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2009: A year of growth
Written by Mark Lineberger   
Wednesday, 30 December 2009 13:44

There was plenty to talk about this year. From annexations to overrides, highway construction to crimes and fires, residents of Clarkdale and Cottonwood kept close watch on the events that made the top stories of 2009.

The following summary reviews some of the top headlines of the past 12 months.


A boundary agreement signed by the mayors of Cottonwood and Clarkdale at a press conference Nov. 13 appeared to end a dispute between the municipalities over Cottonwood’s attempt to annex 8.5 square miles of National Forest land.

The agreement split an unincorporated section of national forest south of Clarkdale and southwest of Cottonwood into eastern and western zones. Cottonwood promises to annex no property west of the line. Clarkdale promises to annex no property east of it.

The agreement “really takes the rush to annexation out of the picture,” Cottonwood Vice Mayor Karen Pfiefer said.

“We’ll do annexations now when it makes sense to do annexations rather than doing it so we get there first,” Clarkdale Town Councilman Richard Dehnert said.

The agreement was signed after Cottonwood discovered its attempt to annex the land could not succeed because of a legal technicality.

Cottonwood wanted to annex the land to preserve it from excessive development and to secure the city’s northern border.

School Budget Overrides

Cottonwood voters narrowly approved two budget overrides critical to preventing overcrowded elementary and high school classrooms and the loss of key programs Nov. 3.

With 100 percent of the ballots counted, one of the overrides, worth $1.1 million in funding for Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, passed 2,808 to 2,661, a 147-vote margin of victory.

The other override, Mingus Union High School District’s request for $534,000 in financial aid, also narrowly passed, but by an even closer margin, 3,117 to 3,061, a 56-vote win.

In nearby Beaver Creek School District, voters approved a $3.25 million capital improvement bond to build a multiuse community building, remodel other buildings and provide more space at the school. The vote was 464 to 405, meaning 53 percent of those who cast ballots favored the initiative.
The county reported 48 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

Clarkdale Threatens Lawsuit

In November, Clarkdale Town Council voted to sue a national insurance giant over its failure to pay for unfinished lights and streets at Mountain Gate subdivision, but the town attorney held off filing at the last minute when the company asked for more time to negotiate.

Negotiations are ongoing.

Clarkdale accused Bond Safeguard, licensed to sell insurance in 41 states and two U.S. territories, of defaulting on its obligation to finish Mountain Gate improvements started by Empire Residential Construction Company in 2007.

Empire declared bankruptcy and stopped work in 2008 without warning to Mountain Gate residents, who are still waiting for the improvements to be completed.

About $2 million is at stake, all of which will go to pay for the improvements constructed by either the town or a private contractor hired by Empire, but only if Bond Safeguard honors its obligations under the bond, town officials alleged.

Catholic Church Opens

More than 1,000 of Cottonwood’s faithful celebrated a moment more than 30 years in the making when Bishop Thomas J.

Olmstead dedicated the newly constructed Immaculate Conception Catholic Parish church and congratulated parishioners, their friends and supporters for a job well done Dec. 8.

The 30,000-square-foot structure seats 1,500 and boasts marble floors and more than 30 stained glass windows.

“Hopefully, the dedication will enliven our parish to get out there proclaiming the gospel as this building will do,” the Rev. David J. Kelash, pastor of the Cottonwood church, said. “We’re very excited.”

Swine Flu Pandemic Subsides

As of Dec. 12, Yavapai County confirmed 196 cases of H1N1, or swine flu, and five county residents died from the disease.

Across Arizona, 8,372 cases are confirmed with 133 deaths.
Yavapai County Community Health Services reports it vaccinated 40,000 people for swine flu since doses of the vaccine started arriving in October.

More than 200 county volunteers donated 2,500 hours so far to combat H1N1 locally, the department reported. Volunteers answered phones, processed paperwork and gave shots, Barton said.

The number of calls and reported cases of H1N1 have subsided in recent weeks, prompting the county to shut down its help line Dec. 1.

Sweat Lodge Deaths

More than 20 apparently overwhelmed in a crowded sweat lodge were hospitalized Oct. 8 after a ceremony turned into the “largest mass casualty incident” in Verde Valley history.

As many as 65 were involved. Injuries ranged from dehydration to kidney failure. Two died shortly after arriving at Verde Valley Medical Center while a third victim died Oct. 17 at Flagstaff Medical Center.

Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate the deaths at Angel Valley Retreat Center south of State Route 89A along Oak Creek, west of Sedona and east of Page Springs.

Participants were taking part in a retreat organized by James Arthur Ray. Ray is known for his Harmonic Wealth program.

Lawsuits have been filed by survivors, victims’ families and the Black Hills Sioux Nation, alleging Ray “committed fraud by impersonating an Indian,” thus violating the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie.

Mingus Union High School

The employment contract for Scott Dunsmore, who challenged Mingus Union High School District Governing Board members in an open letter in 2008, was officially terminated in January after reaching a settlement agreement with Mingus.

The district selected Tim Foist as its new superintendent March 28. Foist took the reins of the school district in the midst of a $5 million remodeling project.

The Aug. 3 grand opening of new auditorium brought state and local officials and plenty of community members who wanted to see how the bond money they approved was spent.

Mingus started the 2009-10 school year with the largest enrollment in its history.

With $525 million left over after completion of the renovation, the board spent $100,000 to paint the outside of the school. Another $40,000 was spent to build a chain link perimeter fence.

Foist asked the community to pitch in again and help build a new track, field and stadium seating using leftover bond money and other financing, including nearly $175,000 in donations.

Fire Closed State Route 89A

Smoke engulfed Jerome and blanketed the Verde Valley in July as the Woodchute Fire on Mingus Mountain was allowed to burn within yards of the roadway.

The fire caused State Route 89A south of Jerome to be closed for a day while firefighters got the blaze under control.

The lightning-caused fire, which started July 19, burned more than 600 acres north of Forest Road 103 and west near the trailhead of Forest Trail 102, which borders the Woodchute Wilderness.

Robbins Appeal

Robin Lynn Robbins, convicted of homicide in the 2004 deaths of four Cottonwood residents in a car accident, lost the appeal of his sentence to 71.5 years in prison.

Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Michael Bluff rejected his argument that he was unaware of the maximum possible sentence when he accepted the plea deal and that he received ineffective legal counsel.

The accident Dec. 31, 2004, in which Robbins was found to be under the influence of methamphetamine, killed William Hutchinson, pastor of Verde Baptist Church, his two sons, Matthew, 27, and James, 15, and Andrew Roeller, 19.
Transit Expansion

Cottonwood Area Transit expanded with several new inner city bus routes were announced in June and July.

Eight new shuttle trips between Cottonwood and Sedona were added in November under the new Verde Lynx service, operated by the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority. Verde Lynx links CAT with the Sedona RoadRunner in Uptown Sedona, providing commuters with an alternative way to get to work.

Taxes Increase

Facing up to a serious decline in tax revenues, Clarkdale Town Council unanimously decided April 14 to increase the town’s sales tax from 2.25 percent to 3 percent. Without the increase, the town faced a $161,000 deficit in its 2009-10 budget.

“None of us want to raise taxes,” Clarkdale Town Councilman Richard Dehnert said at the time. “We’re doing what we have to do. We’re not doing what we want to do.”

The town also decided not to open its community pool for the summer to save money.

City Council Elections

Tim Elinski, Linda Norman, Karen Pfieffer and Darold Smith were the winners of a City Council election March 10. A fifth candidate, former Mayor Ruben Jauregui, fell five votes short of making a political comeback.

Jauregui lost a bid to retain his seat as mayor in 2008 and ran again for City Council in 2009.

Darold Smith received just four more votes than Jauregui to take the last of four open seats on the council.

Highway Construction

Construction improvements on State Route 260, which includes two large bridges, one over 600 feet long and 95 feet off the ground, opened with a new westbound lane Jan. 16.
About the same time, work on five roundabouts constructed on State Route 89A between Cottonwood and Clarkdale were also completed and opened to traffic


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