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Divided Eloy council approves large raises for future members

ELOY — It was a topic that left Eloy City Council members on opposite ends in June, and they disagreed on it again this week.

Two months ago the council voted 4-3 to table the item of increasing the compensation for future council members and the mayor, and on Monday night the increase was approved 4-3.

“I am not in favor of any increase for the council,” Councilman Jose Garcia said.

City of Eloy 

Jose Garcia

The monthly salaries for the council are currently $650 for the mayor, $550 for the vice mayor and $450 for council members. In the adopted resolution, salaries will be increased to $1,000 for the mayor, $900 for the vice mayor and $800 for council members.

Garcia asked Stephen Cooper, the city attorney, if Vice Mayor Micah Powell and Councilman Dan Snyder could participate in the discussion and the vote because the decision would directly impact them. They recently were elected to new terms, with Powell as mayor. The adopted resolution to increase the compensation for the mayor and council members will impact all those who are sworn into office after the general election.

“It is my opinion that any council member who has been elected in our primary election will not have a conflict of interest on this because the focus of that is not the issue of whether or not they’re going to benefit immediately,” Cooper said. “This is for future office, where the term will take effect after the term that they are currently serving expires.”

Councilman J.W. Tidwell also voted against the increase, asking what the council had done to justify the salary increase when it has only given city employees a 23% increase.

Powell responded to Tidwell’s comments by saying that he has worked hard during his years on the council and that both he and current Mayor Joel Belloc are the face of the community.

“When people want to talk about businesses and housing, my phone has not stopped ringing,” Powell said. “I know the worth of this position. We’re not even getting paid a fraction (of what city employees are paid). They’re getting paid a lot more than what we get. How are you comparing the two? We’re not getting paid $75,000 to do this job. We don’t agree on the amount, but to say that we don’t deserve it, that’s ridiculous because we work just as hard as everyone else up here.”

Tidwell added that he believes the council is worth a pay increase, just not the amount that was proposed.

City of Eloy 

J.W. Tidwell

Councilman Georges Reuter stated that he had no problem voting for the increase because it was not for his benefit and pointed out that the city employees have health insurance and pension.

“If Eloy wants to become the big city that we all talk about, and we spend all this money on consultants and nobody cares about spending all that money,” Reuter said. “If (you) want leadership, you have to pay for it. I want to attract better people than me to run against me, but we have to bring incentives. If you just want people that run because they want a business card or a title then yeah, don’t pay anything and don’t expect anything.”

Reuter added that the council cannot live on the proposed monthly salaries.

Garcia recommended having the citizens vote on whether the council should get an increase.

Belloc, who voted no, said council members should be committed and willing to do the job no matter the pay. He will be leaving the council later this year after losing to Powell on Aug. 4.

“One thing that I think we as individuals that run for office should let their constituents know is that when we get over here we’re going to be wanting to get wage increases,” Belloc said. “Did you mention it to any of your constituents that you if you get elected, you’re going to increase your wages? What I want to point out to the council is this, it goes back to doing it from the heart, willing to serve the community and wanting to do it. When we put our name on the ballot we were not concerned about whether we were going to get any money or not. I’m not talking about anyone or anybody, but that’s the truth. I went out, and I didn’t ask for any increase.”

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Pinal County pushing for census responses

ELOY — Earlier this month the U.S. Census Bureau announced that the final day to responded to the 2020 census was moved up to Sept. 30, one month earlier than previously announced.

Due to COVID-19, gathering responses to the questionnaire in some counties has lagged, and Pinal County is facing an additional struggle with Hispanic households.

While it is unknown why the self-response numbers are low among Hispanics, Census Partnership Specialist Maria Cardenas wants the public to know that there are different ways to respond to the census and that all of the information is confidential.

“We do have Spanish-speaking census takers out in the field,” Cardenas said. “Also the questionnaire online is in Spanish and 12 other languages, and if you call us by phone, we have up to 58 languages with a live representative talking to you and helping you respond to the census.”

Due to the pandemic, the Census Bureau had to halt its field operations briefly but has since resumed, with all those involved following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Originally the plan for the 2020 census was to make it available online and by phone so that people could answer the survey from the comfort of their own home.

“We’re encouraging people to do it from their home to not have to interact with any census takers,” Cardenas said. “It takes five to ten minutes of their time and it will make an impact for the next ten years. (The census takers) are wearing their PPE (personal protective equipment), and they’re keeping their social distancing of six feet, and they’re trying not to enter the specific households that need to be counted.”

Cardenas added that while everything is on track to be completed by the deadline, the Census Bureau is encouraging those who have not responded yet to do so either online, by phone or by mail rather than waiting for a census taker.

The census takers make six attempts for households to respond and leave a notice each time, highlighting the other ways people can respond.

A big concern for the Hispanic communities revolved around the citizenship question, which was not included in the questionnaire. According to Cardenas, there are only nine questions.

“We want to let the Hispanic community know that the census is easy, and it’s confidential,” Cardenas said. “It’s mandated in the Constitution that we cannot share the information with any other federal agency including immigration services.”

Arizona has a 60.8% self-response rate, which is lower than the national rate of 64.4%.

In overall self-responses, Pinal County has a 55.6% rate, which is close to the 55.7% rate it had in 2010. In western Pinal County, the city with the highest response rate is Casa Grande with 60.9%, followed by Maricopa at 57.7% and Eloy at 54.8%. Coolidge has a 54% response rate and Apache Junction’s rate is 51.9%. Florence has the lowest response rate at 48.4%.

“We’re talking about 12% to 13% difference on self-responses and that’s why there’s a push from the Pinal County supervisors to also provide information to the residents in Spanish,” Cardenas said. “Supervisor (Pete) Rios made a video in Spanish because we’re feeling that the Hispanic population in Pinal County is not receiving the information because it’s not in their own language. Hopefully, after all the information in Spanish, people will feel comfortable and do it on their own.”

Council tables business license fee amendment

ELOY — Two months ago the Eloy City Council approved revisions to the City Code's Business Regulations, which included the removal of the business license fee schedule.

On Monday night, city staff gave the council an amended business license fee schedule to be adopted by resolution.

In 2015, when the fees were previously reviewed, the council approved a $75 annual fee for all business licenses instead of charging $150 for businesses not physically located in Eloy.

The amendment suggested applying the $75 fee for only the businesses physically located in Eloy, removing the $25 application processing fee for mobile vendors and removing all fees for peddlers and transient merchants.

Councilman J.W. Tidwell and other council members were confused about why there were different fees under the business license schedule. For example, the fee for barbershops and beauty salons is $25 for individuals and $50 for operators and owners.

“I just want clarification for why you have different amounts for different licenses,” Tidwell said.

Finance Director Brian Wright told the council that the barbershops do not provide retail sales, and they provide a service that isn't taxed.

The only way a barbershop can charge sales tax is if it sells some type of hair product to the customer.

“We looked at other municipalities and their structures, and there’s always a little bit of a discount when it comes to barbershops,” Wright said.

Wright added that the $25 fee for barbers is for those who work out of their home, whereas the $50 is for barbershops with a fixed business location.

“We haven’t had any questions, but if council wishes to adjust those fees, we can,” Wright said. “If you want to put it at $25 or if you want it at $50 or if you want everything at $75 to make it easier, that’s fine.”

The council voted to table the item until more information is provided.

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For veterans in Pinal hospice, pinning ceremony is a special moment

CASA GRANDE -- Arizona City resident Gene Briddle says it’s never too late to thank a military veteran for their service.

As a member of a local volunteer honor guard with Honoring/Hiring/Helping our Heroes of Pinal County, Briddle is often at the bedside of dying or seriously ill veterans in hospice care, making sure they hear the simple words “thank you for your service.”

“Some of these veterans fought hard battles in the wars, especially the Korean War,” he said. “Simply hearing ‘thank you for your service’ is very impactful. It means a lot to them.”

On each visit, Briddle dons a blue uniform and conducts a pinning ceremony. Since March, Briddle has visited more than a dozen dying or seriously ill veterans in hospice care. Because of COVID-19, he conducts each ceremony alone.

Pinning ceremonies for hospice patients aim to acknowledge the sacrifices individual veterans have made. The event also gives the veterans a chance to share their own unique story.

“While we’re there, we talk to them and salute them,” Briddle said. “If they have a military veteran’s hat, we put the pin on the hat. If they don’t have one, we buy one for them. We also give them a flag.”

The ceremonies are arranged by Paul Bond, a bereavement counselor and volunteer coordinator with Hospice Family Care.

“Gene loves doing these ceremonies and loves being there for these veterans as they’re dying. He shares his time and compassion with them,” Bond said.

Bond arranges about 150 pinning ceremonies for dying or ill veterans throughout the area every year. Before COVID-19, the ceremonies were conducted by a group of volunteer veterans who belong to a local honor guard. Briddle joined the group a few years ago.

As well as visiting vets in hospice care, the group would also perform pinning ceremonies for vets who visited the Honoring/Hiring/Helping our Heroes of Pinal County’s downtown office.

And while the pinning ceremonies are just as important to veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the honor guard members are in high-risk groups and are unable to attend ceremonies. Since March, Briddle has been doing the ceremonies on his own.

“I’m not concerned with getting sick,” Briddle said. “I lost my wife of 48 years last May and that changed my outlook on life. But I do take precautions when I visit a vet for the pinning ceremonies. I wear a mask. But the pinning ceremonies were more impressive when it was a group of us visiting veterans.”

The ceremonies can be emotional for the veterans as well as the families. Often, everyone in the room has tears in their eyes, he said.

“We had a vet in Eloy and planning his pinning ceremony took a while,” Briddle said. “When we finally got there, he was having a hard time breathing. We did his ceremony and a little while after we left, we found out he had passed. He had waited for us to do the pinning ceremony and to hear ‘thank you for your service,’ before letting go. It feels good knowing I’m doing something that means so much to people.”

While veterans are the focus, some ceremonies have been done for people who didn’t serve in the military.

“We did one ceremony for the wife of a veteran. She had worked for the Veterans Administration for decades. We pinned her before she passed away,” Briddle said.

During each visit with a dying veteran, Briddle asks about funeral arrangements.

“We find often, especially with spouses, they don’t know that VA burial benefits are available,” he said. “I will help with information and submitting the paperwork required for approval to be buried in a VA cemetery, all free, of course.”

Briddle, who is from Los Angeles, served in the Army in a communications role, from 1969 through 1971, during the Vietnam era.

For part of the time, he was stationed on Quemoy off the coast of China, also known as Kinmen, which at the time was subjected to a Chinese propaganda campaign that included an exchange of leaflets. Briddle collected several of the Chinese leaflets that were dropped on the island, kept them and still looks at some of them today to remember his own military service.

He said he feels lucky he wasn’t involved in combat during his own military service.

“Some of these soldiers came back from war and went back to their lives,” Briddle said. “They kept quiet and sometimes, they were never thanked for their service. I just want to make sure they hear thank you.”