion can’t be built soon enough.

“We’re called daily by people who want us to have larger events that we currently aren’t able to accommodate,” she said.

“The library itself runs about 400 programs a year out of that room,” said Linkey. “We do all of these wonderful programs for the children, but we also do great things for our seniors.”

The plans call for pushing out and adding onto the southern wall of the library.

“That can be opened up to combine with the current multi-purpose room for seating for up 175,” wrote Linkey.

The initial schematics also call for another small staff workroom or conference room in addition to the large room.

The only expenses currently proposed for the town will be for upkeep.

“Once completed, the addition will become town property and the Town of Payson will be responsible for any future expenses regarding its operation and upkeep,” wrote Linkey.

Currently the Library Friends “are considering taking on the expense of the building expansion in its entirety.”

They might need to do a few fundraisers to complete the project.

The liquid gold of Star Valley

Star Valley is sitting on a treasure of liquid gold.

The location of the community is on top of a very healthy aquifer as evidenced by the productive wells it has developed in the years since purchasing the Payson Water Company from Brooke Utilities in 2012.

The move to incorporate Star Valley in 2005 was largely based on concerns about the Town of Payson depleting the community’s water supply with operation of the Tower Well.

Later, it was learned Star Valley could do nothing to stop Payson’s plans and could do even less without the area’s water rights, which Brooke Utilities held along with a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity.

The town looked to acquire the company, but when it was determined that the price could be as high as $1.2 to $1.4 million it backed away.

An agreement with Payson to supply emergency water later required a contract with Brooke Utilities to use the company’s water lines in the event the emergency water was needed.

When town officials met with Brooke Utilities president Robert Hardcastle, he unexpectedly asked if the town still wanted to buy the system. The town was still interested and started negotiations, settling on a $775,000 price. The final price was $870,000, but the town was able to write a check for the outright purchase, according to Star Valley Town Manager Tim Grier.

At the time, the company served about 390 customers and had two functioning wells and a third well site: the Knolls Well, which produces about 140 gallons per minute; the Milky Way Well, producing about 40 gpm; and a non-functioning well called Quail Valley.

Now the water system in Star Valley has nine wells: the three that came with the purchase of the company; two at the B. Diane McDaniel Community Park; one at the old Lumberman’s site; one at the Circle K; and the wells it calls PW1 and PW2.

The town did extensive work at the Quail Valley site and developed a well that can produce 100 gpm — the original system did about 3 gpm.

Work is in progress on the Lumberman’s and Circle K wells; and work is just beginning on PW1 and PW2, but initial tests show PW1 produces about 40 gpm and PW2 can provide up to 440 gpm. However, an agreement with the Town of Payson limits the PW1 and PW2 production to 200 gpm.

Grier recently sat down with the Roundup to share the history of the town’s well development.

After an assessment, it was discovered the Milky Way Well was basically patched together and needed substantial upgrades. Star Valley used $280,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds, plus its leverage funds, to bring the well up to state-of-the-art condition and replaced the existing 25,000-gallon storage tank at the site and added a second tank, increasing the storage capacity to 50,000 gallons.

He said the Quail Valley site could produce 3 gpm, but was not operable. Another $260,000 in CDBG money and town leverage funds were used to drill next to the existing site. There they discovered a 100 gpm well could be developed. In addition to building another state-of-the-art well, the town added a third storage tank with a capacity for 50,000 gallons.

When Star Valley bought the five acres on which it has since built the B. Diane McDaniel Community Park, the motivating factor was to get the well, Grier said. While the Knolls Well was a workhorse for the water system, producing 140 gpm, it needed a backup. There was some discussion of building a new town hall on the 5-acre site, but the idea of a park took root.

The Park Well produces about 18 gpm. Because of its limited production, the town had Chris Miller assess the site and he recommended drilling a second well.

Grier said Miller is a second-generation driller – his father also drilled wells in the Rim Country, so he has a good sense of the area’s topography in regard to finding water. Following Miller’s advice, the town had a second Park Well put in producing 40 gpm and serving as a better backup for the Knolls Well. The original well at the park is not connected to the system, but the town plans to use it for irrigating the grass and landscaping.

The town is getting ready to connect the Lumberman’s Well to its system and doing additional work on the Circle K Well, though neither have been “pump tested” yet to determine the amount of water each can produce. Grier pointed out that neither the new Park Well or the Lumberman’s Well site were developed with CDBG money, the town covered the costs of both with county help for the Park Well.

The system has 373 connections and the average daily use is 56,000 gallons. Grier said the town’s customers pay about 40 percent less than those on similar systems.

He recently heard from a couple of residents on private wells that they want to hook into the system. Having the water available to help residents when they need it was the main reason the town bought the water company.

“We’ve improved the service to customers and increased the dependability of the system,” Grier said.

There is still work to do on the system. The town has had an ongoing program to upgrade the system’s meters. There may be a need to build an additional storage tank and possibly purchase the Valley Well, which Payson owns, but is within Star Valley town limits.

The biggest project would be putting lines to serve the entire town — if the council decides to do that.

Grier said he suffered sticker shock when he saw the cost of just putting in 1,800 feet of water line for PW1 and PW2 — $1,800.

When — and if — the need arises to get all of Star Valley on the town’s water system, the water will be available.