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Enjoy a fabulous 4th of July in Rim Country
Four days of events planned for the whole family

Looking for ways to celebrate the 4th of July? The Town of Payson has planned a four-day weekend that includes a ceremony, events, games, live music, food vendors, 19th century baseball and, of course, Payson’s spectacular fireworks display.

July 4 – Green Valley Park

Thursday the 4th begins with a patriotic ceremony featuring a reading of the Declaration of Independence and a discussion. This will be held at Green Valley Park at the war memorial at 8 a.m.

The fun and games kick off at 11 a.m. when vendors open up their booths. A total of 15 vendors are expected with a selection of nine food vendors offering a variety of food, coffee, snowcones and more. Six vendors will sell merchandise.

At 1 p.m. the Kid and Family Games offer opportunities for the whole family to have fun with a little healthy competition to keep things interesting. There will be a three-legged race, water balloon toss, egg toss, potato sack races and tug-of-war all on the cool grass in Green Valley Park.

The pie eating contest is at 3:30 p.m. Participants, hands behind their backs, go face down into the pies eating as much as possible as fast as possible. No room for vanity here — at the end of the contest most have pie all over their faces and in their hair, but it’s all in good fun. The pies are donated locally and participants can sign up the day of the event.

People hang out in the park all day, relaxing, entering the family games, eating good food and walking around Payson’s picturesque lake.

Live music from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. adds to the festivities. Splash!, an energetic and entertaining party cover band comprised of seasoned musicians from Mesa, performs an eclectic mix of only the best classic and pop rock from past to present.

As darkness falls, people grab a spot around the big lake to view the 30-minute fireworks display starting at 9 p.m. Fireworks are provided by the Town of Payson Water Department and Northern Gila County Sanitary District. People drive to Payson from all over for this display. It’s a good idea to get there early to claim your spot.

There will be a shuttle service to Green Valley Park from Payson High School starting at 4:45 p.m. as there is limited parking near the event. The shuttle will return spectators to the high school after the fireworks.

Payson has been able to have the display even when other communities cancel for fire concerns as the fireworks are lit along the side of the lake in a fire-safe environment.

July 5 – Rumsey Park

On Friday evening, a 19th century baseball game between the Fort Verde Excelsiors vs. Prescott Champions will take you back in time.

The game is to be played based on the rules of baseball in the 1860s. It will be a nine-inning game plus a three-inning game that’s open to spectator participation.

The game is presented by the 19th Century Baseball Club. Its mission is to educate the public about the history of baseball, and to highlight its role in American history.

The national anthem will play at 6 p.m. At 6:15 p.m. the club will offer introductions and a brief history and background on the game. At 6:30 p.m. the game will begin. There will be trivia questions between innings.

“Take Me Out to the Ballgame” will be sung during the seventh-inning stretch, and at 7:30 p.m. the three-inning game will start.

At 8 p.m. the field will be opened up for kids to run the bases. Hot dogs and popcorn will be on sale during the event.

July 6 – Payson

Payson Farmers Market starts at 8 a.m. and runs until noon in the Sawmill Crossing parking lot. Local vendors sell organically grown produce, homemade jams, soaps, and many other products.

Saturday evening Ryan Biter will provide live music from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. as part of the free Concert in the Park series in Green Valley Park.

“His music echoes the expansive soul of the Southwest. The sound is equal parts rural Americana, spectacled college town hipster, mountain bluegrass, and new age fund beatbox drum circle,” according to his website.

July 6 and July 7 – Pine

Pine and Strawberry celebrate the holiday with the annual 4th of July Arts and Crafts Festival presented by Pine-Strawberry Arts and Crafts Guild. More than 80 booths showcasing assorted arts and crafts at the Pine Community Center grounds. About 27 booths are located indoors and the rest are outside.

Admission is free to the public.

The festival will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. There will be a pancake breakfast both days at 8 a.m. by the Mountain Village Foundation.

Proceeds will assist those in need in Pine and Strawberry. Additional food and beverages will be available for purchase during the festival.

Payson financial picture brightens

Payson continues to plow money from a steady rise in sales tax revenue into bolstering reserves and paying off debt, according to the town’s April financial report.

Local sales tax revenues rose about 6 percent to $8.4 million from July last year until April — an increase of $439,000. That mostly reflects an increase in the town’s tax rate from 2.3 cents to 3 cents, observed Chief Financial Officer Deborah Barber.

The increased revenue has gone to employee raises plus efforts to bolster reserves and pay down debt. The town is whittling down a $17 million debt to the state’s troubled police and firefighter pension fund — with another $300,000 extra payment slated this month. The town is also repaying a long-standing $1 million loan from its own water department to the general fund. Finally, the town is trying to build up its reserves and carry-forward funds to about $6 million — which would give it a comfortable six months of operating funds.

The brightening in the town’s financial outlook mirrors an improvement in conditions in Gila County. The unemployment rate in the county dropped from 5.5 percent in March to just 5.1 percent in April. The Gila County rate has declined from a spike of 7 percent in January.

The state unemployment rate in April stood at 4.8 percent, just barely below the Gila County rate. Still, that’s progress. Since the recession, the Gila County rate has generally lagged at least 1 percentage point behind the state. The state has generally lagged just behind the national rate.

In April, the Arizona economy added about 12,000 jobs, with the construction sector leading the way with 4,000 new jobs.

However, in Payson the April construction figures actually don’t look so good — at least compared to last year.

Building permit revenue dropped 14 percent to $263,000 for the July-April period. Moreover, plan review fees related to projects in the pipeline dropped by 24 percent.

Before the recession, home building drove the state and local economy. Although construction has picked up statewide, Payson continues to lag.

Other sources of revenue have largely held steady or increased slightly, including state-shared income tax, state-shared sales tax, state-shared gas taxes and vehicle license taxes.

One chart in the April report shows total general fund revenue running close to $4 million ahead of the original budget projection, with much of the extra money going to bolster reserves and pay off debt.

The general fund totals some $20 million and includes most of the town’s departments, with the exception of the $7.4 million budget for the water department. The town’s general fund departments routinely spend less than the adopted budgets. At this point in the fiscal year, the departments were budgeted to spend $15.6 million, but have actually spent only $13 million so far. The police department accounts for $1.1 million of that savings and the fire department another $500,000. Those two departments account for nearly 60 percent of the town’s general fund. The savings will shrink at the end of the fiscal year, with some year-end projects and bills. Much of the savings will likely end up in the “carry forward” account.

Barber included a discussion of the sales tax trends in the report.

She noted, “Looking back, revenue is usually lowest in July and highest in June due to our modified accrual method of accounting. The 2017/2018 sales tax revenues were more sporadic than previous years, but ended the year slightly above budget. Surprisingly, the first few months of the 2018/2019 fiscal year were even more sporadic than prior years.”

Despite gains in bolstering reserves and paying down debt, Barber said the town faces challenges when it comes to the capital budget, which pays for building improvements, equipment like fire trucks, computers and other equipment needs.

“As is often the case, when one crisis has been addressed another soon makes itself known. That is now the case with capital and infrastructure needs. It has become increasingly apparent that it is time to begin addressing the big picture of capital equipment and infrastructure requirements.”

She said during the recession and the recovery each department followed a “hat in hand” approach, begging for money for projects each year. The council often did not fund those requests. “That process created a seemingly insurmountable mountain of capital needs to be addressed.”

She said the town needs to put money into a capital fund to pay for ongoing maintenance and equipment and vehicle replacement, instead of waiting for things to break down or leak. That includes money to maintain streets. During the recession, the town skipped an entire seven-year cycle of road maintenance.

“The creation of a capital replacement fund is beginning to address the recurring vehicle and equipment needs of the fire department and police department, as well as turf replacement for our parks. It’s a start, but it is by no means complete.”

She listed the priorities for the current budget:

• $600,000 additional payment toward Public Safety Retirement Unfunded Liability; $300,000 of this commitment was paid in January 2019; the remainder was slated to be paid in June.

• $200,000 payment on water loan, reducing the balance to $600,000 by year-end.

• Increased council contingency transfer to provide for unanticipated expenditures and/or emergencies.

• Transfer $100,000 to equipment replacement fund.

• Planned increase in general fund balance to $1,150,000.

• Replacement of outdated police department vehicles.

• Added three positions in fire department to address fuels management and excessive overtime.

• Replacement and updating of computer equipment townwide.

ACC cannot prove APS followed disconnect protocol

The Arizona Corporation Commission has ordered Arizona Public Service and other utilities it regulates not to shut off power for non-payment of bills during the hot summer months, in the wake of a furor about the death of a Valley customer after a shut-off.

In 2018, 182 people died in the Valley from heat-related causes, five of those after their power was shut off, according to a coalition of university and government scientists in a study published in Environmental Research Letters this June.

The ACC order reinforced a voluntary suspension of power cutoffs by APS after the death of Sun City resident Stephanie Pullman. The ban on shut-offs from now until mid-October will also affect Rim Country customers, as APS and the ACC reconsider their policies.

The ACC also ordered power companies it regulates to immediately reconnect anyone shut off during June and refund any fees charged.

APS has publicly expressed its condolences for Pullman’s death.

“APS staff followed long-standing, well-established protocols when reaching out to Ms. Pullman when she became at risk of having her service disconnected. We are all saddened over Ms. Pullman’s passing last year, and we are committed to working with the Arizona Corporation Commission and others to ensure — to the best of our ability as an electricity service provider — that this doesn’t happen again,” said Jill Hanks, a communications consultant for APS media relations.

Meanwhile, the ACC staff completed an inquiry into Pullman’s death that concluded, “Staff cannot determine whether APS followed all disconnection protocols” when shutting off electricity for non-payment on Sept. 7, 2018, according to an ACC staff report.

Pullman, a 72-year-old with type II diabetes, was found dead in her bed a week after the shut-off. The National Weather Service recorded the outside temperature at 105 degrees on the day of the shut-off. An autopsy reported heat played a role in Pullman’s death, according to a report in the Phoenix New Times.

Rim Country residents are among the 72,787 accounts that had power shut off for non-payment in 2018.

The number of deaths due to heat has exponentially increased in Maricopa County since 2016. In 2001, one person died from heat-related incident. By 2018, that number jumped to 182.

More worrisome, 3 percent of deaths due to heat were caused by a lack of electricity, according to the data collected by Maricopa County and analyzed by the scientists.

Since reports of Pullman’s death have come out, both APS and the ACC have rushed to address the issue of shut-offs.

In mid-June, APS announced it would suspend shutting off customers’ electricity for non-payment for at least 30 days.

On June 20, the ACC voted for an emergency rule to “prevent residential electric utility customer service disconnections during the period from June 1 to Oct. 15,” said the commission in a press release.

The ACC does have rules for shutting off power to a customer. Poverty and health play a big role, but customers must also advocate for themselves.

During its investigation of Pullman’s death, ACC staff concluded, “Based on the limited information provided, staff cannot determine whether APS followed all disconnection protocols as prescribed by Commission rules and regulations.”

The ACC staff report found:

• ACC rules require a utility must provide adequate notice to the homeowner. In the case of Pullman, her relatives found only one notice. That shut-off notice had a shut-off date of Aug. 28, not Sept. 7. In its report, ACC staff said, “based upon the documentation provided by APS, staff concludes that bills were issued and shut-off notices were provided.” The various bills were sent to Pullman at least five days prior to shutting off her power.

• The ACC rule also requires, “service may only be disconnected in conjunction with a personal visit to the premises by an authorized representative of the utility.” APS provided the route the door hanger delivery driver used, “however, because APS could not provide a copy of the actual door hanger left at the residence, staff cannot substantiate that the door hanger was left at the residence.”

ACC staff also noted the APS service schedule deviates from ACC policy “as it does not require a personal visit.”

• The ACC rule does recognize those with “an annual income below the published federal poverty level and can produce evidence of this” as having a reason to suspend a shut-off. APS said Pullman did qualify for its Energy Support Program. Pullman lived on a $1,000 a month fixed income from Social Security. Despite qualifying for the support program, the ACC report showed Pullman’s bills topped over $300 when all the fees and fines were applied.

• The same rule also exempts shutting off residential service to those who are “ill, elderly, or handicapped,” but the customer has to do two things — prove they qualify and check with governmental and social assistance agencies to show there is no money to help. The customer must also prove a friend or family member cannot help pay the bill. In the case of Pullman, “APS did not provide staff with any documentation as to what Ms. Pullman was told. Therefore, staff cannot establish the extent to which APS complied with the provisions of this rule.”

• The ACC rule also states electricity cannot be shut off “where weather will be especially dangerous to health as defined or as determined by the (Corporation) Commission.” In its report, ACC staff found, “APS ... stated that it uses two of these weather services in implementing its policy and that if either one of those services issues a heat advisory, it suspends disconnections for the affected areas. APS stated that Sept. 7, 2018 was not a heat advisory day as determined by these third-party weather experts. Staff reviewed several heat advisory websites and concluded that no heat advisories were issued for Sept. 7, 2018.

The ACC investigation concluded it could not prove APS followed the established rules regarding its shut-off policies.

However, the company maintains it did follow correct procedures, despite the lack of documentation cited by the ACC staff.

Wells Fargo bank robbed

It didn’t take long for an alleged bank robber to have a guilty conscience Friday.

Around 10:30 a.m. June 28, the Payson Police Department received a call that a man had robbed the Wells Fargo Bank, at 115 E. State Route 260.

Officers quickly surrounded the bank, found everyone inside safe and began to look for the suspect.

Just 10 minutes later, at 10:41 a.m., Joe Erroll Witterman Jr., 59, of Payson, walked into the Gila County Sheriff’s Office off Main Street and reportedly turned himself in, according to a press release from the PPD.

The PPD notified the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who authorized the PPD to conduct the investigation.

Witterman was arrested on one count of robbery and threatening and intimidating behavior.

This is the second bank robbery this year in Payson, according to Roundup archives.

In mid March, Anthony Fischetti, 53, parked his white pickup truck near the rear exit of the Chase Bank, at 201 S. Beeline Highway, walked in and demanded money from a teller, said Police Chief Don Engler.

She gave him an undisclosed amount of money and he fled back to his truck and out on South Ponderosa Street.

A GCSO deputy arrested Fischetti minutes later near South Ponderosa Street and East Aero Drive. His case is pending.

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Bandits and Bulls has neighbors worried

Payson Mayor Tom Morrissey and town staff got an earful about proposed projects, including the recent cutting down of trees on a Mud Springs Road property during a open mic meeting June 25.

Public Works Director Shelia DeSchaaf explained when it comes to the removal of trees to make way for sports fields off of Mud Springs Road there is little residents or the town can do to stop it.

Turns out the Rim Country Educational Alliance, a separate legal entity (SLE) that owns the property, doesn’t have to go through the normal town permit process. The SLE also owns the land for the proposed university project off State Route 260.

“I was appalled there was not an announcement about the bulldozing of trees,” said resident Penny Nevis-Schmidt. “That forest is habitat that provided a buffer to those homes on Mud Springs Road ... I’m surprised they could clearcut trees without a meeting.”

DeSchaaf explained the SLE is “a political subdivision of the state,” that interacts with the town in a similar fashion as Gila County.

“We have the same control over the county if the county is going to take out trees,” said DeSchaaf.

The SLE did complete rezoning on the property “in maybe 2009-2010 where it was changed from R1 (residential) to EF, which is educational facilities.”

The SLE holds public meetings. Agendas are posted at town hall and online at

The SLE’s next meeting is Thursday, Aug. 8 at 308 E. Aero Drive.

Board members include Jon Cline, Larry Sugarman, Richard Richey and Ted Pettet.

Keith Morris / Keith Morris/Roundup  

Jen McDowell crawls through an obstacle during one of the heats in the Gladiator Challenge’s Women’s Elite competition. The two-time defending champion won her third straight elite crown.

Photo courtesy Joseph Brandt, Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento, USA 

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