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MUSD makes final big pitch for $68 million bond issue

MARICOPA — Just a couple weeks before the issue is set to be decided, residents were invited to share their views supporting or opposing a large bond issue proposed by the Maricopa Unified School District.

MUSD officials sat down with the community Tuesday to discuss the newest attempt to secure bonds for a new high school, among other improvements. Heading the meeting was Tracey Lopeman, superintendent of MUSD.

The bonds, if passed by voters, would allocate $68 million to buy new school buses, increase safety and security, address aging buildings and help build a new comprehensive high school. Though the State Facilities Board has already confirmed $26 million in funding, Lopeman argues the money is not sufficient to build a school large enough to fully service the students’ needs.

Lopeman cited a demographic expert’s findings that total student enrollment may reach 11,000 to 13,000 students over the next eight years. She also stressed that each additional year that this bonding is delayed, the higher construction and maintenance costs will become.

“If SFB has only given us a third of what is necessary, that’s what drives us to this point here — asking our voters to approve a $68 million bond, most of which would go to supplement that SFB money to build a comprehensive high school, not just a starter high school,” Lopeman said.

She wanted to clarify the difference between the override voters passed in 2016 and the current bond proposal. The override money given to MUSD can be used only inside the classroom, focused mainly on increasing teachers’ pay.

The bonds, on the other hand, would be able to support the physical school buildings where the override could not, helping to maintain and replace air conditioning and roofing and do weatherization as well as building a new school.

The bonds would have a lifespan of 10 years, during which time the money could be used to address aging equipment and emergency issues such as roof repair.

Lopeman went on to detail that the current Maricopa High School sits on about 40 acres, while the average comprehensive campus would operate on about 60 acres. Currently MUSD only owns parcels of land up to 12 acres, according to Lopeman. The school district would need to sell the land and purchase a larger parcel, if the bond issue is passed.

Members of the community expressed their concerns about the breakdown in spending for the $68 million. JoAnne Miller, an 11-year resident of Maricopa, was concerned about the $2 million allocated to the repair and maintenance of the administrative building, which was built in 2009. She also voiced concern over an increase in her taxes, a concern shared by others in the audience.

“It’s going to raise my taxes considerably. They’re already going up for the school district,” Miller said. “Fifty bucks next year; $50 doesn’t sound like much, (but) when you’re on no income coming in except for retirement, that’s a lot of freaking money. I’m sorry, ’cause everybody else wants their two cents — the water department does, the electric does. Giving it to the schools, when I don’t see good management of the schools, it makes it very hard to say ‘yes.’”

Lopeman agreed that taxes would need to be raised, at about $122 per $100,000 in net assessed evaluation, or about $10.17 a month for non-business taxpayers.

Some members likened it to a monthly subscription service. “It sounds like if I cancel Netflix, I could fund my son’s high school,” said one attendee. Others in the room were less happy with the idea, citing that the $68 million is only recommended based on estimation and trends.

Daniel Cerkoney, who moved from Wisconsin to Maricopa with his wife and four children in August, voiced his concerns over the increase of taxes as well. Cerkoney stated that he moved to Maricopa for the lower tax rates to begin with, and said raising them might make the city less appealing to newcomers.

“There was no tangible evidence, no proof that any of that additional money is being used wisely,” Cerkoney said. “You have to consider people that are on fixed incomes who, if you guys continue to add these taxes, are going to (say), ‘You know what? I’m going to get out of here before it gets worse.’”

Merry Grace, a mother of a student at Maricopa High School, responded by describing what the average day is like for her son in the overcrowded school.

Grace described buses returning to the school twice to account for all of the students needing transportation, overworked counselors, scarce lab equipment and a lack of security. Her son had no desk for the first few weeks of school, and his schedule is changing regularly in order to control class sizes. Grace believes the new school is a necessity.

“It’s a lot more than just a building,” she said, tearing up. “It’s to benefit these students and I wholeheartedly believe in this district, and these kids deserve it. They deserve a better future and better opportunities. And it should be that because we are Maricopa, these kids get the best, not because we are Maricopa, they don’t get the best.”

Grace asked the superintendent what the consequences of not passing the bonds would mean for her son and his classmates, and to that, Lopeman answered the district would attempt to move forward with a “starter school” within the original budget of $26 million and push for the bond approval again next year.

“Where are we going to put our kids? I have grandchildren. That’s who I’m talking about,” said Councilman Rich Vitiello. “Whether it’s $10, $20, $30 or whatever the case may be, I look at this in the future of our children — future council members, future governor and mayor coming out of this and it’s teachers coming out of our school district. If we don’t invest in our grandchildren and our children today, when are we going to invest in our children?”

Ballots must be mailed in on or before Oct. 29, or dropped off at a polling location Nov. 5.

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Spectacle, anticipation fill Maricopa mayor's State of the City address

MARICOPA — A crowd gathered on the steps of Maricopa City Hall on Wednesday night to bear witness to the unusual — albeit not entirely unexpected — sight of Mayor Christian Price riding in on a tractor, complete with a stalk of corn dragging behind the hefty farm equipment.

Community members cheered as he descended from his rural hot rod, and he handed out high fives as he made his way through the crowd.

The double doors of the Maricopa City Council chambers opened wide and greeted visitors with a spectacle to fit the theme of the night: baseball. Stalks of corn rose on every side and green turf covered the chamber floors, with rows of bleachers and baseball-themed food and beverages to enjoy in the lobby.

“Welcome to the city of Maricopa’s first ever baseball stadium — well, it’s the first one in our council chambers anyway,” Price said with a laugh.

Price began with a look into the last year of progress and the “growing pains” of Maricopa.

One of these growing pains was the construction and completion of the State Route 347 overpass, which was causing a few headaches still as related road construction droned on. However, Price was proud to announce the completion of that stretch of road coming later in the week, hopefully decreasing the traffic complaints and satiating community members.

Price went on to welcome just a few of the businesses that joined the community this year, including APEX Motor Club, IHOP, Dutch Bros. Coffee and medical practices, among others.

The mayor also reported no increase in primary property taxes for the fifth year in a row.

“That’s not all, we have an overall goal to increase the revenue base so that taxes are coming in from usage such as sales taxes and other sources so that we can actually reduce the property tax in the coming years,” Price said.

In addition, with wiggle room in the annual budget, an asset replacement fund was created to help repair and replace needed equipment such as emergency vehicles.

When it comes to the health of the city, a variety of programs and exercise facilities have been introduced this year, with more to come. As of August, six new pickleball courts were installed at Copper Sky Regional Park to keep citizens active. And come January, a state-of-the-art fitness court via the National Fitness Challenge campaign will be open to the public at Pacana Park, offering a variety of interactive workouts through the accompanying app. This is the first of these courts to be introduced in Arizona.

Maricopa State of the City address

With this past year’s accomplishments covered, Price turned his attention to future development for the city. La Quinta Inn & Suites is confirmed as the first hotel to come to Maricopa, located at the Copper Sky commercial property. Price hinted that two more hotels are already looking to follow La Quinta to Maricopa.

Another exciting new development that has sent rumors flying on Facebook is the development of Sonoran Creek, behind Culver’s Restaurant. The mayor boasted a new marketplace complete with an unnamed specialty grocery store.

The grocery store isn’t the only development to stir up gossip. A restaurant known for its specialty in fried chicken and tasty special sauce is looking to expand into Maricopa, and although the fine details are still up in the air, Price knows what he envisions for the city.

“Apparently when that little tidbit was announced, it really sent the internet abuzz, just like it did in this room here,” Price said. “But officially, to this point, even we haven’t been told who that retailer could be. The developer is still negotiating with the proposed business, but like the rest of you, I certainly know who I am rooting for.”

Price then offered his best Scooby Doo voice in an effort to disguise the name of the proposed business, but some detectives in the audience were able to decode his message as Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers. But Price reiterated, “Nothing is confirmed.”

In perhaps one of the most surprising announcements and another first for Maricopa, the mayor unveiled plans for the first Maricopa apartment complex to be built on Copper Sky commercial property. But it won’t just be an apartment complex, the $170 million investment will also house restaurants, senior living and memory care facilities along with — another city first — parking garages.

The city is booming with incoming construction and new business ventures, but some have not been so successful. Estrella Gin business park was set to become another large development earlier this year, but the city could not reach an agreement and the property remains vacant. Fast forward a few months, and the dirt lot is being marketed as a new business development to suit the community’s growing needs.

After the “seventh inning stretch” and customary sing along, community members were seated once more for the final inning of the game. Price brought it home with a closing statement.

“Every day, I meet newly arriving residents who have come from all over the country — and even the world — and they’ve come fleeing the weather, looking for new professions, seeking the warm sunshine on their faces, bearing witness to the most beautiful sunsets in the world and actively searching for a better life,” the mayor said. “I ask them, ‘What brought you here? Why Maricopa, of all places?’ And almost all of them tell me the exact same thing. ‘After we visited Maricopa, we just fell in love with the people, the area and especially the city.’”

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Breast cancer survivors, advocates share stories in Maricopa

MARICOPA — City of Maricopa residents Jeannie Day and Donna Aguilar both lost women close to them to breast cancer — a mother and a close childhood friend, respectively.

While sharing their stories, they decided to do something for breast cancer patients. That is how Dance for Tatas began, with the two women connecting survivors with services they need. The third annual fundraiser took place Saturday at Pacana Park.

Aguilar, Day and Megan Telya partnered with Impact One for the second year “in an effort to keep the benefits local and not have a lot of money go to CEO salaries, as often happens in a nationwide group,” Day said.

Dance for Tatas served 30 women at the Saturday event with mammograms on a mobile truck sponsored by SimonMed Imaging.

As a breast cancer survivor of 10 years, Elizabeth Cluff remembers feeling too exhausted to go to the store, let alone to find a prosthetic pad to fit a specialty bra, following her surgery. She founded Impact One five years ago by providing other women more information before surgery and more help afterward than she was given.

Cluff reaches out to every place she can to find goods, services, and donations for her ladies. Whether that’s going to the boutiques at Banner Health or lobbying for a generous grant from sports teams such as the Arizona Cardinals, Cluff said she makes the extra effort.

“The Arizona Cardinals alone have helped over 400 Arizona women through Impact One,” Cluff said. Through grant writing and donations, Impact One is able to ship help to a woman’s doorstep whether she is in Globe, Flagstaff, Tuba City or out of state.

For $25 dollars, Impact One will ship $500 worth of needed items to women experiencing breast cancer surgery and treatment, women who may otherwise not be able to afford or who do not have the strength to shop for necessary items like breast forms, wigs, mastectomy bras, and other post-surgical clothing.

This box of needed items — called “Hope in a Box” — is shipped at a key time, following surgery, radiation or chemo when physical and emotional strength is at its lowest and need is high.

“Not everyone is a candidate for a breast implant or reconstructive breast surgery after breast removal,” Cluff said. She explained this can be due to a number of factors, some of which interact to complicate candidacy, including a weakened immune system that will likely reject an implant or radiation treatments needed to halt the cancer growth that also results in a breakdown of skin tissue so severe, the skin will no longer hold a surgical breast implant or tolerate reconstructive surgery

About 50% of women are not candidates for reconstruction, sometimes even for financial reasons alone. As an example, Cluff cites an insurance plan with a large $10,000 or $20,000 deductible that may prevent a woman from reconstruction for a year or more.

“We provide help in the now,” she said, “because there are so many variables that affect whether women can receive the help they need.”

Impact One has served over 1,000 women from all over Arizona and some out of state, and 30 in Mexico through two clinic affiliations Impact One maintains there. Applying for help is easy, said Cluff. Just go to their website at impactone.pink to apply.

Impact One also provides the preparation, information, and open communication about what to prepare for prior to surgery that Cluff and so many other women wish they had.

“So many times women are given a piece of paper with a list of things to buy after their mastectomy surgeries and discharged,” she said.

Through grant writing and donations, Impact One is able to serve. Impact One also holds a monthly support group in Gilbert. Find the location and time at the website impactone.pink under Resources.

At Saturday’s event in Maricopa, Mayor Christian Price spoke of the importance of early detection and knowledge of early signs and symptoms, sharing with the crowd his own extended family’s struggle with cancer.

Price disclosed that he was recently diagnosed with Melanoma on his ear and underwent surgery to remove the cancerous tissue.

Councilwoman Julia Gusse also shared her personal family experience with the crowd.

Her husband, Kevin, was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks prior to his 50th birthday. He had his breast and 11 lymph nodes removed to prevent metastasis or spreading of cancer to other parts of his body.

“As a male, he never had any breast cancer screening even though his mother had breast cancer,” said Gusse in an interview later that day. “At first, he told people he had ‘chest cancer’ because it was easier to explain and did not have such a stigma.

“Now, he finally is now able to share that he has breast cancer, but it has taken time.”

His symptoms were unusual pain in his breast area and discharge, symptoms that can be similar in women. Any signs, sensations or symptoms that seem unusual or out of the ordinary may be cancer and should be followed with thorough testing.

Day told a story of how her mother discovered Stage 4 breast cancer in 2003 during a time when women were less likely to believe they needed regular mammograms and health care providers did not push them. The cancer had already spread to her bones, then later spread to her brain. She had only about a year in remission in between.

Aguilar shared her experience of losing a childhood friend to breast cancer at age 35 and watching her friend’s children grow up without a mother. Her friend had noticed back and hip pain that was unusual for her.

“That’s the key,” Aguilar said. “Check anything, any symptoms that are out of the ordinary or unusual for you and follow up.”

Aguilar said although her friend did act fairly quickly, her breast cancer was discovered in Stage 4 and she had only eight weeks to live.

“Listen to your own body and keep pursuing it, get a mammogram even if you’re told you’re ‘too young’ or insurance won’t pay at your age or at this time,” she said.

The mobile truck on site at Saturday’s event charged $156 out-of-pocket for a mammogram, regardless of income. Women with fixed or moderate to lower incomes may qualify for free mammograms through the Pinal County office on Smith-Enke Road next to the library or through other organizations that may be found online, Aguilar said. Increasingly, mammograms can be found free at mobile sites throughout metro areas.

“You have to be your own advocate, and you may have to keep following up,” said Aguilar, until you receive sufficient test results.

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This weekend's Relay for Life to get Maricopa moving for a cure

MARICOPA — November is around the corner, and with it comes cooler temperatures that will hopefully get people walking more, especially if it’s for a good cause.

That’s the hope for the ninth annual Maricopa Relay for Life. Happening Saturday and Sunday, the cancer walk and overnight slumber party will take place at Copper Sky Recreation Center.

Relay for Life offers an opportunity for people affected by cancer and their loved ones to raise money for American Cancer Society, a nonprofit founded to help find an end to the disease, all while having fun. The all-night extravaganza includes live music, games, food and costume events from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The luminaria ceremony at 9 p.m. will give attendees a chance to decorate a bag and dedicate it to those lost to cancer. They are then lit up around the track as attendees walk. This is in addition to commemorative relay laps for survivors, caregivers and loved ones, and fun, themed laps as well.

People come out to support the cause from all over Pinal County, forming teams to organize fundraisers. This year, Casa Grande Middle School will be attending with its cheerleading team and National Honor Society. The “Harrah’s Heroes” will be bringing six to eight teams, and the brand new Edison Family Dental Care is also joining the ranks of supporters with a team.

Co-lead Tobi Smith has been part of the organizing team since the event began in Maricopa and she has watched it change over the years. Smith was sad to see the numbers of participants and volunteers decreasing with each passing event, but she said that is happening nationwide.

“It’s not as big as it used to be, although we continue to fundraise really well,” Smith said. “We usually average about $50,000 a year, which is really good for such a small town. So we love Maricopa for continuing to support us — we just wish we were doing better as far as participants and volunteers.”

Maricopa’s Relay for Life routinely raises the highest amount of money to fight cancer in Pinal County and is one of its largest events.

Smith knows first hand how important the Relay for Life events are in helping with cancer research. She began her journey with Relay through Gwen Traylor, the co-chairwoman of the first Maricopa Relay for Life and a cancer survivor herself.

Smith has lost two grandfathers to cancer and felt Traylor’s passion for fighting cancer ignite within her as well. This year, however, the Relay took on a whole new meaning for Smith when her 14-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. Her tumor was removed, then, just two months ago, Smith’s world was rocked again by another cancer diagnosis, this time her father, with Stage 4 cancer.

“The whole thing was very scary. It was unexpected,” Smith said. “My support team from my friends that I have met through Relay and my daughter — she has seen literally hundreds of survivors — so it really helped. She had a great attitude and I think if she hadn’t been exposed to Relay, it would’ve been more scary for her than it ended up being.”

Her support team consists of 13 co-organizers, including lead organizer this year Trisha Paige, as well as Smith’s 17-person participating team “Caped CUREsaders.”

In addition to the Relay for Life event, Smith and the local group work hard year-round to ensure the cause does not go unnoticed.

“Some people Relay once a year, they go to the event and that’s kind of it for them. But for me, I talk about, think about doing events for and I Relay all year long because cancer never sleeps, so neither do we. That’s kind of our motto,” Smith said. “Cancer is not just one time a year. It’s happening every day. … So I’m always talking about it, trying to raise money. We have events almost every other month. My team and I, we Relay all the time.”

The Relay for Life event will be from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. Saturday-Sunday at Copper Sky Recreation Center. The group meets the first and third Thursday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at Leading Edge Academy. However, as it is Halloween on Thursday, the meeting was to be held Wednesday.