Authors Articles byMason Callejas

Mason Callejas

Mason Callejas
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Rick Horst. Submitted photo

A finalist for the Maricopa city manager was awarded a three-year employment agreement Tuesday after city council voted to offer him the shorter-than-usual contract.

“[Maricopa] has a leakage of about $367 million where citizens are spending money in other communities, and my expertise is in how to reverse that.” — incoming City Manager Ricky Horst

Ricky Horst, the current city manager for Rocklin, California, will begin his contract in Maricopa on June 25 and receive $180,000 for the first year of the contract, paid in equal, bi-weekly installments. Each of the following two years he will have an opportunity to make even more, according to the stipulations of his contract.

“After the first year of this Agreement, the Employer may increase [Horst’s] salary as part of the City’s annual budget process [sic],” the contract states.

The three-year contract is shorter than usual for a reason, Mayor Christian Price said. It gives the city the option to revisit the contract in a few years to determine if things are working out, something which is harder to do with a five- or 10-year contract.

“I think everybody wants someone that is going to have buy-in,” Price said. “[But] there’s a flip side to that. What if you don’t like the individual? What if they’re not working out? What if things aren’t going so well?”

By keeping the contract shorter, Price said, it gives the city the ability to come back in a few years and assess the city manager’s performance.

In a phone interview Wednesday Horst said, he and his wife were elated to be coming to Maricopa, a city which dually shares his vision and could use his experience.

“[Maricopa] has a leakage of about $367 million where citizens are spending money in other communities, and my expertise is in how to reverse that,” Horst said. “So, then we can continue to provide for public safety, better infrastructure and quality of life amenities that will continue to make Maricopa the special place that it is.”

Horst went on to say Maricopa is offering him more than just a role in developing such a young city, and the city also fits the mold for a place he would like to call home.

“I’ve been at this for a while, and frankly I’ve had a lot of invites to go to a lot of cities to look at what they’re doing, but I have the right to be picky now,” Horst said Wednesday. “And I picked Maricopa both for career reasons and professional reasons, but also for personal reasons and quality-of-life reasons.”

A city Stakeholder Panel was convened to help in the city manager selection process. The nine-member group of residents, businesses owners and local organization leaders aided in the culling the original candidate selection down to two finalists – Horst and a former assistant to the Maricopa city manager, Nicole Lance.

The Stakeholder Panel consisted of Ioanna Morfessis, president and chief strategist of Io.Inc; AnnaMarie Knorr, Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board president; Dan Frank, president of Maricopa Flood Control District; Joe Hoover, owner of Legacy Montessori; John Stapleton, owner of CopaTV; Paul Shirk, president of Maricopa Historical Society; Linda Cheney, vice president of El Dorado Holdings; Glenda Kelly, board member of Maricopa Chamber of Commerce; and Mario Ortega, retired Maricopa Police officer.

Photo by Mason Callejas

Members of the media were introduced to the Maricopa Fire/Medical Department’s latest major upgrade to their fleet Tuesday. MFMD’s public information officer, Capt. Brad Pitassi, gave tours of their new 100-foot Pierce ladder truck which serves not only as a multifaceted tool for fighting fires, but also for responding to medical emergencies. The truck, Pitassi said, which helps the department better serve the community, should be part of the MFMD fleet for 15 years or more.

 

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For those concerned with the status of development around Maricopa, the city’s Economic Development department is taking efforts to the next level.

The Maricopa City Council approved a $150,000 expenditure Tuesday to hire a customer analytical firm to help design and execute a plan to draw businesses to the city.

Council approved the $50,000 a year, three-year contract with the Buxton Company to provide “retail attraction data and psychographic profiles and resources” to assist in strengthening and executing a development strategy.

According to Buxton’s director of sales, Parker Key, the company specializes in a tedious analytical assessment to help private and public entities understand consumer trends and, more importantly, which businesses should be targeted.

“We go through this process of matching your community to a database of over 5,000 companies that we’re constantly studying,” Key said.

Simply put, Buxton acts as a type of filter, which, according to Economic Development Director Denyse Airheart, is a beneficial tool to increase the efficiency of economic development efforts.

“We’re not necessarily being strategic,” Airheart said. “We’re going after what is hip, hot, what we’d like to see, what we hear from our residents, what [council] tells us.”

That approach, she said, means the city could be “pursuing retailers that are perhaps not growing in the market, so it could be wasted efforts.”

Vice Mayor Peg Chapados expressed a supportive but critical sentiment toward the expense – “A partnership that we need to take a close look at but will be worth it in the long run.”

Councilmember Marvin Brown, who ultimately voted to approve the expense, echoed the Vice Mayor’s concerns, citing a contract the city had with Buxton 10 years ago.

“I can recall vividly in 2008 when a similar presentation was given to us… and I expressed to [council] at that point that I don’t think Maricopa had evolved enough and was mature enough to award an $80,000-dollar contract to Buxton,” Brown said. “And as a result, I was right, we got zilch out of that study.”

All on council voted to approve the contract, except councilmember Vince Manfredi, who felt the “considerable” growth Maricopa had experienced in recent years was done without Buxton, and the tool was ultimately just being hopeful.

“I’m not much of a hoper,” he said. “I hear flowery stories all the time and how well things can work for us. Then a year later, or two years later, I’m wondering why we spent $200,000 on something.”


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Enjoying the great outdoors safely

Photo by Mason Callejas

 

As prime outdoor recreation weather moves into the area, it’s important to emphasize some of the basic safety advice all hikers, campers, park visitors and recreational shooters should remember – respect each other’s presence, follow posted regulations and shoot responsibly.

According to the Bureau of Land Management, shots fired across the open desert can travel for more than a mile.

BLM does not manage any shooting areas on Arizona public lands. The lack of regulation can often be dangerous with many shooters of varying skill levels firing powerful weapons sometimes recklessly.

In January one such incident occurred near Buckeye when a young, expectant mother was struck in the chest by a stray bullet while at a public shooting area with family. Kami Gilstrap, 24, died at a hospital.

Gilstrap was not the first to suffer such a fate. Trails and campsites near public and private shooting areas make for potentially hazardous conditions.

Multiple hikers have been struck by stray or accidentally discharged bullets in the greater Phoenix area in recent years, including a 35-year-old man shot in 2015 while hiking in South Mountain Park. Though it was determined the male hiker was off trail, the nearby Phoenix Rod and Gun Club was investigated as a possible source of the bullet.

Shooters who plan to target shoot must remember shooting is only allowed 100 yards away from any major road, and one mile from an inhabited structure. Always shoot against an adequate backdrop and follow standard safe shooting practices. And clean up after yourself.

Hikers and off-road enthusiasts planning a desert excursion should do some research about the locations of both public and private shooting areas. Stick to marked trails and avoid areas within a 2-mile radius of shooting areas.

Carry an adequate supply of water, a cellular phone and notify family or friends of the general location and intended duration of a planned hike or camping trip.

 

AZ BLM Shooting Guidelines – BLM.gov/arizona/target-shooting
Unlawful Discharge of firearms – ARS 13-3107 – AZLeg.gov/ars/13/03107.htm
AZ Shooting locations –AZShooters.org/map


This sidebar appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

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A COMET bus awaits riders in Maricopa. Photo by Michelle Chance

 

The Maricopa City Council approved an application for federal transit funds Feb. 6. But those funds are just part of the budget puzzle for city transportation.

COMET Ridership (trips per year)
Year ending
June 2013: 2,695
June 2014: 2,714
June 2015: 3,142
June 2016: 4,814
January-December 2017: 6,739

Development Services Director Martin Scribner said the Section 5311 grant from the Federal Transit Administration is something the city applies for every two years. By continuing to do so, the FTA remains informed about the goals of the city, making it more likely to continue to receive the funds, which make up more than half of the transportation department’s budget.

For the next two fiscal years combined (2018-20), the proposed budget for the City of Maricopa Express Transit (COMET) is just under $924,000. Of that, $579,000 is from federal funds, leaving $344,366 to be paid locally.

That is where the recently passed Pinal Regional Transportation Authority could come into play. The plan provides $1 million annually to transit systems in the county. Though it has not been determined how much would come to Maricopa, it could be applied to offset COMET’s hit to the city budget.

The RTA may go into effect in April, but there is an active lawsuit by the Goldwater Institute attempting to stop it. However, there is not an injunction in place.

If the half-cent sales tax goes into effect and pays out money to transportation and transit projects for a year, and then the court rules against the RTA, Councilmember Marvin Brown questioned whether the used funds would be expected to be returned.

Mayor Christian Price said the tax collection will proceed if there is no injunction. He said there are a number of theories and “potential variances” at hand if a court rules in favor of the Goldwater Institute after money has been collected.

As for COMET, the city is hoping to use a combination of federal funds and funds from the RTA tax to purchase six more bus stop shelters to cover all 11 current stops on the scheduled route and have one as a reserve.

 

Rendering of proposed bus shelter courtesy City of Maricopa

Maricopa Fire/Medical Department want a preplan in place for commerical areas in case of major fires.

Maricopa City Council approved a transfer from the city’s contingency fund Tuesday to pay for a fire preplan for as many as 96 commercial buildings around the city.

The $48,000 expense will bring Maricopa in line with other fire departments in the Phoenix metro area in better preparing firefighters responding to major fires in the city.

“Right now, when people come in, as well as our own commanders, they come in blind,” Maricopa Fire Chief Brady Leffler said.

The preplanning, he said, creates multiple maps that both MFMD commanders and outside emergency personnel can view when responding to fires. The maps contain locational information about hydrant, sprinklers, electrical breakers and gas shutoffs.

Preplan example

This information, he said, is lacking for almost all the city’s major buildings, public and private.

“Currently we don’t have any [preplans],” Leffler said. “We don’t have anything for [city hall], Copper Sky [has] nothing, the schools [have] nothing.”

MFMD recognized the need for such a plan roughly two years ago, Leffler said.  And at that time the department tried to do the preplanning themselves, however due to the complex nature of the planning, he said, they “failed miserably.”

“This is very technical, it involves the Phoenix [computer aided dispatch], and it also involves [geographic information system],” he said. “We tried doing hand drawings, we tried everything, so we reached out to people that do this for a living.”

The city is part of an automatic aid consortium Leffler said calls upon in the event of an exceptionally large incident or if MFMD is occupied, thus making this fire preplan essential.

Councilmember Henry Wade expressed concern about the burden of providing such information, asking if it should be up to the owner or occupant of a building to pay for such a plan.

In response, Leffler said the city currently does ask for certain information from developers, but the information lacks certain details and is never uploaded to Phoenix regional dispatch system for other departments to access.

The initial $48,000 of the contract with Phoenix based company, The Preplanners, would be spent to create the necessary documents for 96 buildings around the city.  An additional reoccurring $5,000 annual fee would be attached to the contract should the city decide to retain the company services to create additional fire preplans as the city grows.

Though not opposed to the idea of budgeting for a fire preplan, the $5,000 reoccurring fee is where councilmember Nancy Smith expressed concern.

“Here we are almost in March, we are going to be approving a brand-new budget in June and if this is part of that approved budget, at that point, then we move forward,” Smith said.  “And what I’ve lost is three months, but what we’ve gained is clarity in terms of the other must-have [expenses].”

The “must haves” she spoke of were the many similar, seemingly “crucial” expenses council sees requests for each budget cycle. And considering the reoccurring $5,000 expense, she said the matter should not rely on contingency funds.

In the end, council approved the measure 6-1, Smith voting against.



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Winter weather near Maricopa. Photo by Mason Callejas

Another cloudy week is likely to keep the temperature cool and bring in a chance of rain on and off until the weekend, according to the National Weather Service. With a windy and potentially wet Monday, Maricopa will likely see weekly highs in the upper 50s and low 60s while low temperatures dip down into the 30s only to again see a chance of rain later in the week.

Today (Presidents Day) looks to be cloudy and a breezy with a 20 percent chance of rain and winds gusting 20-30 mph while the high reaches up around 62 and the low dips down around 39 tonight.

Tuesday will likely be sunny, calm and mostly clear with a high around 53 and a low near 34.

Wednesday should be mostly sunny, clear and calm with a high around 58 and a low near 39.

Thursday looks to be mostly sunny, clear and calm with a high near 61 and a low near 41.

Friday will likely be partly cloudy and calm with a 10 percent chance of rain, a high around 61 and a low near 42.



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Photo by Mason Callejas

After a wet week, skies are looking to remain partly cloudy over Maricopa this weekend, possibly producing a few more drops of rain into next week, according to The National Weather Service. With a small window opening to potentially sunny skies on Saturday and Sunday, a 10-20 percent chance of rain will likely be the norm this weekend while highs reach up into the low 70s and lows dip down into the mid and upper-40s.

Today looks to be cloudy and calm with a 50 percent chance of showers during the day with a high around 62, while at night temperatures will drop down near 46 as the chance of rain falls to around 20 percent.

Friday will likely be mostly cloudy and calm with a 10 percent chance of rain during the day while the high reaches up around 68 and the lows dip down near 47 at night.

Saturday should be partly cloudy and calm with a high around 72 during the day and a low near 48 at night.

Sunday looks to be mostly sunny, clear and calm with a high around 75 and low near 45.

Monday will likely be partly cloudy and breezy with 10 percent chance of rain with 10-25 mph winds gusting throughout the day while the reaches up around 70 and the low dips down near 45.   


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Photo by Mason Callejas

Be sure to have your raincoats and galoshes on standby this week, as the area is likely to see a hearty chance of rain every day this week, according to the National Weather Service. With mostly cloudy and slightly breezy skies, and a 10-60 percent chance of rain, daily highs are likely to stay around 70 while lows could dip down into the low 40s.

Today looks to be mostly cloudy and breezy with a 10 percent chance of rain, winds gusting from 15-20 mph, a high around 69 and a nighttime low near 46.

Tuesday will likely again be mostly cloudy and calm with a 20 percent chance of rain, a high around 71 and a low near 44.

Wednesday should be cloudy with a 30 percent chance of rain in the afternoon, a high around 66 and a low near 48 at night when the chance of rain increases to around 60 percent with possible precipitation amounts reaching a quarter of an inch.

Thursday looks to be mostly cloudy and calm with a 30 percent chance of rain, a high around 66 and a low near 44.

Friday will likely be mostly sunny and calm with only a 10 percent chance of rain, a high near 69 and a low around 43.



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Photo by Michelle Chance

The Maricopa City Council approved an application for federal transit funds Tuesday.

The vote followed a presentation by the city’s transportation department and a public hearing about plans for developing public transportation in the community.

Council unanimously approved submission of the application for grant funding through the Federal Transit Administration, a grant that has become a mainstay in the city’s transit budget.

Development Services Director Martin Scribner said the federal Section 5311 grant is something they apply for every two years. By continuing to do so, the FTA remains informed about the goals of the city, making it more likely to continue to receive the funds, which make up more than half of the transportation department’s budget.

The combined proposed transportation budget for fiscal years 2018-19 and 2019-20 is roughly $924,000, of which $579,000 are federal funds.

 “This is a great time for us to come and say, ‘Here’s where we’re at right now, here’s where we see going in the very near future,’” Scribner said.

In 2017, the City of Maricopa Express Transit – COMET — saw a growth in ridership of roughly 2,700 more people than in 2016, Transportation Director David Maestas said. That’s a 39-percent increase.

This, Maestas said, follows an overall trend that indicates the city needs to begin to expand transit services. By doing so, he said, the city becomes eligible for more housing tax-credits, which together spurs development.

“There definitely is no question about this,” Maestas said. “There is a strong correlation between development and transportation.”

COMET offers two main types of service: a route deviation service and a local and regional demand response service.

The route deviation service is more like a typical bus route with 11 stops, each with a scheduled service currently operating between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. The demand response service is a dial-a-ride type service that offers curbside pick-up and drop-off at specific locations around Maricopa and to any location within five miles of Banner Hospital in Casa Grande or Chandler Regional Medical Center. 

The trend seen with the increase in ridership, Maestas said, indicates a preference to the local scheduled route deviation service.

“We’ve already surpassed demand response and we’re operating conservatively fewer hours, so the trend would suggest to us the efficiency of operating a route deviation service versus demand response,” Maestas said.

As such, the city is hoping to use a combination of federal funds and funds from the recently approved RTA tax to purchase six bus stop shelters to cover all 11 current stops on the scheduled route and have one as a reserve.

Maestas also said, given the uptick in scheduled route riders, the city is looking to possibly expand hours of operation from 7 a.m.–5 p.m. to 6 a.m.–to 6 p.m.

As for the demand response service, trips cost riders only $1 per one-way local-trip and $3 per regional round-trip. Typically, with fewer than five riders for regional trips, which primarily go to hospitals, this is extremely inefficient in terms of cost.  

Councilmember Vince Manfredi inquired about alternative options such as rideshare programs like Lyft Uber and Waymo, given that medical trips through those services are typically subsidized by insurance, Medicaid or Medicare.

Considering these options and the relative inefficiency of the regional demand service, Manfredi asked, “At what point do we get to that tipping point where we really do have to look at rideshare services that are doing it more efficiently, quicker, and just better than the government.”

Manfredi has driven for both Uber and Lyft. When asked if shifting toward promoting ridesharing services for medical access transportation instead of a city services, would be a conflict of interest, he said, “I don’t see it as a conflict… I don’t drive for Uber medical.”

The actual service is called Uber Assist and is typically available for the same rate as a regular UberX. From Maricopa to Chandler Regional Medical center, a one-way ride typically costs a rider $20-25. The current cost for COMET regional demand service is $3 dollars per rider for a round trip.

However, Manfredi said, the actual cost to the city is closer to $40-50 per round trip. With typical trips taking fewer than five riders, that means the city is picking up a cost of any where between $25-45 dollars per regional demand trip to the hospital in Chandler.

If there were an increase in demand for the regional demand service, he said, he would support it.

“Once we can get enough people on a bus, maybe it makes sense, but as we sit right now it’s not making sense.”



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Some of the early candidates for the 2018 ballot.

 

It may be an “off-year” election, but a U.S. Senate race is already heating up, a Maricopan is making a bid for Congress, and state and local races may prove to be contentious.

Federal

After a tumultuous 2017, Arizona’s political role on the national stage is likely to continue down the same raucous path during the 2018 mid-term elections.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, who butted heads with President Trump, announced he will not seek re-election, leaving his seat vacant due to what he considers an unsavory political climate among fellow conservatives where there exists a “flagrant disregard for truth or decency.”

“[What] if decency fails to call out indecency,” Flake asked rhetorically during an Oct. 24 speech on the Senate floor. “Were the shoe on the other foot, would we Republicans accept such behavior on display from dominant Democrats?”

In the wake of his announcement, Republicans began to flex their campaign muscles preparing for what’s likely to be a contentious battle to fill Flake’s seat.

Thus far, from the relatively moderate end of the conservative political spectrum, Republican U.S. Rep. Martha McSally from Arizona’s second legislative district brings a bipartisan approach to hot-button issues such as healthcare and social security.

“While there is a lot of attention on areas of disagreement on healthcare, I am committed to working to find areas of agreement and governing,” McSally said in July 2017 press release.

At the far-right end of that spectrum lay more fiery GOP candidates, including former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and state Sen. Kelli Ward of Arizona’s fifth legislative district, both ardent Trump supporters. Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt of court for violating a judge’s order when he “continued to detain and harass” suspected undocumented immigrants who had not been suspected of or charged with a crime.

President Trump pardoned Arpaio in August 2017, and called him an American patriot who “kept Arizona safe.” Both Ward and Arpaio are staunch supporters of Trump’s immigration policy, including his now-defunct ban on immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries, save for the recent barring of immigrants from Venezuela and North Korea. McSally defended Trump’s attacks on the press.

In opposition, Democrats are offering their own dose of partisan fervor to tilt the political scales to the left.

Phoenix attorney and Democrat Deedra Abboud is also running to fill Flake’s seat. Abboud is an American-born progressive Muslim who states on her website “we must be free to forge our own futures, to determine our own destinies, and to follow our own faith, including no faith at all.”

Also on the left, fighting for Flake’s seat is Kristen Sinema, a Blue Dog Democrat with moderate liberal views many consider to be “GOP-friendly.” With political clout and actual campaign capital, some see Sinema as a formidable force capable of turning the red seat blue.

In the race for U.S. representative for District 1, conservative Republican state Sen. Steve Smith of Maricopa and other candidates are challenging incumbent Tom O’Halleran, a moderate Democrat who resides near Sedona.

Smith and fellow Republican candidates Kevin Cavanaugh and Tiffany Shedd have their work cut out for them in creating name recognition in a vast district that is nearly equally divided between the majority parties.

O’Halleran, a former Republican and former independent before winning his seat two years ago, has shown a moderate bent in D.C., with a record of bipartisan work with veterans and law enforcement.

 

Arizona

For the governorship, incumbent Doug Ducey is seeking re-election after one term. Campaigning for the job are Democrat state Sen. Steve Farley and Army veteran and educator David Garcia, as well as numerous candidates from other parties and independents.

For Secretary of State, Republican Lori Klein Corbin and Democrats state Sen. Katie Hobbs and attorney Mark Robert Gordon all want incumbent GOP Michele Reagan’s job.

For Attorney General, Republican incumbent Mark Brnovich is running for re-election. He is being challenged by Democrat January Contreras.

Other state-level positions up for grabs are Superintendent of Public Education, State Treasurer, Mine Inspector, and two Corporation Commission seats.

 

Legislative District 11

Republican state Rep. Vince Leach and Democrat Ralph Atchue are running to fill the Senate seat vacated by Republican Steve Smith.

Running for two seats in the House of Representatives, one vacated by Leach seeking the Senate seat, are three Republicans: incumbent Mark Finchem, Maricopa Constable Bret Roberts and former Maricopa City Councilmember Bridger Kimball. Running in opposition are two Democrats: Hollace Lyon and Barry McCain.

 

Pinal County

In Pinal County, incumbent Clerk of Superior Court Amanda Stanford is running unopposed so far.

For Justice of the Peace of the Maricopa/Stanfield Justice Court, incumbent Republican Lyle Riggs has not yet declared his intention to seek re-election.

For Maricopa/Stanfield constable, three men are running for the seat being vacated by Bret Roberts, who seeking the LD 11 representative seat. Declared candidates are Republicans Glenn Morrison and Bill Griffin and Democrat Andre LaFond.

 

Maricopa

Registration for Maricopa City Council candidates opened Jan. 22 and will close April 30. Candidate packets must be returned from April 30 to May 30. Three seats are up for election.

Two seats are available on the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board. Candidate packets will be available from the Pinal County Superintendent’s Office in mid-March. Due date to file is July-August, but those date have not yet been set. The school board election is only on the General Election ballot.


This is an update of a story that appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

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The Aquatic Center is a large portion of the expenditures at Copper Sky. Photo by Mason Callejas

 

For the past 15 years, city councilmembers, city managers, planners and other administrators have emphasized different areas of growth and identity in an attempt to put Maricopa “on the map.”

Parks & Rec Debt Service
Voter approved 2008 for $65.5 million
Paid through secondary property tax
Started Jan. 1, 2014 at 3%
Ends July 1, 2030 at 6.335%
Ak-Chin grant $7.4 million ($1.48 million annually) ends July 1, 2019
Rate of return: 65%

In 2008, a major move was made to bolster that development when voters approved a $65.5 million bond measure to expand the city’s parks, recreation and library facilities. The bonds were placed on a 15-year amortization schedule and are to be paid in full by 2030 via a secondary property tax.

After almost five years of planning, flood mitigation and eventually construction, Copper Sky Regional Park and Multi-Generational Center opened in the spring of 2014 at a cost of $52 million. The facility, being brand new, was expected to create an initial budgetary deficiency, Mayor Christian Price said.

“We’ve never operated a facility like this before… so you look around and see how other cities do it,” Price said. “But you have to remember that as soon as this facility comes out of the ground, you have a giant hit to the General Fund.”

To help cushion that blow, a $7.4 million grant was awarded to the city by the AK-Chin Indian Community to be distributed over the course of five years at $1.48 million annually.

To prevent undue burden on the city when the grant runs out, Price said, council set a goal.

That goal, he said, was to generate enough revenue through usage fees to cover at least 75 percent of operational costs and eventually shrink that margin to cover 100 percent of the cost.

Now, as the city enters the fifth and final year of the Ak-Chin grant, administrators are sifting through the facility’s budget in an attempt to lower overhead and get the facility on track to self-sustainability.

Not only will the $1.48 million cushion be taken away after next fiscal year, but the city is currently experiencing only about a 65 percent return, Interim Community Services director Fred Gray said.

In July, former Community Services Director Kristie Reister presented a financial review of Copper Sky at a Budget, Finance and Operations (BFO) Subcommittee meeting in an effort to address the impending situation and to both reduce costs and increase revenue.

The aquatic center was heavily scrutinized for its high overhead. Other suggested cuts were to simple expenses such as office supplies and advertising.

Additionally, in light of the recent increase in state minimum wage, increasing membership rates to reflect an increase in general labor costs was discussed at the July BFO meeting. This is most likely to take the form of increased day-use fees to encourage the purchase of monthly and annual memberships.

However, when considering rate increases, Price wants to err on the side of caution.

“Where’s the break-even point? How much do you let go so that you subsidize that because that’s what the taxpayers demand?” Price said. “They want to use [Copper Sky] for an economical price.”

Gray has since replaced Reister as head of the Community Services Department on an interim basis.

Gray has extensive experience in Community Services, including more than a decade as Tuscon’s Parks and Recreations director. And though his time with the City of Maricopa is currently considered provisional, he does agree changes must be made.

However, he said, any changes need to be done in such a way they “don’t impact services.”

Though officials seem to be working hard to compensate for the lack of a grant, Financial Services Director Brenda Hasler insisted that despite any potential shortcomings in the Copper Sky budget the city would never be in jeopardy of defaulting on any bond payments. Doing so would mean a significant blow to the city’s credit rating, so the city would make other budget shifts to prevent that from happening.

“We budget conservatively,” Hasler said. “We never budget [overall] expenditures over and above revenues.”

Accordingly, as the city prepares for life without the Ak-Chin grant, they must consider the impact of an increased burden on the city’s General Fund, the fund that AKIC grant money was channeled through.

And therein lies the rub.

As Price put it, the city must continue to subsidize the facility in such a way that rates do not price out the residents. As Gray put it, the city should be leery of sacrificing services. And as Hasler put it, the city cannot default on its debt obligations.

Instead, a balancing act must be performed that in the end keeps residents happy, Copper Sky afloat and the city financially solvent.

Additionally, for those who suggest issuing the remaining $13 million bond money to compensate, Price said, no way. The city doesn’t want to over-leverage itself and risk its credit-worthiness.

“Just because your credit card limit says $100,000, does it mean you should spend $100,000 if you only make $50,000 a year? No, it doesn’t.”

 


This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

 

First lady Eleanor Roosevelt visiting the Japanese Internment Camp on Gila River land near Maricopa.

 

Winston Churchill once said, “history is written by the victors,” alluding to a reality in which often only self-serving histories are memorialized. Despite criticisms over the implications of such a statement, Churchill believed the subjective nature of history tends to bend in favor of a conflict’s winner, sometimes excluding controversy and atrocity.

IF YOU GO
What: Gila River Japanese Internment Camp presentation
When: Feb. 5, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road
Who: Maricopa Historical Society
How Much: Free

One such American story is that of World War II Japanese and German internment camps.

To aid in telling the controversial tale of these camps, one of which happened to be in Maricopa’s backyard, the Maricopa Historical Society is hosting a speaker Monday who will shed light on what many consider to be a dark time in American history.

“[The presentation] focuses on this challenging period in our history when, due to fear and other issues, we lost our way a bit and incarcerated people, two-thirds of which were American citizens, because they looked like the enemy,” said Jody Crago, director of the Chandler Museum.

The political and social atmosphere that spawn this fear of invasion and defeat, Crago said, is relative to today and deserves revisiting.

“If your livelihood or your community seems like it’s being supplanted by some other group, it’s natural to be afraid of what the future holds,” Crago said.  

But in this instance, he said, that fear, whether warranted or not, became so great the government began to extensively deprive citizens of their rights.

The question being, Crago said, “is this important to think about today?”  

Crago’s presentation will also have a secondary component.

He hopes to highlight some of the new improvements at the Chandler Museum including a new “expanded” museum near the Chandler Fashion Center, which, he said, will include exhibits on Japanese internment camps in Arizona.

He also said, soon after the museum is open it will feature an exhibit on Chandler boxing legend Zora Folley, who once challenged Muhammed Ali for the heavyweight title but was defeated.

Crago has more than 25 years working in small museums focusing on community interaction. He co-created ChandlerpediA and is co-founder of the East Valley Cultural Heritage Coalition in Phoenix. He serves on the American Association for State and Local History National Leadership Awards Committee and was president of the Museum Association of Arizona.

His presentation on the Gila River internment camp will be held at the Maricopa Public Library, Feb. 5 at 5:30 p.m.

Apex Motor Club, owned by Private Motorsports Group, wants to open a private track in Maricopa.

An organization in opposition to the planned private motorsports complex, Apex, filed campaign finance reports with the City of Maricopa after being threatened with nearly $13,000 in fines for failing to do so.

“I think it’s everyone’s right to do what my clients did and to circulate a petition sheet on a matter such as this.” — Tim La Sota, attorney for Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers

Attorney Tim La Sota, counsel for Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers, filed the reports with the city Jan. 26, nearly three months after the organization lost a legal challenge against the proposed racetrack. (See video of Apex plans.)

Despite losing the legal battle, La Sota said his clients are pleased.

“We’re very happy with the resolution, and obviously not paying any kind of fine,” La Sota said. 

 The organization mounted the legal challenge last year after city council approved a conditional use permit for the racetrack to move forward with the project, saying the decision should have been brought to voters on the November ballot.

The case made it all the way to the Arizona Supreme Court, which ultimately dismissed the complaint against the City and Apex.

City Attorney Denis Fitzgibbons said this conclusion was amicable and likely the best they could have hoped for.

“They filed the reports, and that’s what we asked them to do,” Fitzgibbons said. “So, from my reading of it, I think the matter is resolved.”

Fitzgibbons added, when it comes to civil matters such as this, it’s hard to say for certain the issue is 100 percent quashed. Based on the opposition’s response, though, he feels the matter is closed.

Despite the organization’s lack of response to the city’s initial inquiries about campaign finance reports, Fitzgibbons said, La Sota was very cooperative in seeking a resolution.

“I don’t believe Tim La Sota ever got any of the original notices, because I don’t think [Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers] was sending those notices on to Tim,” Fitzgibbons said. “Once the City Clerk turned it over to me, then [La Sota] responded immediately, so I do think they were legitimately trying to get it resolved.”

As for those who initially filed the complaint with the city, Fitzgibbons said he did not believe they would have any sort of independent right to pursue the case further. 

Lawyers from the firm Coppersmith and Brockelman, representing Private Motorsports Group, Apex’s parent company, initially filed the complaint with the city Oct. 30.

In the complaint, attorney Roopali Desai alleges the organization not only violated Arizona campaign finance laws, but also the organization “is clearly sponsored by Danrick Builders, LLC (“Danrick”), and /or its principal, Daniel Erickson.”

Erickson and his company – Danrick Builders – are seeking to build a similar, though much larger, motorsports complex in Casa Grande named Attesa. In a letter to Pinal Central, Erickson endorsed Apex’s opponents saying, “the bottom line is the future of Apex has a direct effect on the future of Attesa.”

La Sota claimed to have no knowledge of Erickson or Attesa being behind Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers, saying “I don’t even know what that [Attesa] is.”

He did admit to meeting Erickson in November but again said he did not have any knowledge of his potential involvement in any Apex opposition group.

The campaign finance reports submitted by La Sota do not directly indicate Erickson was a benefactor. However, they do show the $5,204 in funds they received were paid for by Sovereign Land Assets, LLC, a company that listed as principal agent Joseph Villasenor, someone with alleged ties to both Erickson and lawyers who represent another Apex-opposition complaint filed on behalf of Maricopa resident Bonita Burks. 

Though InMaricopa has not been able to uncover any direct ties between Villasenor and Erickson, it has been discovered Villasenor and Burks’ lawyer, former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods, were both involved in a legal battle involving the Phoenix Coyotes and the Scottsdale Polo Championship.

The PR firm hired by the Coyotes to assist in defeating a similar 2013 referendum attempt in Glendale is the PR firm currently representing Apex – Rose+Moser+Allyn Public & Online Relations. The firm eventually sued the Coyotes seeking $250,000 they claim was promised to the Scottsdale Polo Championship, which is run by Rose+Moser+Allyn.

Neither the chairman for Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers, Robert Rebich, nor its treasurer, David Prom, live in Maricopa. The organization’s Application for Referendum Petition show their mailing addresses to be in either Phoenix or Scottsdale respectively.

When asked whether he believed it was appropriate for non-residents to attempt to participate in the political process, La Sota said his clients were in the right.

“I think it’s everyone’s right to do what my clients did and to circulate a petition sheet on a matter such as this,” La Sota said. “You don’t have to be a resident of Maricopa to engage in those activities.”

Additionally, any parties responsible for paying the legal costs accrued by Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers were not disclosed in the campaign finance report, La Sota said, citing an Arizona Law that allows for the exclusion of such details.

Both La Sota and Fitzgibbons agree to the legitimacy of the laws application, thus likely ending the city’s legal battle with the organization, which La Sota claims will soon be formally disbanded.

The Burks’ case, however, remains to be decided with the Arizona Court of Appeals.

An opening brief for that case is scheduled for Feb. 20.                


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Photo by Mason Callejas

Maricopa, like much of the Valley, is experiencing a late winter heat wave, according to the National Weather Service. With mostly calm and clear skies and a 0 percent chance of precipitation, daily highs are likely to hover around 80 this weekend, which is roughly 10 degrees warmer than the historical average for February.

Today is forecast to be sunny, calm and mostly clear with a high around 79 and a low near 44.

Friday will likely be sunny, calm and partly cloudy with a high around 79 and a low near 45.

Saturday should be sunny, calm and clear with a high around 79 and a low near 46.

Sunday looks to also be sunny, calm and clear with a high around 79 and a low near 45.

Monday will likely be sunny, calm and mostly clear with a high around 81 and a low near 46.

Jose Valenzuela is accused of the June 2015 murders of Tina and Michael Careccia. PCSO photo

The lead public defender in a high-profile Maricopa double-murder case has retired, possibly postponing the already belated trial for as long as another year and a half. 

James Mannato, former lead attorney for Jose Valenzuela, announced in court Wednesday he has officially retired from the public defender’s office and is seeking a replacement who could need considerable time to familiarize themselves with the case. 

Mannato filed a request Jan. 18 for a specific attorney, Bobbi Falduto, to replace him in the case. Given the complexities of taking over a capital case, Falduto said, the soonest she could imagine a trial to start would be “a year or year and a half.”

Falduto came highly recommended by the Public Defender’s Office in Maricopa County, having served the office from 2000 to 2017, Mannato said. 

Additionally, “she has the qualifications and temperament to do this kind of job.”

During her tenure with Maricopa County, Falduto was part of the defense team in a landmark Arizona case known as Chronis v. Steinle. The decision reached in the case established what is known as the Chronis Rule, which guarantees the right of a defendant in a capital murder case to “request a determination of probable cause as to alleged aggravating circumstances.”

Falduto’s appointment, though summarily approved by Judge Kevin White, is not yet official, thus she declined to comment on the case.

Special prosecutor Gary Husk, also brought into the case after proceedings had begun, said a year and a half would be “abnormal.”

“I was very much in the same situation when the conflict occurred,” Husk said. “And, it took me about six months to get ready.”

The conflict Husk refers to occurred in 2016 when Kent Volkmer was elected Pinal County Attorney. At the time of his election, Volkmer was attached to the case as a special guardian, thus creating a conflict of interest for PCAO. 

Additionally, Husk said, “the victims’ families are very concerned about a one-and-a-half year delay on top of what’s already occurred.” 

If the trial date is pushed back another year and a half, that would mean nearly four years had lapsed between the time of the alleged murders and the trail start date. 

Increasing the likelihood of any extensive postponement, Judge White is leaving his criminal assignment in March.

This means another judge would be stepping in and likely needing time to familiarize themselves with the case before trial began. 

Valenzuela stands accused of murdering husband and wife Michael and Tina Careccia in June 2015 and then burying their bodies next to his home in Thunderbird Farms, an unincorporated community just south of Maricopa. 

He faces two counts first-degree murder, both punishable by death. 

Case Timeline

 

Marcos Jerrell Martinez, 23, is listed as a person of interest in a suspected homicide that occurred in Rancho El Dorado Jan. 28. MPD Photo

Law enforcement officers investigating a suspicious death in Rancho El Dorado have reclassified the incident as a homicide.

The Maricopa Police Department responded to a call on West Bunker Drive around 7:45 p.m. Jan. 28 in reference to a subject finding his wife deceased in their kitchen “in a pool of blood,” according to a written statement from MPD spokesperson Ricardo Alvarado.

Alvarado said the Pinal County Medical Examiner’s office conducted an autopsy Monday to confirm the victim had sustained some sort of undisclosed trauma.

According to Alvarado’s statement, the caller also reported their 2016 blue Honda CRV, license BTS9468, was missing.

“MPD does not believe this is a random act of violence,” Alvarado said.

Police are seeking 23-year-old Marcos Jerell Martinez, as a person of interest. Martinez is 5-feet 11-inches tall, with medium build, and has brown hair and blue eyes.

MPD asks anyone with information about the whereabouts of Martinez to not attempt to approach the subject but to call 520-568-3673, or 911.

Blue 2016 Honda CRV. Similar make and model of vehicle reported missing from victim’s home.

 

Maricopa Police are awaiting the results of an autopsy in a suspicious death case Monday after the deceased was found early Monday morning in a Rancho el Dorado home from an unknown cause.

Maricopa Police Department spokesman Ricardo Alvarado said the death is being treated as suspicious because the deceased was not known to be receiving treatment for any specific ailment. 

“Typically, when you have some type of a death, you have some kind of a [primary] care doctor that will sign off on a death certificate,” Alvarado said. “In this situation there is no [primary] care doctor so we have to have an autopsy, and the autopsy will determine what they rule [the cause of death] as.”

The deceased has not yet been identified. 

An autopsy is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday. 

This is a developing story. Continue to follow InMaricopa for more updates.


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Senior Ram Wrestlers stand with parents and mentors as they are honored during their last ever home meet at MHS. (Pictured from left to right) Devin Liu, Joey Liu, Kevin McDill Sr. Kevin McDill Jr. Vanessa McDill, Jonathan Perez and assistant coach Carlos Villa. Photo by Mason Callejas

The Maricopa High School wrestling team hosted its final meet of the regular season Thursday, winning two of three matches while also pausing to recognize the team’s seniors.

With a 48-18 win over Vista Grande, a 37-29 win over Coolidge and a one-point loss to Santa Cruz (31-30), Ram wrestlers capped off their regular season with vigor.

During a match intermission, senior wrestlers were honored with the spotlight and recognized with their parents and mentors at their final home meet.

Kevin McDill (126 pounds) stood with his father Kevin Sr. and mother Vanessa. Devin Liu (152 pounds) was joined by his mother Joey, and Jonathan Perez (160 pounds) was recognized with  his with coach and mentor, Carlos Villa, at the ceremony.

Head Coach Eric Fierro said he is not discouraged by the lack of seniority on this year’s squad. In fact, he said, it bodes well for the future to have so many young wrestlers to work with and start developing early. 

MHS wrestlers will compete in the Section II tournament in Florence Feb. 3. The top four wrestlers in each weight class in the section will advance to the state tournament Feb. 8-10 in Prescott.

Monterrius Smith (left) and Tyrone Jones (right) stand accused of stealing more than $15,000 worth of iPhones from Walmart in Maricopa. PCSO Photos.

Two of three suspects charged in connection with the theft of more than $15,000 in cellular phones from a Maricopa Walmart pled not guilty in court Friday.

Monterrius Smith, 20, and Tyrone Jones, 19, entered pleas of not guilty to Judge Lawrence Wharton of the Pinal County Superior Court after each were charged with multiple counts of theft and burglary for a  Jan. 5 theft of 18 iPhones from the Walmart store located on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.

Both stand accused of allegedly entering the store with an unknown third suspect and executing a coordinated heist.

“The males took turns distracting the clerk as they crawled under the service counter and used a pry bar type tool, to open a locked cabinet containing new iPhones [sic],” MPD spokesman Ricardo Alvarado said in a written statement.

Smith and Jones are also accused of committing similar thefts from a Casa Grande Walmart, court documents show.  

Both have been charged with theft, organized retail theft and third-degree burglary.

If convicted, each face presumptive prison sentences of eight and a half years in prison.

This is a developing story. Continue to follow InMaricopa for up-to-date information about this case.       

Photo by Dean Crandall

 

The Maricopa Meadows Disk Golf Course will host its fifth annual open tournament Jan. 27-28, bringing in talent from across the country.

So far 135 professional and amateur disk golfers are registration for the Maricopa Meadows Open, some coming from as far away North Carolina, Michigan and Washington state.

The two-day tournament consists of 18 groups and will accommodate all genders, ages and skill levels ranging from recreational junior amateurs to advanced masters and grandmasters.  

Tournament director Javier Kowalski said the Maricopa Meadows Home Owners Association and the City of Maricopa have both been extremely helpful in facilitating tournament, despite some concerns raised by residents about both foot and vehicular traffic.

“They just wanted to get more involved with the intricacies of the tournament,” Kowalski said. “So, we’ve been working together with them and everything is ironed out.”

As for the city, he said, they’re helping with promoting the tournament and allowing for the temporary placement of signage.

“They have been a big backer of our tournament,” Kowalski said.

In fact, Kowalski said, returning for his fifth year, Mayor Christian Price will not only be participating in the tournament, but he also likely will give a commencement speech and throw the first disk.

After that, Kowalski said, the tournament is set for a shotgun start at 10 a.m. with 27 holes per group per round.

Registration begins at 9 a.m. with a player’s meeting at 9:15 a.m.

The tournament is sponsored by numerous local businesses, including True Grit Tavern and Maricopa Pantry.

A food drive will be held during the tournament to support Maricopa Pantry. An awards ceremony will be held at True Grit Tavern following completion of the tournament.

For registration and other event information, visit the PDGA website or the Maricopa Meadows Open registration page.


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Prisoners from Florence work projects for the City of Maricopa.

 

Maricopa residents may have been noticing a few orange jumpsuits assisting with public works projects around the city in recent months.

As part of a cost-saving program, inmates from a state prison in Florence have been working with the city to tackle various improvement projects around the community.

Public Works Director Bill Fay said the city has been using the program for roughly four months. The department has estimated the program could save the city $260,000 annually.

Inmates primarily work to trim overgrowth in rights of way and in some of the washes around town, Fay said. They also help with the occasional minor concrete repair such as filling potholes and sealing cracks in roadways.  

“As they get better at it, we may use them for more and more asphalt repair,” Fay said.

As for the inmates’ attitudes and work ethic, he said, they are “the best-behaved guys.”

In his experience working with similar programs in other cities, inmates like this are hardworking and often maintain good behavior in order to participate.

“If they mess up at all, they get pulled off the crew,” Fay said.

The inmate workers are not accompanied by correctional officers or law enforcement, Fay said, which is an indication of the kind of security threat they may pose.

These inmates are not violent and do not pose security concern, he said. Most are extreme DUI cases or other non-violent offenders.

There is a city employee who facilitates the work, but that facilitator is not security detail.

“If somebody decides to take off, his job is not to stop them. His job is to pick up the phone,” Fay said.

However, it’s unlikely they would run, he added.  

“These guys might have a two-year sentence and they’re one year into it. If they escape, they’ll get picked up someday in the future and end up serving eight or 10 years,” he said. “It’s kind of like getting a home equity loan. If they know you’ve got a big pile of home equity they’re willing to loan you money because they know you’re not going to walk away from it.”

The only expense the city sees with this program is the use of a city van and the extra time it takes one employee to pick up and drop off the workers in Florence.

Fay said he is unsure about any rehabilitative effect the program has, aside from the good behavior inmates must exhibit to participate, but he knows they strive to maintain their places on the crew.

“It’s hard labor, it’s hot and dirty work, but they’re fighting to do it,” Fay said. “I may not understand what all the values going into it are, but they do and they’re voting with their time.”


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Apex Motor Club plans to build a private race course for sports cars on property in northwest Maricopa. After Maricopa granted the permit, both the city and Apex were sued.

 

City officials are alleging a political action committee formed in opposition to a planned private motorsports complex in Maricopa violated Arizona campaign finance laws by failing to disclose donors, an inaction that could cost the organization nearly $13,000 in penalties.

In a Notice of Violation letter to the committee Maricopa Citizens Protecting Tax Payers dated Nov. 8, 2017, Maricopa City Attorney Denis Fitzgibbons claims the group is in violation of state law for “failing to file the requisite campaign finance reports.”

By doing so, the letter further declares, the group has incurred nearly $12,675 in penalties with the city.

According to the city, the committee should have then filed finance reports by July 15 or Oct. 15, 2017, which it did not.

Attorney Timothy La Sota, counsel for the committee, responded to the allegations in a letter dated Nov. 10, 2017, saying a change in state law no longer required a PAC to “register and report at the petition circulation stage, and now they only have to register and report if they are seeking to influence ‘an election.’”

In an initial legal confrontation, Maricopa Citizens Protecting Tax Payers failed to force the zoning change of a parcel of land on the western edge of Maricopa to a city-wide referendum. Thus, La Sota argued, the election never happened, negating any reporting requirements.

Fitzgibbons countered the argument in a Notice of Imposition of Penalty dated Jan. 18, 2018, saying Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers filed a statement of organization with the Maricopa City Clerk May 11, 2017, planning to “engage in ballot measure expenditures and is required by Arizona Revised Statues to file certain reports related to its activities.”

The argument posed by La Sota, suggesting the committee was not required to register, and subsequently not required to report, was erroneous, Fitzgibbons said.

The committee had indeed already registered, he said, thus “subjecting itself to the various rules and regulations concerning committees, including, but not limited to, the mandatory filing of campaign finance reports.”

Furthermore, Fitzgibbons said, the fact Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers sued the city and associated parties, “further reinforces the fact that the committee must comply with various rules and regulations related to political action committees.”

The city is offering to quash the $12,675 in penalties if Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers “files complete, accurate and truthful campaign finance reports” within 10 days of the issuance of the Notice of Imposition of Penalty letter.

If the reports are not filed by the Jan. 28 deadline, the city plans to seek a legal judgment to enforce any fines or penalties.

Notices of Violation and Imposition of Penalty were sent to the committee’s chairperson, Robert Rebich, and the committee’s treasurer, David Prom, neither of whom live in Maricopa.

The parcel of land that prompted this legal fight is located on the northwest corner of Ralston Road and State Route 238 and is the proposed site of a private motorsports club called Apex.

It has been alleged Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers was funded, either in part or in total, by developer Dan Erickson and partners who are planning to build an even larger motorsports complex near Casa Grande called Attesa.

In an Oct. 2017 open letter to Pinal Central, Erickson said he agreed with both the committee and a separate Maricopa resident named Bonita Burks who also attempted to mount a legal opposition.

In the letter, Erickson claimed, “my primary goal is and always has been ensuring the success of Attessa… The bottom line is the future of Apex has a direct effect on the future of Attesa.”

To ensure this, Erickson said, he believes the City of Maricopa needs to “adopt an enforceable sound ordinance with Apex agreeing to the same noise stipulations AMP [Attesa Motorsports Park] agreed to, and the development should be subject to proper zoning [sic].”

Attorneys for both Maricopa Citizens Protecting Tax Payers, and the second complainant – Burks – have denied affiliations with Erickson.

If Erickson is, in fact, the committee’s benefactor, campaign finance reports could prove the allegations.


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Photo by Mason Callejas

Cool air brought in by a low-pressure system over the weekend is likely to linger over the valley for the next week or so, according to the National Weather Service, presenting the chance of a light freeze Monday night or Tuesday morning.

Maricopa will see lows in the 30s and highs in the mid-70s, while the air remains mostly calm and clear with no chances of precipitation. Days should be pleasant and perfect for some outdoor activities, but plan for a light jacket or sweater if those activates extend beyond sunset.

 

Today looks to be partly cloudy and mostly calm with a high around 61 and a low near 31.

Tuesday will likely be sunny, calm and clear with a high around 68 and a low near 34.

Wednesday should also be sunny, calm and clear with a high around 73 and a low near 38.

Thursday looks to be mostly sunny, calm and clear with a high round 75 and a low near 38.

Friday will likely be sunny, calm and mostly clear with a high around 67 and a low near 34.


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by -

 

Anyone interested in running for city council in 2018 will have the opportunity to file with the city soon.

The Maricopa City Council voted Tuesday to adopt a schedule for elections this year.

Starting next Monday, Jan. 22, anyone planning to run for the three seats that are up for grabs can pick up election packets at city hall during normal business hours.

Deadline to file those packets is May 30.

During Tuesday’s Regular City Council meeting, City Clerk Vanessa Bueras reminded those who intend to run for city council, and happen to already be involved with any of the city’s legislative subordinates, they have to step down from those positions.

“Anyone who is currently on a board, committee or commission, and is interested in running, you will have to resign your position once you file,” Bueras said.

Additionally, the adopted resolution – 18-01 – outlines the calendar for a primary election, Aug. 28, and of course the general election on Nov. 6.

Voters must be registered 29 days prior to either election which means for the primary election voters must register by July 30, and for the general election voters should register no later than Oct. 9.


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Who will be community award-winners this year?

Maricopa Chamber of Commerce will host its 11th annual Chamber Awards Jan. 20, and this year the Chamber is offering up something new.

With a night of food, dancing, raffles and awards, the Maricopa business community will celebrate recent achievements at the Elements Events Center from 5:30-11 p.m. The Chamber’s chairman is adding a sixth award to recognize an individual who went above and beyond to support the community.

In the past, awards have been limited to the five the chamber’s board collectively votes on; The Waz Award, Small Business of the Year award, Sonny Dunn Business of the Year Award, Non-Profit of the Year Award and the Renate Chamberlin Volunteer of the Year Award.

The Chairman’s Award, Maricopa Chamber director Terri Crain said, is a way for the leader of the board, Chris Cahall, to hand-pick someone who has done something extraordinary for the community.

“It can be given to anyone for doing something good,” Crain said. “It’s at the sole discretion of the chairman.”

The awards serve not only as a way to recognize past achievements, Crain said, but also as a way to “build a bridge to the future.”

Crain started the awards banquet in 2006 with the guidance of then-board member Bill Wasowicz, and it has proven to be a major source of pride for the business community, she said.

“It’s a great way for the community to come together and support small businesses and recognize our volunteers,” Crain said.

Having recently rejoined the Chamber, Crain sees it fitting to be a part of the tradition she helped create more than a decade ago.

Expected dignitaries include Mayor Christian Price, County Supervisor Anthony Smith and his wife, City Councilmember Nancy Smith. Tables of 10 can be reserved for $500, and reservations can be made until Jan. 18.


This story appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

Michael and Tina Careccia lived in Thunderbird Farms south of Maricopa before the were killed in June 2015. The trial of Jose Valenzuela has yet to begin.

After more than two years, a Maricopa double-murder case is set to go to trial in 2018. Jose Ignacio Valenzuela Jr., 40, who lived on Papago Road in the Thunderbird Farms area, is accused of killing two of his neighbors – Tina and Michael Careccia.

The husband and wife were found shot to death and buried on Valenzuela’s property. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.  The trial date of Jan. 23 was vacated in December, and Valenzuela’s next hearing date is set for Jan. 31 at 1 p.m. for a status review or a trial setting.

A timeline based on law enforcement and court records

June 21, 2015: Father’s Day, the Careccias held a family gathering, which Valenzuela attended. The couple was last seen by family members around 9 p.m. Michael Careccia’s phone made several calls to Valenzuela between 9 and 11 p.m.

June 22, 2015: The Careccias did not show up for work. A family member filed a missing person’s report with Pinal County Sheriff’s Office at 7:16 p.m., and the search for Tina, 42, and Michael, 44, began. The Carreccias’ car was found on North Ralston Road at 10:09 p.m. Blood traces, later determined to be Michael Careccia’s, were found inside the vehicle.

In subsequent days, investigators and volunteers combed the area near their home on Mayer Boulevard in the unincorporated community of Thunderbird Farms, roughly three miles south of Maricopa. Valenzuela was initially questioned by investigators about the June 21 phone calls. PCSO also questioned Valenzuela’s roommate, Felix Nuñez.

June 24, 2015: A $3,000 reward is offered for information about the missing couple. The case began to draw statewide and national media interest.

June 30, 2015: After being tight-lipped about the search, PCSO announced the department’s belief that foul play was involved.

July 1, 2015: Valenzuela was formally questioned as a “person of interest.” At 3 p.m., Careccia family members held a press conference. At 3:15 p.m., a search warrant was served on Valenzuela’s property at 50669 W. Papapgo Road, two blocks north of the Careccias’ home, and a .22 revolver was recovered from the house. PCSO forensic teams began digging in the yard.

July 2, 2015: At around 2 a.m., the bodies of Tina and Michael Careccia were found buried in a six-foot grave next to the house. Valenzuela was arrested.

July 8, 2015: Formal charges of two counts of first-degree murder were filed against Valenzuela after a grand jury indictment. Public Defender James Mannato became Valenzuela’s attorney. Local attorney Kent Volkmer was appointed guardian of Valenzuela’s son.

July 17, 2015: Valenzuela pleaded not guilty, claiming self-defense. His bond was set at $2 million.

Aug. 28, 2015: A report by the Pinal County Medical Examiner’s Office found the Careccias both died from a gunshot wound to the head. The coroner’s report also indicated the presence of methamphetamine, amphetamines and alcohol.

Jan. 15, 2016: The state filed notice of intent to seek the death penalty.

March 7, 2016: The case was remanded to a grand jury when it was determined certain information presented to the first grand jury was not submitted into evidence.

April 6, 2016: A second indictment was handed down.

May 25, 2016: The state again filed notice of intent to seek the death penalty.

July 29, 2016: A trial date of Jan. 23, 2018, was set for Valenzuela.

Aug. 30, 2016: Volkmer defeated County Attorney Lando Voyles in the Republican primary election. He was unopposed in the general election.

Jan. 3, 2017: Volkmer was sworn into office and subsequently recused himself and PCAO from the prosecution of the case.

Feb. 27, 2017: Navajo County attorney Gary Husk was appointed by the state to be special prosecutor.

Dec. 21, 2017: After a settlement conference, Judge Kevin White vacated the trial date and set a new hearing for Jan. 31.

Jonah Honie

A man was arrested Dec. 29 on multiple charges related to drug possession and driving with an open container of alcohol after an officer stopped the man for allegedly flicking a cigarette butt out of the window of a vehicle he was driving.

Maricopa Police arrested Jonah Lewis Honie, 22, Friday night after an officer investigating the alleged littering incident found an open container of alcohol in the suspect’s vehicle and methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia on his person.

At around 11 p.m. the officer spotted Honie allegedly toss the butt in the area of John Wayne Parkway and Rancho El Dorado, the report says.

During the traffic stop, the officer noticed an open bottle of Southern Comfort on the floorboard of the back seat. The bottle was allegedly within reach of the driver, prompting Honie’s arrest, the report says.

During a search, a small “jewelry box” containing nine “small individually wrapped plastic ziploc [sic] style bags,” containing a substance later positively identified as methamphetamine, was allegedly found in Honie’s front pocket.

A small digital scale with white and brown residue was also allegedly found in Honie’s back pocket.

During a post-Miranda interview, Honie allegedly admitted “he intended to sell the baggies of methamphetamine to provide for his four children.”

He was booked into Pinal County Jail and later released.

In all, he was charged with littering, possession of an open alcohol container in a vehicle, possession of a dangerous drug for sale and possession of drug paraphernalia.

If convicted Honie could face up to five years in prison. 


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Late afternoon on State Route 347. Photo by Mason Callejas

Mostly calm and slightly cloudy winter skies mean moderately cool temperatures this weekend for Maricopa, according to the National Weather Service. With highs in the low 70s, lows hanging around 50 and winds staying below 10 mph, it could be a good weekend for a winter hike.

Today looks to be sunny and mostly clear and calm with a high around 72 and a low near 46.

Friday will likely be partly cloudy and calm with a high around 72 and a low near 48.

Saturday should be mostly sunny and calm with a high around 72 and low near 49.

Sunday look to be partly cloudy and calm with a high around 71 and a low near 50.

Monday will likely be mostly cloudy and calm with a high around 71 and a low near 51.



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As Maricopa firefighters check Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church for fire, MPD prepares a drone to fly over the building to look for smoke or flames. Photo by Mason Callejas

Maricopa Police Department used one of its newest bits of technology to assist the fire department in investigating a small fire at a church Tuesday.

First responders received reports of a small fire at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church around 9 a.m. Tuesday and were on scene within minutes.

MFMD on scene to contain the fire at the church. Photo by Mason Callejas

Maricopa Fire/Medical fire investigator Jason Nelson said firefighters were able to keep the blaze contained to a small closet. MPD spokesperson Ricardo Alvarado said the department deployed their drone in an attempt to help locate possible hotspots or areas where fire may be hidden from sight.

The drone, equipped with a state of the art forward-looking infrared camera (FLIR) system, flew over the building for more than half an hour using both its FLIR camera and full-spectrum camera to look for any latent fire.

Alvarado said the drone did not detect any areas of possible concern, indicating the fire was likely contained. The church’s sprinkler system was effective in stopping the spread of any flames.

Church secretary Patti Coutre said via social media, there was “no major damage, however church will remain closed until the insurance releases it and it is cleaned up.”

A woman did receive minor burns to her hands as a result of the fire, Nelson said. However, since the injuries weren’t considered serious, she chose to seek medical attention on her own.

Nelson said the exact cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

 



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