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Flagstaff housing prices set record high for third quarter

Flagstaff-area housing prices in the third quarter of 2017 set a record high median sale price of $382,000, which is 8 percent higher than the same period a year ago.

The summer was “the best summer ever” for sellers of detached, single-family homes, said Century 21 Realtor Stephen Brighton. Many neighborhoods in Flagstaff exceeded home prices from 2006 and 2007, when prices hit their previous highest point. 388 homes in the Flagstaff area sold in the third quarter of the year, up 5 percent from the same period last year.

However, Brighton said, summer is traditionally the busiest time for home sales, and now that winter is approaching, sellers may be dropping their asking prices to try to sell before the winter. On Wednesday alone seven properties dropped in price, according to the Northern Arizona Multiple Listing Service.

“Things definitely slow down when you get into winter,” Brighton said, adding that the first quarter of the year is traditionally the lowest in home sales.

The Flagstaff market experienced two record-setting months in a row. August set a median high record of $380,000, up 8 percent from the year before, and the median price in September was $383,000, up 6 percent from September 2016.

For the month of September, the average price paid per square foot was $207, a 10 percent increase from September of 2016, Brighton said. However, that price falls short of the record for the month, which was $230 in 2006.

While record prices can be music to the ears of sellers, for buyers there are few options, especially for people with lower budgets. For the year to date, a person or family with a budget under $300,000 could afford a home that was 11 percent smaller than the same time period last year, said Jeff Ross, a realtor from Realty Executives.

On Nov. 1, there were 517 single-family homes in the Flagstaff area listed for sale, according to the multiple listing service. Of those, 364 were considered “active,” meaning they are not under contract to be sold.

Of those not under contract to be sold, 89 properties are listed under the September median sale price of $383,000, 44 of which are within the Flagstaff city limits, Brighton said.

Brighton said most homebuyers search for a home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a two-car garage. There are 13 homes that are built and ready to sell in Flagstaff that fit that description and cost less than September’s median price, Brighton said. Fourteen more homes that fit the bill are under construction in Presidio in the Pines and are already listed for sale.

“If you only have 13 houses to choose from all the way up to $383,000, that’s pretty slim picking,” Brighton said.

Brighton recommends buyers save up to put a bigger down payment on a home if they are looking to buy in or around the city, adding he does not foresee a drop in prices soon.

Buyers can take advantage of low mortgage rates, which Brighton said remain at about 3.75 percent with a 5 percent down payment for buyers with good credit for a 30-year fixed mortgage.

“Prices will continue to go up, not at double-digit rates, but we are looking at continued single-digit increases,” Brighton said. “We will have new houses come on the line, but the demand will still be there.”

Ross said a healthy absorption rate, which means the amount of time it would take every home on the market to sell, is about six months. For homes under $300,000, there is a supply of only two and a half months, which makes the market more favorable to sellers, he said.

For homes between $300,000 and $500,000, there is a 3.9-month supply, he said. For the higher-priced homes between $500,000 and $700,000, there is a 10-month supply, which turns into a market that favors the buyer, Ross said.

So far this year, homes that have sold in all price ranges have spent an average of 92 days on the market, Ross said.

A Studebaker to die for: One last ride sends Howard Savage on his way

During his career, Howard Savage drove 1.7 million miles as a commercial trucker with only one accident -- and according to Savage, that was the other driver’s fault.

On Wednesday afternoon Savage wasn’t thinking of all those miles but the last few still to come as he arranged to fulfill a dying wish of going for one final drive through downtown Flagstaff in the 1955 Studebaker pickup truck he spent the last 22 years restoring.

Savage has terminal esophageal cancer and his lungs and heart are shutting down. On Wednesday afternoon his longtime friend Bob Pauley drove Savage’s truck to the front door of Flagstaff Medical Center just as Savage was being discharged to be transferred to the Forest House hospice.

Michael Hren, the nurse who had been looking after Savage, helped load an oxygen tank into the truck and then Savage into the passenger seat as family and friends gathered around the truck.

Despite being a 100 percent disabled veteran of the U.S. Army, Savage was able to pursue two passions, fishing and working on his 62-year-old Studebaker.

“Oh, he’s replaced the engine several times, the transmission, the rear end. It seems like we were always working on the truck to make it just right,” Pauley said.

Savage didn’t just work on the truck for looks. He was a frequent competitor on the quarter-mile track at the Speedworld Motorplex in Phoenix, clocking the distance in 12.9 seconds at speeds topping 105 mph.

When Savage was first diagnosed with cancer he had a two-week wait to see his oncologist, so on the spur of the moment he and his wife of 44 years, Elaine, jumped in the Studebaker for a 3,300-mile road trip to Chicago and back.

Despite being bedridden, Savage still bears the busted knuckles of a true grease monkey mechanic. Getting ready for his final ride in the truck, Savage used a laptop to type out a list of names of people who he wanted to thank. First on the list was his medical staff at the hospital.

“These people here at the hospital have been absolutely wonderful and especially the nurses on the floor. Alex Beadles and Michael Hren have taken such good care of me,” Savage said, referring to a pair of nurses on different shifts. “My oncology doctor Dr. Mathern has been amazing.”

Savage then went on to talk about all of the friends who have helped him with his truck over the years.

“I’ve had so many great people work with me, from Michael Faul at Flagstaff Mobile Mechanic to John Rodgers at Transmission Man and Rick and the boys at NAPA Auto Parts,” Savage said.

As the Studebaker pulled away from the hospital and headed down the hill toward downtown Flagstaff, Savage’s face lit up with the rumble of the engine. With an arm cocked on the windowsill and the wind in his hair, Savage took in all the familiar sights as Pauley drove him along Aspen Avenue and around Heritage Square.

At one point a young driver in a canary yellow Camaro roared past impatient with the slow progress of the Studebaker and Savage savoring the sights. As the Camaro roared away a hand came out of the passenger window of the Studebaker with just one finger extended. Howard Savage wasn’t going to tolerate any disrespect during his last drive and still had the gumption to return the gesture.

Savage’s other love is fishing. His passion for fishing was so deep that when his wife Elaine declared that she wasn’t interested, he got himself another fishing partner. Fiona Wilkie was the neighbor to Howard and Elaine and shared Howard’s passion for fishing and accompanied him on so many fishing outings that Howard and Elaine jokingly referred to her as his “second wife.” Savage has given his fishing boat to Wilkie and has left instructions with his family to scatter his ashes at his favorite fishing holes at Kaibab and Ashurst Lakes.

“I’ve heard that being cremated is your last chance to get a really hot body,” Savage joked.

“It’s nice it’s my heart that’s killing me,” he said. “I will get to die a peaceful death, no stabbing or wreck or driveby. I’m not going to have a violent death. I’m not scared.”

While Savage is pragmatic about the little time he has left and the journey ahead of him, he’s not quite done living yet. On Thursday night he arranged to make one more last wish happen by having a small group of friends come to his room for a final game of poker.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Howard Savage leaves Flagstaff Medical Center Wednesday afternoon for one last ride in his cherished 1955 Studebaker pickup truck.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Howard Savage sits alone in the cab of his 1955 Studebaker truck listening to country music Wednesday afternoon after a final ride through Flagstaff. Savage is dying of esophageal cancer and his heart and lungs are giving out.

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FUSD to lose $353,000 due to past state overpayments

Flagstaff Unified School District officials say they will be OK despite an expected 15 percent cut in federal Title I funds designated for schools with a high number of low-income students.

FUSD received $214,454 more in Title I funds than it was supposed to over the last four years due to a state processing error. Next year, it will receive a total of $353,000 less out of its $2 million Title I allotment.

However, the district and the seven FUSD elementary schools that use the majority of the Title 1 funding should be OK because officials always budget for a 10 percent cut in the funds. The district also has some funding that was rolled over from the previous school year, although the district might have to reduce its summer school program this year.

The cut comes after the Arizona Department of Education announced earlier this month that money from the federal program had been doled to state schools incorrectly over the last four years.

According to the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, the state improperly distributed around $62 million, with some schools and districts getting more than they should have and others getting less.

Schools use Title 1 funds to buy supplemental teaching supplies, hire education specialists, equipment, teacher’s aides, along with summer school and intercession programs, said Sylvia Johnson, FUSD’s director of Educational Enrichment. The funding is based off of the number of low-income students in the district’s boundaries, including students in charter schools, and is designed to help these students succeed in their education.

According ACIR, the Arizona Department of Education found out that the funds were being dispersed improperly after a regular audit of the program in 2015. The department hired an outside firm to do a more complete audit on the program and found in April that more than 400 schools in the state received either more or less than their fair share of the funds. There are more than 200 traditional school districts in the state and more than 400 charter schools.

Other local school districts and charter schools in the Flagstaff area are included in that list -- Flagstaff Junior Academy received around $33,228 less than it was supposed.

Gina Lanzetta, the assistant director at FJA, coordinates the Title I funds for the school. She stated in an email that decreases in the funding over the last few years and the late release of the funding by the state have made it difficult to budget and plan for services. FJA uses the money for free tutoring to all students who need it. Lanzetta said she’ll be attending a conference in two weeks to learn more about the audit findings and how the state plans to address the problem.

Johnson, who is on a state board that received information about the audit findings, said in order to remedy the situation, the state has created a formula to reduce Title I payments from schools that were overpaid over the next several years. The formula has yet to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education. In order to diminish the financial hit to districts and schools that received more money than they should have, ADE is capping the amount cut from their Title I programs at 15 percent.

Johnson said the amount the district’s Title I fund is cut is more than 15 percent because of two other reasons that are not related to the snafu at the state.

First, FUSD is expecting to get less Title I funding overall this year because of an increase in the amount of Title I funding going to a state school improvement fund, which holds money to support the lowest performing schools in the state. The amount of Title I money held back by the state for the fund was increased from 4 percent to 7 percent because of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

Second, the district’s Title I allotment was reduced overall because the number of low-income students within the district’s boundaries has dropped by about 12 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education, Johnson said.

Johnson said she always plans for a 10 percent cut because the number of low-income students in the district’s boundaries can fluctuate from year to year. The Title I program also has a “hold harmless” clause that limits the maximum amount the federal government can cut from a district or school’s allotment in one year to 10 percent. This allows schools to continue to fund necessary programs during years when the population of low-income students has a rapid change.

The federal government is making an exception in the cap on cuts this year for Arizona because of the snafu with the funding, she said. However, Johnson has already warned principals that there may be effects on next year’s programs, depending on the number of low-income students and any state cuts to reimburse the program.

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Fatal stabbing outside Killip Elementary

Flagstaff police responded to a fatal stabbing incident between two adult men outside Killip Elementary School Thursday afternoon and are searching for one suspect.

All students and after-school program participants are safe and were being released only to their parents, who were told to pick their children up at the north entrance of the school.

According to Flagstaff Police Department, officers received a call around 3 p.m. about a fight involving a knife near Killip Elementary School, which is on Sixth Avenue in Sunnyside. One adult man was stabbed. He was transported to Flagstaff Medical Center, where he died from his injuries.

Police are looking for the other suspect in the fight. Witnesses have described the other man as Native American, with a white or gray hat, black hoodie and black pants. Police are investigating the matter.

Flagstaff Unified School District Relations Coordinator Karin Eberhard said the incident had nothing to do with the school itself. Parents should expect a call from the school about the incident.