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Pastor dies unexpectedly, leaves legacy in Florence

Florence Baptist Church pastor Dale Storm, 66, died unexpectedly on Oct. 6. His memorial service was Monday at the church.

As pastor, Storm and others worked to restore the former Episcopal church at 30 N. Willow St. to make it ready to hold services again as Florence Baptist Church. Eventually, the building would also host the Florence Community Food Bank and Florence Baptist Academy, a K-12 Christian school.

The church observed its 20th anniversary last year. Storm said at the time, “Our food bank over the years has served hundreds of thousands of people in need.” Storm expanded its role by providing emergency water and food to firefighters in the field.

Storm was also proud of the success of the school. “Our students have gone on to college and successful careers, thus pointing to the importance of faith-based education,” he said. “Our holistic approach to education strengthens the body, mind, and spirit, making our students better able to cope with our complex world.”

Storm worked as an emergency medical technician, firefighter and police officer, until a close brush with tragedy set him on the path to becoming a pastor. In 1994, Storm, his wife and daughter survived a plane crash.

“God called me to enter the ministry and do his work, and I found strength and healing to carry on,” Storm said.

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Mayor candidates talk about favorite activities in Florence

This is the third in a series of four articles in which Florence’s mayoral candidates respond in writing to questions from the Florence Reminder. Grammar and typos are the candidates’ own. The General Election is Nov. 3.

Q. Is tourism important to Florence? If so, do we have all we need to offer tourists a worthwhile experience? If not, what ingredients or pieces do we need to complete the package, and how do we get them?

Kyle Larsen: Tourism should become important to Florence because of our History. Before you market and attract tourists, we need something to come to. Empty buildings do not impress anyone. We will work feverishly to get a steady flow of people to our town after we get store fronts occupied. In the meantime, we will keep doing (and add to) the events that bring people to Main St.

  • Tara Walter: The Town of Florence has been continuously working on tourism. Recently, we partnered with the Florence Chamber offering 25K of the CARES funding in a matching grant effort. Over the years, we have grown our events that draw local and out of town visitors. Florence has increased Activities and Events, Bringing People Together: Halloween Jr. Parada Parade and Rodeo Christmas on Main St. Jingle Bell Jog Make a Difference Day Memories on Main Car Classics and Customs Car and Bike Show Historic Home Tour Road to Country Thunder Florence Music Festival Arts and Culture Festival. Looking at large scale projects such as Grinders Sports Complex and Poston Butte Preserve, there will be a draw to demographics that may not have looked at Florence in the past. These projects will create destinations for people looking for recreation and fuel additional projects to create opportunity and growth in our area.

Q. What’s your favorite place to be, or thing to do, in Florence?

Larsen: I like to visit all of our businesses and frequent most of the restaurants. I visit the Hardware store on a very regular basis because I like DIY projects. I enjoy the music events and we have a first-class golf course that I like to use.

Walter: Florence offers many great places to different activities. When I want to get exercise and be outside, nothing beats a hike up F Mountain to get an aerial view of our great Town. Looking at some of my favorite Historic Homes and Landmarks gives me the nostalgic feeling of real Florence History. I wonder to myself what things looked like at that time and am I preserving the history that those who settled, grew up, lived and worked here would expect. However, nothing beats the Friday Night Lights at FHS letting loose with our great parents, friends and families cheering at my son’s football games!!!

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Florence continues with top street preservative

FLORENCE — The Town Council approved for a contract for a top-performing street preservation known as HA5 at cost of up to $293,467 at its Oct. 5 meeting.

Public Works Director/Town Engineer Chris Salas told the council that town staff spent the last year researching alternatives and interviewing and visiting other communities, “and essentially, there is no alternative product to this.” Even with a price increase, “the town feels very confident that this is the best product. There was never a doubt this is the best product, we just weren’t happy with the price at the time.”

He said town staff isn’t recommending it just because Anthem neighborhoods have had it in the past, but because “it was the best product previously and it’s still the best product.”

Vice Mayor John Anderson asked what type of material it is.

Salas said it isn’t a chip-seal, an asphalt sealant or emulsion product. It’s much thicker, and the industry refers to it as a “mineral bond” product. It seems to seal in the asphalt, protect it from ultraviolet rays and last longer than any other product on the market. Salas said people come to Anthem to see what almost-10-year-old HA5 looks like.

The town’s contract is with Holbrook Asphalt, using a cooperative contract through the city of Mesa, to clean, prepare and install HA5 “high density mineral bond advanced performance pavement preservation treatment.”

All of Anthem has been paved with HA5 except for the higher-speed roads, Salas said. In addition to several parts of Anthem and a section of North Spirit Loop, the town also plans to do asphalt preservation on parts of Orlando, Elizabeth, Keating, Celaya and Stewart streets, West Butte Avenue in the downtown area and Santa Cruz Drive in Florence Gardens.

Call to the public

In “call to the public,” Gary Pranzo, in a comment read by Councilwoman Michelle Cordes, said he appreciates the recent chip-seal surfaces in the downtown area, although it appears the town’s specifications for this work are either “weak or nonexistent.” He said there’s a lack of cleanup after the material is applied.

“Sidewalks, intersections and gutters remain cluttered with loose asphalt-covered aggregate for months after the job is complete. Truth be told, it never really clears away.” Pranzo recommended the town download the North Carolina Department of Transportation “chip-seal best practices manual.” He further suggested a qualified town staff person oversee the road preparation, finished product and cleanup.

Mayor Tara Walter read an email from another resident who said she couldn’t get an ambulance to respond last month, and suggested the town begin its own ambulance service. “No one wants to hear that no ambulance will be coming,” the resident said.

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Florence complex closure tied to state's dropping prison population

FLORENCE — Total state prison population has declined by almost 4,000 inmates in the last year, making it easier for the state to close North Unit in Florence and transfer inmates and employees, a state corrections spokesman said.

Town Manager Brent Billingsley told the Town Council last week that it appeared the state was following through on Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan to close Arizona State Prison-Florence Complex, with a consistent lowering of the prison population.

Florence Complex includes the now-empty North Unit, which once held nearly 1,000 minimum custody inmates. The correctional officers who used to work there have been reassigned to Eyman Complex just two miles down the street.

Eyman “has frequently experienced nearly 60% staff vacancies. As a result, no employees have lost their job or been relocated to another geographic location. In fact, these moves will enhance public safety and the safety of our officers,” Bill Lamoreaux, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry, said by email in response to questions from PinalCentral.

He declined to comment on whether the state has a timeline for closing Florence Complex, or the state’s plans for the property once it is empty.

Florence Complex, which consists of Central, Kasson, East and South Units, had 2,806 inmates earlier this week. At this time last year, it was at capacity with more than 3,600. The most recent figures are available on the ADCRR COVID-19 Dashboard at https://corrections.az.gov/adcrr-covid-19-dashboard under the column “Daily Total Population.”

Pinal utility customers will like new owner, EPCOR says

SAN TAN VALLEY — Even though EPCOR has been running Johnson Utilities for two years already, customers should notice several welcome changes after it becomes the owner, the company said.

“Customers will have access to more resources in customer service and account management, as well as a variety of bill discount programs,” EPCOR said by email in response to questions from PinalCentral. “We also have conservation specialists that work directly with customers, and extensive in-house expertise in water quality.”

EPCOR emphasized that the Arizona Corporation Commission must still approve its purchase of JU. EPCOR announced Monday that it had reached an agreement with the owners of JU to buy it.

“This sale also brings certainty and stability to customers, developers and homebuilders, and the region’s leaders. A sale of the utility is a critical step in unlocking an estimated $660 million in economic development for the region.” EPCOR’s ownership “will start a new chapter focused on safety and reliability,” the company said.

It wouldn’t say what, if anything, the change will do to rates. The ACC previously ordered JU to file a rate case earlier this year, and EPCOR expects that application to stay on course. “We only ask that whatever decision the ACC makes … provides adequate revenue to safely run and maintain the system.”

EPCOR has favored replacing the troubled Section 11 wastewater plant in Magic Ranch near Florence with a new plant in Copper Basin. Until recently, JU supported a new enclosed plant in Magic Ranch as a faster and more cost-effective solution. Last month, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors wrote to the ACC to ask for interim solutions to JU’s wastewater problems that would allow home construction to continue in San Tan Valley.

EPCOR told PinalCentral that it’s working with different stakeholders to find the right balance between short- and long-term solutions that protect customers and enable growth and development. As for Section 11 specifically, “We’re open to looking at all solutions, but we remain concerned that the Biolac (enclosed plant) proposal would not resolve odor issues and it wouldn’t be the long-term solution that this region, these customers and the system needs.

“EPCOR is fully committed to moving quickly and has the ability to fund and complete the work that still needs to be done and resolving the Section 11 issue is a priority. We have a lot of experience in large-scale infrastructure solutions and are eager to get started.” The company said it’s able to fund more than $129 million in improvements.

It declined to say what it will actually pay for JU, although “it is appropriate to the size and condition of the utility.” Johnson Utilities serves approximately 29,450 water and 40,160 wastewater customers in Florence, Queen Creek and San Tan Valley.