A1 A1
top story
Survey: Arizona highway bridges rated among best in nation

PHOENIX – Bridges in Arizona have again been ranked among the best in the nation in an annual survey conducted by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association .

The group’s report found that only 1.6 percent of bridges across Arizona were listed in poor condition, which means the state was just behind Nevada and Texas (both at 1.3 percent) in bridge condition rankings based on data maintained by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In addition to the ARTBA survey of all bridges in the state, including local and federal agency structures, the Arizona Department of Transportation’s latest figures show that less than 1 percent of the state highway bridges ADOT maintains are rated in poor condition. A poor rating does not mean a bridge is unsafe. It means repair needs have been identified in the bridge’s deck, superstructure or substructure.

Arizona has a longstanding record of ranking among the top five states in the annual bridge condition survey. Only 43 of ADOT’s 4,824 state highway bridges are currently listed in the poor, or structurally deficient, category. That’s the lowest number in that category in more than a decade.

“The good news is we’ve made great strides, especially in the past five years,” said Dallas Hammit, ADOT’s state engineer and deputy director for transportation. “That’s a tribute to the annual investment of approximately $60 million made in ADOT’s bridge preservation program, which includes funding for bridge improvement and reconstruction projects.”

Several bridge replacement or improvement projects are underway along state highways. They include replacement of crossings over Interstate 17 at Happy Valley and Pinnacle Peak roads in Phoenix, construction of a new bridge carrying Ruthrauff Road over Interstate 10 in Tucson and a new US 60 bridge over Pinto Creek west of Globe.

In the past year, ADOT has completed projects that added a new Ina Road overpass at I-10 in Tucson, reconstructed the I-10/State Route 87 interchange near Eloy and improved Interstate 40 bridge decks above I-17 in Flagstaff, among other bridge improvements.

Arizona’s relatively dry climate helps many bridges last longer before major repairs are needed. Bridges also are inspected on a regular basis. Many of ADOT’s state highway bridges are relatively young, including the structures carrying higher volumes of traffic on Phoenix-area freeways.

featured top story
Eloy parachute company making camo face masks

ELOY -- Various groups and individuals have come together to make face masks as part of the continued effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Firebird USA, a parachute making company located on Eloy’s Main Street, has joined the effort with the military in mind. The company is cranking out camouflage masks for both military personnel and civilians.

City Councilman and Firebird CEO Georges Reuter received a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which has led to his four sewing employees making the face masks.

“I got the PPP so I decided not to have my staff stay at home,” he said. “We work with military gear, we are an essential business. I don’t want to fire or furlough anybody and we’re doing something for the people.”

The masks are made from NYCO fabric, which is a blend of nylon and cotton and slightly thicker than fabric made only from cotton, but it is washable and breathable.

“We found a liner that we use for the inside that is thick enough,” Reuter said. “We did tests with liquids and pressured air and nothing came through it. We don’t work with fabric usually. In parachutes we use like pure plastic that is zero breathable so people would sweat and probably suffocate, so we had to find good material.”

The masks are offered in the various camo that the different military branches use.

“We actually just have camouflage because my customers asked for it and most customers are military,” Reuter said. “We have all the different camouflage, like the Navy, they have three different camouflages that they use, so now they can buy (masks) and wear the same pattern.”

At first Reuter was only looking to make masks for his staff and the local fire and police departments, but when he posted a photo online, everything took off from there.

“We got a few hundred emails and that’s when we thought OK, let’s build them,” he said.

The masks include a nose piece that is made from thin gardening wire and two elastic bands that go around the back of the head to secure a snug fit.

The company offers three different sizes and also has a reversible option with a different camo pattern on each side.

Orders can be made online at the Firebird website and people have the option to purchase a mask for themselves and also donate one to a first responder in Pinal County.

“This is for everyone including civilians,” Reuter said. “We just decided we’d do camo. A lot of people wear camo anyway, so we decided to cater to everyone. We didn’t think people would actually like them this much. We got overrun with emails and then we had to set up an online shop.”

While Reuter anxiously awaits Governor Doug Ducey’s announcement on what the next steps are during this pandemic, Firebird is going to continue making masks as long as there’s a demand for them.

“I think people are just going to wear masks until we have a vaccine,” Reuter said. “We’re just trying to do it a little more fashionable.”

top story
Supervisors consider whether to continue cutting tax

FLORENCE — Pinal County’s new annual budget may or may not continue the Board of Supervisors' goal of steadily reducing the property tax rate by four cents each year.

The county budget is on target to be balanced in the old year and new year and keep its goal of maintaining a reserve equal to 15% of spending. But if all requests are approved, the county will be spending $5.3 million above its revenues next year, and its reserve would go down to 12%, Budget Director Angie Woods told the board May 6.

Supervisors Chairman Anthony Smith, R-Maricopa, said he still wants to reduce taxes, but he’d like to see a budget proposal that delays the next tax decrease to reduce or eliminate deficit spending. “The deficit is bothering me, and also the 12%,” Smith said.

Budget Director Angie Woods said those extra four cents on the tax rate equal about $4.5 million in county revenue.

Smith said cutting the primary property tax rate another four cents, down to $3.75, remains an important goal, “but I’m not a fan of deficit spending, either.” Supervisor Mike Goodman, R-San Tan Valley, suggested the board consider cutting the rate at least two cents.

Lag in sales tax

Woods projected revenues of over $194 million at the end of the current fiscal year on June 30, which is down $4.5 million from March.

Assuming April and May have declines of 20% to 30% in county sales tax, followed by businesses reopening, “maybe June could be 90% of what last year was,” Woods told the supervisors. “We’re just trying to anticipate the changes as businesses begin to open back up.”

Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, noted that sales tax receipts typically follow a 60- to 90-day lag, so the county is still collecting money from January and February.

Retail makes up 4%, or about $8 million, of the county’s General Fund revenues. About 3,400 retailers submit tax payments each month; most are small. About 115 big ones — including Walmart, Fry’s, The Home Depot and auto dealerships — make up 75% of total receipts, Woods said.

Sales tax from restaurants and bars make up 1% of Pinal County General Fund revenue, or about $1.8 million. Just over half of restaurant taxes are from dine-in, “so we may be taking a significant hit there,” Woods told the board.

Homebuilding has remained steady, Woods said. For items like state shared sales tax and vehicle license tax, Woods said she assumes what’s happening locally is what’s happening statewide.

As for expenses, the county will have a $770,000 increase in public safety retirement next year and a $900,000 increase in medical premiums.

For the county’s funding for external nonprofit agencies, Woods said she assumed the figure in the new budget year would be similar to the current one. The county makes $400,000 or so in grants to local nonprofits and pays about $225,000 in memberships.

The supervisors will hear more budget forecasts at their May 27 meeting and consider requests from external nonprofit agencies. The board will then consider adopting a tentative 2020-21 annual budget on June 10.

Pinal County Manager Louis Andersen said revenue projections for the new fiscal year don’t include federal reimbursement for the county’s COVID-19 response, which the county is still hoping to receive. “I understand some money has been sent to the state, $2.8 billion, and we have yet to find out how we access that money,” he told the board.

Economic development

Andersen reported progress continues with two “high-tech manufacturing projects; two very large international companies are looking to come to Pinal County.” He further reported that Jet Yard has submitted its plans to build a 100,000-square-foot hangar at Pinal Airpark, and construction of a 1,100-acre, 100-megawatt solar farm is underway in Coolidge.

Andersen also said the Arizona Department of Revenue released its 2020 abstract for all counties, and Pinal was found to have the second-lowest net assessed limited property value, for 14 out of 15 in net assessed value.

Vice Chairman Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, commented this is because of the majority of Pinal County is under state, federal or tribal ownership.

“I think that’s why it’s important that the state of Arizona start taking a closer look at allowing some of that land to be auctioned so we can put it on the (property tax) rolls.” He added the state has been reluctant to do this for the last decade or two.

“At the end of the day, our county is, to a large extent, at the mercy of the State Land Department,” Rios said.

Some county departments have too many under-used vehicles, and Andersen said he’s working with fleet management staff to reduce the size of the fleet in keeping with audit findings.

Codes, regulations organized

The board held a public hearing and approved a new arrangement of the county’s codes, rules and regulations into a single comprehensive volume entitled “The Pinal County Code of Ordinances.”

Deputy County Attorney Mark Langlitz told the board the volume is the result of the efforts of many people, especially Clerk of the Board Natasha Kennedy. Goodman said he noticed the need to have the county’s codes organized shortly after joining county government and commended Kennedy and other county staff for getting it done. The other supervisors also added their thanks.

The code of ordinances will be available online, and each supervisor will have a hard copy in his office.

top story
LD-11 senate candidate contracts COVID-19

MARICOPA — When Linda Patterson attended a couple of campaign events in Maricopa and Arizona City in mid-March, her mind was occupied with how many signatures she’d need to seal the deal on her run for state senator.

Patterson is running for a Senate seat in Legislative District 11 as a Democrat, hoping to oust Republican Vince Leach, who has held the position since 2019. Also in the running is Democrat JoAnna Mendoza.

Patterson passed her pen and clipboard to several hundred people that March weekend, not knowing that one constituent had passed the COVID-19 virus back to her along with a signature. The next day her campaign manager fell ill.

It was another seven days before Patterson began feeling sick. She consulted her doctor right away, but her only symptom was extreme and persistent chest pain.

“I was working with two physicians and not feeling well, and they said, ‘Well, we don’t think it’s COVID because with COVID you’re supposed to have these three symptoms, (but) I wasn’t getting better,” Patterson said.

Patterson self-quarantined anyway, and 10 days after her symptoms began, her doctors suggested she get tested. She went to the Pinal County Health Department and tested positive for COVID-19.

Patterson is a retired teacher and principal who spent “33 happy years” in education. She came to Arizona when she was recruited as a principal to help turn around a struggling Tucson school. She considers Arizona to be home now to her and her partner, Carol Trunell, who also worked in the education field as a special education director before retirement.

Patterson found her love of politics when she was in high school in the Pacific Northwest, attending city council meetings and participating in local and state politics.

“I’ve worked for every presidential campaign since then and worked with local candidates. (I) always have been grassroots,” Patterson said. “Always in the back of my mind, there was this idea that someday I might want to run for state Legislature. After retiring, the time was right, and I thought I could contribute because public education is on the minds of 95% of polled Arizonans.”

State Sen. Victoria Steele has endorsed Patterson for Senate in Legislative District 11. If she wins, Patterson will be the only state senator with a background in education. Her main platform issues include improving access to health care, lowering unemployment rates, expanding affordable housing and increasing public funding for education.

Having to get tested for the novel coronavirus stunned her.

“I remember the night when they said I needed to go get a COVID test, I was in shock because the only thing we had seen on TV was from New York City, where people were going into the hospitals to get tested and were immediately put on ventilators,” Patterson said. “I hung up the phone and said to my spouse, ‘Hey, I’m really concerned because if I go to the emergency room right now and they put me in the hospital, we won’t see each other.’ I was kind of in a panic state, it was very stressful.”

Though her chest pains were ongoing, Patterson said she didn’t have the spiked fever or cough symptoms commonly reported. The 64-year-old has no pre-existing conditions, and she chose to remain at home after testing positive.

She now says she’s about 80% recovered and attributes that to being generally healthy and able to remain at home to battle the illness. Her campaign manager has also made a recovery, and Patterson’s spouse never showed any symptoms of the virus.

“After almost a month of being infected by the COVID virus, I believe that I am moving away from its effects on my body,” Patterson wrote in an April 20 newsletter. “For the past few days I have noticed my ability to breathe improve, my appetite resume and I have the feeling that the worst days are behind me.”

Patterson worked through her illness at the same time she was working her campaign, and she said her experience only strengthened her belief in her constituents to enact change.

“(I was) posting on my Facebook because I felt like I wanted to allow people to realize what it’s like to go through this (virus),” Patterson said. “What I became acutely aware of is that it’s really important for all of us to hold onto hope throughout COVID-19. I truly believe that hope is what causes us to take action to change what is happening.”

Now that Patterson is on the mend, she is back to working on her campaign, focused on the Democratic primary on Aug. 4, when she hopes to secure a run against Leach in the November general election.

But contracting COVID-19 changed her perspective on the reality of reopening the state before it is ready, and she urged caution.

“Being a COVID survivor, I’m really concerned that we follow the science and follow the experts in looking at how we’re going to reopen our society. I’m very concerned that we’re opening our state maybe a little bit sooner than the experts would want us to do,” Patterson said. “I’m afraid of reopening up too quickly, then we’re going to have a lot of people that are going to be very, very ill.”