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Divided council votes to end support for flood irrigation in CG's Evergreen district

CASA GRANDE — Emotions ran high during a meeting where the Casa Grande City Council voted 4-3 to no longer support flood irrigation in the Evergreen area east of City Hall.

Longtime resident Michael Jackson, owner of BeDillon’s Restaurant, said he and his wife, Nancy, always wanted to live in the Evergreen Irrigation District.

According to Jackson, for about 30 years he had consistent water and healthy trees. However, after a pump caught on fire, it was replaced. The pump fell apart within five years.

“The city testified that they maintained that pump every five years,” Jackson said. “For a year we had no pump at all, and we lost all of our trees.”

In October 2019 a contractor pulled the submersible pump to test the motor, put a video camera in the well and evaluate the findings. The results showed that the pump and motor did not contribute to the problem. However, the video indicated issues with the well.

According to city documents, wear marks indicate that the static level of water used to be in the 180-foot range. The current static level of the water is 218 feet, a drop of 38 feet.

Back in 2014, residents contributed $1,019 in repairs, which included small lines and a new pump. Residents believed that this would increase the water flow, but it simply was not the case.

According to Jackson, 23 of the residents came up with the money for the pump. “We never got our water, and that was five years ago,” Jackson said.

Some council members raised concerns with the city continuing to subsidize the water operation.

“If the city were to invest in building this new well, would more people come on board and how do we guarantee that?” Councilwoman Lisa Navarro Fitzgibbons said to Jackson during the meeting.

The district had lost participants over the years.

“We need to drill a new well if we want to continue to do this,” Councilman Dick Powell said. “I would like us to at least consider drilling a new well.”

Some of the council members seemed to favor more study, which apparently affected some of the votes.

Powell was one of the three members to vote no in hopes of looking into a new well.

“I think it’s rather selfish for members of this council to not give it a chance,” Powell said.

Fitzgibbons and Matt Herman also voted no.

Mayor Craig McFarland broke a tie by voting to end the support of flood irrigation in the Evergreen district. “I think it’s unfair to put that burden on the rest of the community,” McFarland said.

Despite the council voting to no longer support the irrigation system, residents can still come together and pay for the upgrades if they choose and the city would assist, officials said.

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Group plans night drone racing event at CG domes

CASA GRANDE — A Phoenix-based night drone racing group is offering its members a hauntingly good time at an upcoming event at the Casa Grande domes.

AZ Night Tracks, a private drone racing club, plans a camping and racing event called “The Haunted Domes of Casa Grande” on Oct. 16 and 17.

The private club event features drone racing on a lighted LED course with images captured by drones as they maneuver the track, zipping in and out of the abandoned dome structures, projected onto a jumbotron screen for viewers to see.

“This is the second time we’ve done this event at the Casa Grande domes,” said Chris Mason, founder of AZ Night Tracks and a drone pilot. “Our members love racing there.”

The club has the permission of the property owner to stage the event at the domes, he said. Those taking part in the event will be asked to stay out of the dome structures as much as possible and will be required to sign a waiver.

In 2018, the club held a Halloween-theme event at the domes and Mason said attendees loved it.

“We have members who can’t wait to go back,” he said.

Group members enjoy the lore and ghost stories that surround the domes, making it a fun place to host a Halloween inspired event, he said.

“We had one teen pilot with us who was so scared, but it was a fun scary,” Mason said.

While more than 200 people attended the event in 2018, this year, attendance will be limited to 50 ticket holders and club members, who are registered drone professionals and hobbyists.

“Because of COVID, we have to keep it small,” he said. “We’re not really advertising it and it’s not a public event. Spectators can come out and watch but only if it doesn’t get too crowded.”

Mason co-founded AZ Night Tracks with a friend several years ago to provide lighted tracks for drone enthusiasts to fly at night.

The group regularly travels to different parts of the state to host nighttime races with its own specialty lighted track. Last year’s Halloween event was held in Yuma.

“We like to go to abandoned places like the domes,” Mason said. “It makes for an exciting event.”

For the event at the domes, part of the lighted track will traverse through the first three of the four dome structures. The fourth dome in the back of the series of structures will be off limits.

Among the specialty elements to the lighted track is a new feature that Mason calls the “swinging gauntlet,” which consists of an ax swinging back and forth. Drone pilots will be required to maneuver their device through the gauntlet without being struck by the ax.

“It’s harder than you think flying through there,” Mason said. “It’s an adrenaline rush for sure.”

The event, which celebrates one member’s 50th birthday, is advertised as “a once in a lifetime” event. Music will be provided by a DJ.

While temporary restroom facilities will be on site, no food vendors will be available. Attendees must bring their own food and supplies.

Only campers registered with the group will be allowed on site.

The Domes, abandoned concrete structures near Interstate 8 and Thornton Road, were built in the 1980s as an electronics manufacturing facility. Between the unique construction style and a series of tunnels running beneath, the facility has an unusual echoing quality. Now crumbling and falling apart, they’ve been condemned and Pinal County ordered them torn down several years ago. However, they remain standing.

The event and others like it help to promote the sport of nighttime drone racing, an activity each member of the group is passionate about, Mason said.

“It’s going to be amazing,” Mason said. “These events bring people together for an event that’s a lot of fun.”

For more information about the event or about AZ Night Tracks, visit the website www.aznighttracks.com.

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PinalCast: Voter registration and Elections Department ready for November

FLORENCE — Pinal County Recorder Virginia Ross and Elections Director Michele Forney are encouraging voters who have questions about the election to call their offices.

Ross acknowledged to PinalCast that there is a lot of misinformation on voter registration, early voting and voting at the polling place floating around in the media or on the internet. The best place to find out the correct answers to questions on voting or voter registration is to directly call either the Pinal County Recorder’s Office or the Pinal County Elections Office, she said.

Arizona residents who are not currently registered to vote have until Oct. 5 to register in the county they live in, Ross said. Most people are automatically registered to vote when they register their vehicle or get a driver’s license or state ID in Arizona.

Residents can also register to vote or update their address through servicearizona.com, Ross said. They also have the option of picking up a voter registration form at the Recorder’s Office and there are many voter registration groups that are circulating voter registration forms. Those forms can be returned in-person or mailed to the Recorder’s Office.

If a voter has moved, they must reregister to vote at their new address, she said. Otherwise, the voter may be given a provisional ballot at the polls and if the voter’s information does not match the registration, the ballot will not be counted.

Forney also pointed out that Pinal County is one of the few counties left in the state that still requires voters to vote at their assigned polling place on Election Day, if they haven’t cast an early ballot.

Poll workers can easily check to see if a voter is at the correct location using the department’s “poll pads,” electronic tablets that can access voter registration information for any registered voter, she said. The tablets can even print out a map to a voter’s correct polling place or text the map to the voter’s phone.

Residents who want to check their voter registration can do so online at the Recorder’s Office webpage, https://www.pinalcountyaz.gov/Vote/Pages/Home.aspx, or at my.arizona.vote, she said. Voters can also request a one-time early mail-in ballot or request to be added to the permanent early mail-in ballot list at the same website.

“We have seen a huge surge for mail-in ballots,” Ross said. The office expects to mail out nearly 160,000 mail-in ballots to Pinal County voters who have requested them. In past elections, about 65% of registered voters in the county have requested a mail-in early ballot, she said. This year, nearly 70% of the 240,000 active registered voters in the county have requested an early mail-in ballot.

Ross is recommending that voters put their mail-in ballots in the mail at least seven days before Election Day to make sure the ballot reaches the Elections Department in time to be counted. They can also drop the ballot off at any Pinal County polling place on Election Day.

“We have to receive it by 7 p.m. on election night,” she said. “That’s received it, not postmarked by.”

Voters can check to see if their ballot has been received by the department by visiting the recorder’s election website or my.arizona.vote.

“If you have a concern (about whether your ballot made it to the department), go vote (at the polls),” Forney said.

The department will only count the first ballot it receives from a voter. Poll workers also have access to information about mail-in ballots and their “polling pad” will alert them if the department has received an early ballot from that voter.

Voters who don’t believe the system can vote a provisional ballot at the polls, Forney said. However, the department will only accept the first ballot it receives from a voter. Any additional ballots will not be counted.

If a voter realizes they’ve spoiled their mail-in ballot by voting for more than one person or marking the wrong candidate, they can request another ballot by calling the Recorder’s Office, Ross said. Voters who spoil their mail-in ballot can request a new ballot twice. After that, they will be requested to vote at the polls on Election Day.

Pinal County 

Michele Forney

On Election Day, voters who spoil their ballot also have two chances to request a new ballot, Forney said. After that, a poll worker will ask them if they need help filling out their ballot.

The signatures on all early mail ballots are checked by the Recorder’s Office before they are forwarded to the Elections Department to be opened and counted, Ross said. Staff in the Recorder’s Office receive special signature and elections training on how to verify signatures on a regular basis.

The office also has multiple signatures for each registered voter on file, she said.

“We can tell husbands from wives and fathers from sons,” Ross said. If there is any question about a signature on a mail-in ballot, the office will call the voter directly to confirm the ballot is theirs.

Voters can also vote early in-person starting on Oct. 7 at the Recorder’s Offices in Florence, Casa Grande and Apache Junction, Ross said. Drop-off boxes for early ballots will be available in Coolidge, Apache Junction, Arizona City, Casa Grande, Eloy, Florence, Maricopa, Oracle and San Tan Valley. The county’s voter van will also be circulating to different communities to provide a place for early voting.

Those who vote in-person will have to bring some sort of ID with them. That can include an Arizona driver’s license or state ID or a federal or tribal ID that includes the voter’s name, address and photo, Ross said. There is also a list of several other forms of non-photo identification, such as utility bills or a valid Arizona vehicle registration, that can be used to confirm a voter’s identity at the polls. However, a voter must present at least two forms of non-photo ID with their name and address on it in order to vote. A list of valid forms of photo and non-photo ID is available online under the FAQ section at https://www.pinalcountyaz.gov/Vote/Pages/Home.aspx.

The Recorder’s Office and Elections Department are also making it easier for people who may not be able to leave their home, either due to an illness or because they are quarantining due to COVID-19, to vote on Election Day, Ross said. Voters who are homebound can request online that a ballot be delivered to their home by a team of bipartisan election officials. These officials will take a ballot to the home on election day, collect it from the voter and return it to the Elections Department for counting.

The pandemic has also required the Recorder’s Office and Elections Department to put new systems in place to protect the health of employees and voters.

Ross said her office has been following social distancing guidelines, offering employees the use of personal protection equipment and frequently cleaning counters, pens, doors, etc. They’ve also requested that visitors wear a mask inside the office but do not require masks of visitors.

Forney said polling places on Election Day will have cleaning equipment, personal protection equipment for employees, hand-washing or sanitizer facilities and extra masks for voters who may want one but forgot their own. The department will not turn voters away for not wearing a mask, she said.

Poll workers will also control how many people will be allowed in a polling place to vote at one time, she said. If a polling place becomes too crowded, poll workers will ask voters to wait outside until there is enough room. Tickets will be given out to waiting voters to make sure that everyone has a chance to vote.

Forney said the department does not expect long lines at the polling places this year. She recommended that voters who want to vote on Election Day and avoid any possible lines should vote in the mid-morning or mid-afternoon. The busiest times of day at the polls are typically when the polls first open, at lunch time and just before the polls close, she said.

The department is also offering curbside voting for people who want to vote on Election Day but don’t want to go into the polling place, Forney said. A sign outside each polling place will list a phone number for curbside service. Once a voter calls the number, a team of two poll workers, one from each political party, will be dispatched to the vehicle, where they will check the voter’s registration using their polling pad and make sure the voter is at the correct polling place.

Once that information has been verified, the team will go back into the polling place to retrieve a ballot that has been tucked inside a privacy envelope. The ballot will be handed to the voter to fill out. Once the ballot has been filled out and returned to its privacy envelope, the poll workers will collect it, bring it back into the polling place and drop it in the ballot box.

Forney said she doesn’t expect any trouble at the county’s polling places from residents or groups who may want to watch to make sure that ballots are being handled properly. There have been comments in other states on social media from various groups, some who have stated they will be armed, who plan to observe polling places on Election Day in those state.

Forney said each county in Arizona has typically welcomed members from each political party to send one observer to each polling place on Election Day. Each party is also allowed to have one person observe the counting of ballots on election night.

The Elections Department also has a good working relationship with all of the law enforcement agencies in the county and will call them if a situation arises, she said.

Ross said voter fraud in the county is very rare. She could only think of one case of blatant voter fraud in the last several years, where a man tried to re-register his deceased spouse. Ross’ office caught the attempt well before the next election and the man was prosecuted and fined.

Forney said voters can expect to see the first series of election results around 8 p.m. on Election Day. Those results will continue to change until every valid ballot is counted.

In Arizona, elections officials have 20 days after an election to finish counting ballots and present the finalized results to the county Board of Supervisors.

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Coolidge district has teacher substitute shortage

COOLIDGE — Like many school districts in Arizona, Coolidge is experiencing a teacher shortage but not exactly the way one might think.

The Coolidge Unified School District has been fully staffed in the classrooms since in-school learning began Sept. 14 on the hybrid format, unlike some schools, a survey last week indicated, that are unable to fill 28% of their vacancies.

In Coolidge, the problem is a scarcity of substitute teachers. About half as many are working as compared to last year, Superintendent Charie Wallace said.

So far this year, the district has had as few as eight subs but no more than 10. Last year the pool had a pretty full complement of 17.

Wallace places the blame on COVID-19 fears.

“Yes, it is a COVID issue,” she said Tuesday via email. “We have less subs than in previous years and more absences from our employees. If they are exposed, they need to be out until tested or sometimes even quarantined. Studies are predicting schools could have 30% of their workforce out this year at any given time.”

Coolidge’s teaching staff is in the midst of a shuffle of sorts to cover teacherless classrooms. In some cases, principals and assistant principals are filling the gaps when needed, Wallace said.

“Because class sizes are so low due to hybrid learning, teachers and administrators have handled the subs,” Wallace noted.

Students are dealing with matters well, Wallace said, but the lowest grade levels are most critical and those students do not adapt well to sudden changes.

“It is more critical at the younger level because they depend on routines and procedures plus they cannot work independently as well as the older students,” Wallace said.