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County looks at $10 million in projects

After years of delays, the county may finally be putting money toward its Payson properties.

Taking the big picture perspective instead of the piecemeal approach that has characterized past capital improvement plans, a list of nearly $10 million in projects came to the Gila County Board of Supervisors March 19.

It includes a $289,000 building at 112 W. Cedar Lane to house the probation department and develop a teen center. The board approved the purchase of the property unanimously.

The supervisors did not take action on the full capital improvement plan.

A new place for probation

Steven Lessard, chief probation officer for Gila County, told the board that his division has outgrown the current office in Payson. Staff is currently doubled up in offices due to a lack of space; and treatment group meetings are held in conference and jury rooms in the court building.

“Moving the probation division to an off-site space with probation offices, group treatment rooms, individual treatment rooms, a juvenile respite center, and teen center will fulfill the current needs in the probation division,” he said. “In addition, law enforcement will have a place to take kids for a ‘cooling off’ period when they are not eligible for detention.”

He said the Cedar Lane facility has the “bones” for combined use as offices for probation and a youth center requiring very little demolition and remodeling.

Half of the facility is already equipped with offices and the other half of open space can be a teen center. The county will buy the facility with general fund capital improvement money.

Besides the $289,000 to buy the building, closing costs and renovations are another $140,000.

County general fund capital improvements will be used to buy paint and new flooring at a cost not to exceed $30,000. The remaining renovation cost, if necessary, will come from the probation division’s special revenue funds.

Those working off community service hours can do some of the work, such as painting.

Lessard said this would be a multi-use facility. There will be a Teen Hope Center with WiFi accessible computers for students, volunteer tutors, movie room for family nights, air hockey, video games, music room, ping pong, pool and respite center. The Learning Center will be in collaboration with the Gila County Library District. It will hold the “School of Hope,” done in collaboration with Arizona State University and Kids at Hope to benefit the Payson Unified School District.

The Arizona Supreme Court will provide funding for the Teen Hope Center to include furniture, games, televisions, music equipment and the Teen Hope Center and group rooms would be available for community events and meetings.

“Teens in the greater Payson area have few pro-social activities to engage in outside of school. This center fills a need in the community. The LOFT (Teen Center in Apache County) saw a 55 percent reduction in law enforcement referrals since opening the LOFT,” Lessard said.

Moving probation from the court building will free up much needed space for other county departments, he said.

“The county has been bold in what it will do for safety of employees and citizens. It was bold in closing the juvenile detention facility in Globe,” Lessard said.

He told the BOS Presiding Judge Tim Wright asked him to find a way to move youth out of the courthouse.

After meeting with the student council at Payson High School, the PHS Site Council and others, Lessard said there is overwhelming support for a teen center.

“It’s good fiscally, it’s good for public safety and it’s good for the community,” he said.

District One Supervisor Tommie Martin said she was glad to see the probation department shift to “focus on the kid, not the crime.”

She said she would like to see teens involved in conservation work — “Get them outside and have them do trail work or something like that and they can see the fruits of their labor.”

District Three Supervisor Woody Cline said it sounded like a good project and asked if the facility could benefit the homeless.

Lessard said the plan was to use probation’s vans for transporting youth to the detention facility in Pinal County to shuttle teens from the high school to the new offices.

He hopes homeless youth will use the transportation to the center where there will be service information.

District Two Supervisor Tim Humphrey said he was glad to hear the facility would be available for other events.

The bigger picture

The $9.96 million in proposed capital improvements includes $5.1 million in the Payson area and $4.85 million in Globe.

Besides the probation division project, Payson area plans include remodeling the former NAPA building on West Main Street for $200,000. It will house the health department.

Another $1.25 million will go toward remodeling the sheriff’s substation and jail; adding security to the property at 610 E. Highway 260, $20,000; demolishing several offices, $550,000; building a new facility for the courts, board of supervisors and other elected officials, $2.74 million.

The Globe area projects include building a new animal control facility, $3 million; jail improvements, $1.15 million; paving and remodeling the courthouse, $350,000; remodeling the Michaelson building for offices, $100,000 and improvements to the fairgrounds, $250,000.

County manager James Menlove said if completed as proposed, the capital improvements could serve for 20 years.

He said he would bring details about each project to the supervisors later. He discussed the financing, suggesting he would prefer the county seek a loan, not a bond. This method would allow the county to maintain its current tax rate. Additionally, a loan would cost about $30,000, where getting a bond would cost $250,000.

Cline suggested staff also look into selling the county’s 30 acres in Payson (near the Gila Community College campus) to help finance the improvements.

“Ten million is a lot of money, but look at what it would cost if a prisoner was hurt because our facilities are not up to standard. It would be better to spend the money to serve more than an individual who could win a suit against the county,” Humphrey said.

Menlove said the discussion about improvements has made the full circle twice in the short time he has been with the county and many times before he was hired.

“I’m determined that these projects don’t get derailed. We must meet the needs of our staff and the public and provide good service,” Menlove said.

He said he would be looking for revenue sources outside the county budget to move things forward.

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Dueker Ranch welcomes new Clydesdale colt to their therapeutic riding program

Dueker Ranch Therapeutic Riding Center officially welcomed their new therapy horse this week, a Clydesdale colt named Hamish.

Staff and volunteers gave Hamish a belated birthday party Tuesday, complete with a birthday hat, cupcakes and song. Hamish seemed to enjoy all the attention.

Born on Valentine’s Day, Hamish is the latest addition to the stable of therapeutic horses that now includes two Clydesdales, two Belgians, four Haflingers and three miniatures.

Hamish was bred in Quebec, Canada, and arrived at the ranch in Star Valley a few weeks ago. Owners Dennis and Kathy Dueker said they were looking for a horse with a calm temperament.

“We are very pleased with him,” said Dennis. “He’s very calm, social — he loves people. We use him as a horse to introduce people to horses because of his sweet nature. He builds confidence in individuals.”

Hamish, a yearling, stands 15.1 hands high. Clydesdales, a breed of draft horse, can grow to 18 hands tall at the withers, and can weigh between 1,600 and 2,400 pounds.

“One of the beauties of draft horses is they have an instinct that they want to work and they want to help,” said Dennis. “If you can get them as a yearling and raise them right it’s a total trust relationship. We break them out very slowly. We’re not there to break their spirit, we’re there to build their trust.”

Dueker Ranch, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization and an Arizona-qualified dollar-for-dollar tax credit charity, offers therapeutic riding to promote physical, occupational, and emotional growth.

“What’s special about us is we have that kind of place where people can come and feel safe with us,” said Dennis. “We are very quiet and calm which is also a part of working with horses. The kids are very comfortable with our horses and volunteers and their self-confidence goes through the roof. We are always positive.”

Dueker works with children and adults with the following diagnoses: ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, Down’s syndrome, learning disabilities, emotional/behavioral issues, spinal cord and brain injuries, stroke victims, cerebral palsy, Sensory integration disorder and developmental delay, multiple scleroses, PTSD, visual impairment and muscular dystrophy.

The only diagnoses they are not able to accommodate are grand mal seizures or people who exhibit at-risk behaviors.

Hippotherapy (the use of horseback riding as a therapeutic or rehabilitative treatment) includes benefits such as:

▪ Increased strength, flexibility and respiration

▪ Improved balance and coordination

▪ Improved coping and social skills (reduced stress and hyperactivity)

▪ Increased quality and quantity of communication

▪ Improved self confidence

The ranch welcomes children, youth and adults and there is no charge for their programs.

“We don’t judge anybody,” said Dueker. “It doesn’t matter their race, color, creed — we help everybody.”

To date, their youngest rider is a 4-year-old girl with autism and their oldest, an 86-year-old man with Alzheimer’s.

Volunteers make the success of Dueker Ranch possible, the couple says. The ranch currently has 30 volunteers.

“We welcome everyone who is interested,” said Dueker, “If the person has health issues we find a way for them to participate. One volunteer couldn’t walk any more so he would sit on a chair close to the arena and count how many times the riders stood up in their stirrups during a two-point exercise (helps improve balance). They called him grandpa.”

Volunteer opportunities include side walker/coach; horse leader; barn hand; facility maintenance; grooming and tacking; administrative; website maintenance and social media; PR, marketing and fundraising.

Dueker Ranch is holding a volunteer orientation from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., Saturday, March 23 at 214 N. Cornerstone Way in Star Valley. Call 928-978-7039 for more information.

Visit their website for more information about the ranch and programs they offer.

Steel tariffs force council to spend more on Rumsey steel building

The Payson Town Council didn’t let the consequences of the steel tariff get in the way of constructing a new building at Rumsey Park, despite the $18,000 over and above the budgeted amount.

The council voted to dip into contingency funds to make the project happen. It includes a new steel building to house offices for parks employees.

“It is a good price — it’s $57 per square foot,” said Councilor Jim Ferris. “We know that we need one really bad.”

Steel tariffs started last summer when the federal government voted to impose a 25 percent tariff on imports.

The Tax Foundation, a thinktank started in 1937 that publishes information on tax policies, found that the tariffs essentially created an additional regressive tax on citizens.

Goods, such as the steel building the town wishes to build, have seen significant jumps in cost.

The Tax Foundation estimates the $42 billion of tariffs imposed to date have — on average — reduced incomes by .3 percent.

Originally, the town had budgeted $50,000 for a steel building to replace old and “dilapidated” buildings that Parks and Recreation staff use for offices at the park. Then the steel tariffs kicked in.

“The price of steel has gone up quite a bit,” said Town Manager LaRon Garrett.

The building was to be a turnkey, pre-engineered, shell ready for occupancy.

The town requested bids and two contractors responded.

Councilor Steve Smith questioned the specs to make sure the building was a good deal — even at the higher price.

“This bid was all of the site prep, the foundation, walls, the flooring, the erection of the facility, the lighting and doors?” he asked. “I think perhaps we should take a look at what a realistic price is for that building.”

Parks and Recreation Director Courtney Spawn suggested the town save money by having staff do some of the work, such as pouring the foundation.

“We’ve already started reworking the scope so we can continue with the project to get the building in place and to get the re-work,” she said.

But rescheduling the work would cut into staff’s time.

“If we do re-work the site and take it on, that takes us into spring and summer where parks crews are needed,” she said.

Councilor Chris Higgins said he was sympathetic to the scheduling challenges.

“Come springtime, they are not going to have any personnel to commit to this. Streets will have to continue with street maintenance. There’s no staff or employees sitting around with nothing to do.”

He agreed the $57 per square foot was a reasonable price to replace “buildings in Rumsey that are not just bad, they were horrible.”

The council voted unanimously to dip into contingency funds to purchase the materials.


Washington officials say Fossil Creek rescues of ‘utmost importance’

Well, gee. They wrote a letter.

That’s something.

After several years of nagging and repeated front-page stories in the Roundup, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has written Pine-Strawberry Fire Chief Gary Morris a letter expressing concern about access to Fossil Creek for rescuers and cable companies.

“Your concerns are of utmost importance and they continue to influence the discussions and planning to address access in the Fossil Creek Area,” wrote Ehab Hanna in a March 6 letter. Hanna serves as the Agriculture Department’s acting director of engineering, technology and geospatial services, writing on behalf of President Donald Trump.

It probably didn’t hurt that Morris has written in his capacity as chair of the Gila County Republican Party.

“President Trump has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service to respond. I apologize for the delayed response ... Again, thank you for writing President Trump.”

“It’s the first time the USDA/Forest Service has expressed concern about the number of rescues and further expressed a willingness to work with local public safety agencies,” said Morris in an email to the Roundup.

Morris has made several trips to Washington, D.C. to enlist support for the restoration of emergency access on Forest Road 708, which was closed several years ago to vehicles. He has also lobbied for restoration of vehicle access to the Flume Road/Trail, cut off in 2009 when the Forest Service removed a bridge. Finally, Morris has pleaded with the Forest Service to improve Fossil Springs Trail so it can handle off-road vehicles to give paramedics and firefighters easy access to the spring source, which has generated hundreds of rescue calls.

Local Forest Service officials say Rim Country search and rescue teams are welcome to use FR 708, which is gated on the Rim Country side of the canyon. The road was blocked by a boulder for more than a year, but a CenturyLink repair crew moved the boulder to get down to the threatened cable.

Search and rescue officials say the lack of maintenance makes it hard — even dangerous — to use the road.

The letter from Washington, D.C. recapped the 10-year history of the curtailment of access, which has turned rescues that once took an hour or two into an eight-hour ordeal, for both rescue crews and sick and injured hikers. Four people have drowned in Fossil Creek since the decommissioning of a historic hydroelectric plant in 2006 resulted in an explosion of interest and visitation. Some 60,000 to 100,000 people visit the creek annually.

The letter also expressed concern about the endangerment of the fiber optic cable that provides internet and cell phone service to Rim Country, which runs up FR 708. The cable nearly washed out. After months of delay, CenturyLink finally reburied the cable — only to have this winter’s rains once again endanger internet and cell service throughout Rim Country.

Local search and rescue officials have pleaded with congressmen, state lawmakers and officials from the Tonto and Coconino forests to restore access for emergency crews. However, the Forest Service is working on a separate master plan for management of the creek, which is classified as one of two “wild and scenic river” stretches in Arizona.

Coconino and Tonto forest officials said they had planned to meet with local first responders, but the government shutdown several months ago scrubbed those plans. They say they hope to schedule a new meeting this month.

The letter from Washington, D.C. supported such a meeting.

“Public safety and emergency responder access in the Fossil Creek area is important to the Coconino and Tonto National Forests,” wrote Hanna. “We are committed to working with local emergency response agencies and tribes towards a resolution. Gila County is a willing partner to assist with emergency access maintenance needs on FR 708 once funding can be secured to repair the road to safe standard. We look forward to scheduling another meeting.”

However, that expression of concern has some pretty daunting fine print.

The Forest Service did a study as part of its Fossil Creek management plan that concluded it would cost some $6 million to stabilize the slopes above FR 708 to prevent boulders from rolling down on the road. The preferred plan for Fossil Creek envisions reopening that road to off-roaders, but only after someone comes up with the $6 million to fix it. It would then cost roughly $100,000 annually to maintain the road, Hanna concluded.

Rim Country emergency responders insist it wouldn’t cost nearly that much money to make the road safe enough for emergency crews to get to the canyon bottom and bring people out.

The letter offers no specifics on the other two access problems that have plagued emergency crews. The Flume Trail used to be a road that reached almost to the spring source, where many of the hundreds of rescues have taken place.

On the Strawberry side of the canyon, the Fossil Springs Trail also used to accommodate four-wheel drive vehicles, but has eroded and narrowed to a point that even ORVs can’t get to the canyon bottom.

Hanna’s letter indicated that several Indian tribes — presumably the Yavapai —consider the spring source sacred and have objected to any motorized vehicle access on account of the noise.

Still, it’s nice to get a letter.