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Council discusses budget for upcoming year
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ELOY — There are a lot of unknowns when it comes to trying to figure out trends that could impact Eloy’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Many are out of the city’s control such as the impact nearby Nikola Motor Company and Lucid Motors will have once they are running at full speed. Also with the prison population down at CoreCivic, how will that impact the city’s tax base?

Councilman Dan Snyder stated that with all the construction at Robson Ranch, it could possibly offset the decreased revenue from the prisons.

“I know they took a hit with the pandemic, but as we continue to get residential growth in the city, hopefully it will help offset that a little bit,” Snyder said. “Maybe the expected reduction in population may not be as bad as we think it is. But if the (population) does come in at (17,000), that’s a 10% reduction, if we get to 19,000 we could do some more work.”

According to Finance Director Brian Wright, the city’s general fund saw a “negative growth,” or decrease, of 2% this past year due to the pandemic. Previously the general fund revenues had increased 4.8% since fiscal year 2016-17.

“Right when the pandemic happened March, April, May and June, our revenues declined substantially,” Wright said. “That actually put us in the negative growth for that fiscal year.”

“Our local sales tax is doing better than expected at this time,” Wright said. “Construction is pretty strong, and so that has helped our budgeted figure. Also looking at our retail sales tax and how it’s performing, instead of being ultra-conservative we’re moving it up to the more stable side of our collection.”

During Monday night’s City Council budget work session, Wright advised the council to keep the property tax rate the same at $1.06 per $100 net assessed valuation.

The maximum proposed property tax rate for the city is $1.09 per $100,000. The city does not have a secondary property tax.

Capital Improvements Plan

Also discussed during the work session was the city’s Capital Improvements Plan of $60 million over the next five years.

The proposed CIP budget is $8.1 million which is a big decrease from the previous year’s $20 million.

City manager Harvey Krauss told the council that there aren’t a lot of big projects in the upcoming fiscal year .

The city expects to receive around $2.3 million from the American Rescue Plan over the next two years.

“How we were talking about dividing that is basically we’d put a third of it into water improvements, a third of it into water and sewer improvements and a third of it into just overall community improvements,” Krauss said.

Krauss added that improvements will be made to the community swimming pool such as resurfacing the pool deck and replacing the water slide.

According to the CIP funding summary $1.8 million will go to street improvements in the downtown and Toltec areas.

Council member Georges Reuter asked if there are any restrictions for the use of American Rescue Plan funds as he stated that he’s noticed that some projects continue to get pushed back, specifically the K-9 unit for the Police Department.

Krauss told Reuter and the rest of the council the cost for the K-9 unit is $60,000 and it is something police chief Chris Vasquez would like to implement eventually.

“He’s got a lot on his plate coming up,” Krauss said. “Moving into the station and some other programs, it’s not only a money issue, it’s a time issue. There’s not just a one-time cost for the dog, but it’s a lot of operating and ongoing maintenance costs, and there’s a great deal of liability and expense other than the $60,000.”

Vice Mayor Andrew Rodriguez asked if some additional information could be provided to the council about the K-9 unit.

He added that Eloy is losing out on money as other law enforcement agencies that have a K-9 unit make a lot of the drug busts on Interstate 10 in the Eloy area.

In a topic that caught most of the council off guard, Krauss stated that the city will look at purchasing a building for a teen center.

“Going and purchasing another building for a teen center is kind of news to me,” Mayor Micah Powell said. “I know it was in the talks, but I don’t know if I would be too keen on that. I know the plan is to build a bigger facility. I just don’t know if we want to waste the money on purchasing a building, retro fitting it for a teen center and then going to build a bigger community center that would probably be right down the street from it.”

Rodriguez also stated that was the first time he heard about purchasing a building and agreed with Powell about wasting money on purchasing a building and then spending money again on building a community center.

Krauss said that it was not his intent to surprise the council and that after the discussion at the council retreat there was a desire to expand recreational opportunities in the community.

“Ideally you’d like to build a new regional park and recreational facility,” Krauss said. “That would require a lot of time, a lot of planning and a lot of money. We didn’t have that in the budget. The thinking was we could get a building on Main Street with manageable funds and turn it into a teen center on an interim basis. It would take a few years to develop plans and get funding to get something for what the council envisioned.”

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Dust Devils receive state championship rings
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ELOY — While the calendar pages continue to turn and we have now entered spring, the Santa Cruz Valley football team continues to find reasons to celebrate its 2020 2A state championship.

On Monday evening the Dust Devils commemorated their historic title run with the presentation of the trophy and a ring ceremony in the high school gym.

“You definitely had a story to tell, a book to write not only in the life of Santa Cruz Valley Union High School and football and athletics, but overall your story is one of perseverance and endurance and overcoming and you should celebrate,” Principal Orante Jenkins said. “You will have mementos of something that nobody, for the rest of your life, can ever take away from you.”

While coach Rishard Davis usually shies away from the spotlight, the ceremony on Monday was as much a moment of recognition for him as for his players and everyone else who lent a helping hand.

Jenkins told the story of how he recruited Davis to Santa Cruz, where originally the plan was for him to only be a math teacher. When Davis arrived on campus the football coach position opened up shortly after and he has been at the helm of the program ever since.

“His first meeting with the guys that were interested in playing football for him and Santa Cruz, he said ‘I am not a football coach. I’m a math teacher that happens to coach football,’” Jenkins said.

Davis arrived at Santa Cruz in 2014, the same year that Superintendent Orlenda Roberts took over the district.

“I have watched him, and our coaches and our students work very hard to rebuild our football program and to bring honor and glory back to Santa Cruz,” Roberts said.

Santa Cruz ring ceremony 4/5/21

The ceremony also included congratulatory videos from members in the community and parents of the seniors on the team.

Also present for the ceremony was Eloy Elementary School District Superintendent Ruby James, who claims she predicted a state championship when the seniors where in seventh grade at Eloy Junior High School.

James told the team that the reason she made that prediction was because of the team huddle.

“Everyone always says why do you watch them when they go into the huddle?” James said. “What’s so significant that you always stop and go listen to the huddle. In that huddle there’s 11 young men that are discussing what’s going to happen. … The huddle is also important because in the huddle on that championship day you not only go in that huddle for yourselves, you went in that huddle for all those people who have a banner hanging there, you went in that huddle for all your parents, for all the little kids at Curiel that are running that football because of you, because they want to be like you. You went in that huddle for our community, you went int that huddle for tradition and when you came out of that huddle you are a state champion, and no one can take that away.”

James added that if the athletes ever struggle in the future and lose their way, they can always go back to the huddle that is the Eloy community to help them out.

Maria Vasquez/PinalCentral  

Members of the Santa Cruz Valley football team gather to receive their 2A state championship rings during a ceremony on Monday evening at the high school.

In the limited crowd that was mostly made up of family members due to COVID-19 restrictions, there were a handful of former Santa Cruz football players, who Davis took a moment to recognize.

“I know we’re here to celebrate this team but I want you guys to realize that this does not happen without you guys,” Davis said. “You guys started it off, you set the bar for these guys. I want you to know that every time I look at this ring, I’m going to be think about you guys also. You’re just as responsible for this as these guys are, to me. They did the work but you came in a laid the foundation.”

Maria Vasquez/PinalCentral  

Members of the Santa Cruz Valley football team, including Diego Castillo, from left, Hunter Ogle, Jovan Tarango and Juan Castillo, receive their 2A state championship rings during a ceremony Monday evening in Eloy.

Each football player received a ring that is shaped like a football with the S and C in the middle with eight red stones around the logo for each football championship that the school has won.

The rings were purchased solely by donations, which is something Davis aimed to accomplish.

“No one had to pay anything out of their pockets,” Davis said. “That was my only goal; that was the only thing that I wanted to do. Thank you to the parents and the community for helping us raise this money.”

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Eloy residents plant garden to help veterans

ELOY — There’s a small, gated lot that sits across the street from the Eloy Veterans Center. To a quick passerby the lot may go unnoticed but with a closer look, one will see that it is actually a small garden.

El Jardin de Unidad (the Garden of Unity) features a wide variety of different vegetables and fruit from strawberries, carrots, tomatoes to lettuce, jalapenos and squash.

Originally the project started in 2016 under the direction of the Veterans Center and Sonnette Cherry as a healing garden for veterans to have a safe place to be outdoors and enjoy nature.

A few years later the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension stepped in. With the help of Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program Coordinator Esmeralda Castillo and local volunteers, the garden has flourished.

“Part of our program is working with youth in the community,” Castillo said. “I have worked with the CHAT (Choose Health Action Teens) team here in Eloy for the last eight years. We partner up with the JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) program at Santa Cruz and every year we get volunteers for the program. Unfortunately, COVID affected a lot of what we do in the community, but we were able to continue with our True Leaders in Equity Program.”

Two members of the program are Lucas Rivas and Alejandra Quinonez.

Quinonez got involved with the garden because she wanted the opportunity to help her community become a better place and have healthier citizens by growing organic products.

“I have really enjoyed being part of this garden and learning along with my community how to change to a healthier lifestyle along with getting to expand my knowledge of gardening,” Quinonez said.

One of the struggles the group faced had to do with the irrigation system and making sure that it worked properly and once that problem was resolved the seeds began to sprout.

“I was glad that our garden was flourishing and that we would soon be able to share with our community the produce that we had worked on,” Quinonez said.

The group is usually out in the garden on Friday mornings and the plan is to continue changing out the crops.

The purpose of the garden is to help provide the Veterans Center with some freshly gown produce and eventually expand it to the whole community. Castillo hopes to hold nutrition education classes at the garden and possibly a cooking class.

Pinal County Supervisor Kevin Cavanaugh was present for the grand opening of the garden on March 26 and stated that he’s enjoyed what he’s seen from small communities like Eloy.

“It’s not about programs and things, it’s more about love and the love that you have for your community to do this,” he said. “It’s people like you who will change the world.”

Castillo added that she’s proud of all the hours Rivas and Quinonez have volunteered.

“I am very proud to see this continue,” she said. “We want to build on that love whether it’s gardening or just being part of the community and what you can give back to the community.”