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Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Northern Arizona head coach Jack Murphy talks with his players during a timeout against Southern Utah Monday afternoon.

Flagstaff businesses take advantage of snow season

Throughout the seasons, Flagstaff experiences different types of weather ranging from warm and sunny to cold and snowy. While the weather impacts the local economy, it is only one of several influencing factors. However, during winter, the amount of snowfall can positively influence tourism and local businesses, thus boosting the local economy.

National Weather Service meteorologist Megan Taylor said there has been 32.4 inches of snow since Sept. 1, 2018 through Jan. 23. In December 2018, 9 inches of snowfall was recorded while 15.3 inches of snow fell between Jan. 1 and Jan 23. In comparison, last winter had no measurable snowfall until Jan. 10.

While there has been a considerable amount of snow as compared to December 2017 and January 2018, the snowfall through Jan. 23 is well below the annual average. The annual average of snowfall between Sept. 1 and Jan. 23 is 45.9 inches, which means this year’s snowfall is 13.5 inches below average.

Arizona Snowbowl is dependent on snowfall and human-made snow for its operation. Assistant general manager Rob Linde said there has been considerably more snow this season and cold temperatures also allowed them to start making snow earlier. He said there is a direct correlation between weather and the success of Snowbowl.

“In the ski business, it’s all about weather,” Linde said. “Since December our business has increased tremendously. Over the month we had a very strong Christmas holiday and just recently had a very strong Martin Luther King holiday weekend. Compared to last year, there is no comparison.”

Linde said Snowbowl was more dependent on snowmaking last season because of the lack of natural snowfall. He said as a result of snowmaking, Snowbowl had a 140-day operating season last winter.

“We would have had very marginal conditions without snowmaking,” Linde said.

Weather is one of many factors that can help increase tourist activity in Flagstaff. According to a report from the Flagstaff tourism department, 2017 was a “record breaking year” for tourism. The report states revenue per available room was $77.82 in October 2018, which was down 1.1 percent from October 2017. However, the decrease in revenue was justified by more rooms being available for rent. Due to increased demand of tourism, the city has had to create more accommodations for travelers to stay.

“[The tourism team is] bringing more bodies in here, but it wasn’t keeping pace with the number of hotel rooms opening up or the expansion going on with our hotels,” said Steve Finch, Flagstaff Lodging, Restaurant and Tourism Association president.

Flagstaff Ski Haus manager Justin Bangle said there has been much more business this winter as compared to last season.

“Last December we really didn’t do too much but this December was absolutely bonkers,” Bangle said. “As we get into January and February it picks up as well, but really it’s been dependent on the snow.”

Finch described weather as one cog in the wheel. While weather is a small piece to the puzzle, it plays an important role for the success of Flagstaff’s economy.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

A couple snuggles in this file photo while waiting to order food at the 3’s In The Trees food truck at the Flagstaff Snow Park.

United States presses Maduro exit with oil sanctions

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration imposed sanctions Monday on the state-owned oil company of Venezuela, a potentially critical economic move aimed at increasing pressure on President Nicolas Maduro to cede power to the opposition in the South American nation.

Maduro's increasingly isolated government would lose access to one of its most important sources of income and foreign currency along with around $7 billion in assets of Petroleos De Venezuela S.A. under the sanctions announced by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and national security adviser John Bolton.

Meanwhile, More than 700 of Maduro's opponents have been arrested during the latest push by Venezuela's opposition to oust the socialist leader.

But there's one anti-government activist security forces notably haven't touched: Juan Guaido, the lawmaker who declared himself interim president in a direct challenge to Maduro's rule.

Maduro's refusal, at least so far, to order Guaido's arrest reflects mistrust in his own security forces as well as the Trump administration's warning that any harm to the man the U.S. recognizes as Venezuela's legitimate leader would be crossing a dangerous red line.

The U.S. administration reiterated that threat Monday in announcing the sanctions.

Any actions taken against U.S. diplomats, Guaido or the National Assembly he presides over would be considered a "grave assault" that "will be met with a significant response," Bolton said.

While he didn't specify what actions the U.S. might take, he reaffirmed that all options for dealing with Venezuela's crisis remain on the table, including use of the military.

"They won't dare touch Guaido," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "There's a new dynamic at play. Even while Maduro's government continues to brutally repress the poor and invisible, they won't harm Guaido because he has so much international support."

Maduro's government on several occasions threatened to arrest the 35-year-old Guaido, accusing him of violating the constitution and acting as a "puppet" of a U.S. coup attempt.

But every day that Guaido is allowed to move freely around Caracas, holding rallies and building a parallel government complete with foreign ambassadors and a presidential-looking office from which he delivers videotaped messages, he looks statelier and undermines Maduro's authority in the eyes of ordinary Venezuelans, Vivanco said.

The U.S. sanctions follow the unusual decision by the U.S. and other nations last week to recognize Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela instead of Maduro, who was re-elected last year in an election widely seen as fraudulent. The once prosperous nation has been in an economic collapse, with several million citizens fleeing to neighboring countries.

"We have continued to expose the corruption of Maduro and his cronies, and today's action ensures they can no longer loot the assets of the Venezuelan people," Bolton said.

Bolton said he expects Monday's actions against PDVSA — the acronym for the state-owned oil company — will result in more than $11 billion in lost export proceeds over the next year.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed that the new sanctions do not target the people of Venezuela and will not affect humanitarian assistance, including medicine and medical devices that are "desperately needed after years of economic destruction under Maduro's rule."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a vocal critic of Maduro who has called for such sanctions, welcomed the move even before it was announced.

"The Maduro crime family has used PDVSA to buy and keep the support of many military leaders," Rubio said. "The oil belongs to the Venezuelan people, and therefore the money PDVSA earns from its export will now be returned to the people through their legitimate constitutional government."

The sanctions will not likely affect consumer prices at the gas pump but will hit oil refiners, particularly those on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Venezuelan oil exports to the U.S. have declined steadily over the years, falling particularly sharply over the past decade as its production plummeted amid its long economic and political crisis. The U.S. imported less than 500,000 barrels a day of Venezuelan crude and petroleum products in 2017, down from more than 1.2 million barrels a day in 2008, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Still, Venezuela has consistently been the third- or fourth-largest supplier of crude oil to the United States, and any disruption of imports could be costly for refiners. In 2017, the most recent year that data were available, Venezuela accounted for about 6 percent of U.S. crude imports.

NAU student wage petition gains support

In just over a week, an online petition demanding minimum wage for Northern Arizona University student workers has received 1,000 signatures.

Deja Berkstresser, a junior psychology major at NAU, started the petition on with several of her colleagues in order to help the students who are earning as little as $8.50 an hour with their campus jobs – more than two dollars less than the state minimum wage.

As of Jan. 1, 2019, Arizona minimum wage is set at $11, while the Flagstaff minimum wage is at $12, with the next increase – to $13 an hour and $12 an hour, respectively – scheduled to occur Jan. 1, 2020. The hourly cash rate for tipped employees is also scheduled to increase in 2020, from $9 per hour to $10. Flagstaff's minimum wage is planned to reach $15.50 by 2022.

NAU administrators have noted previously that student wages are still well above the $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage, though.

As a manager for student connectivity at the university union, Berkstresser is making more than many of her colleagues – $10.25 an hour – but is still earning less than city and state minimum wages, making it difficult to live in Flagstaff.

“Minimum wage keeps going up, but ours doesn’t. If it keeps going up, we’re going to be making less and less compared to everyone else,” she said. “We work for the university, so they work around our schedules more than a regular job would, but I don’t think that gives them the right to pay us less than minimum wage for the work we do.”

NAU spokesperson Kim Ott said the benefits for student jobs include this flexibility of work hours and academic focus, as well as convenience and future employment opportunities after students graduate.

Nevertheless, responses to the petition reveal that late hours and strenuous tasks are a significant part of a student workers’ responsibilities. For those wanting to work more, Berkstresser said their hours are capped at an average of 29 a week, making it difficult for students to earn the money needed to support themselves without taking on a second job.

“I remember not eating for 2 weeks because I had to pay rent and I was working the most they would allow students to work,” wrote Sandra Caldwell.

Elizabeth Beck commented that she worked for NAU for four years and, though she enjoyed her work, she had to maintain a second job to pay her expenses.

“Students deserve a livable wage,” she wrote.

According to the university, the intent of student employment opportunities is “to assist students in meeting some of their educational expenses.”

Possibly due to this emphasis on partial expenses, NAU ranks the worst for student wages among Arizona’s public universities.

“Today, student workers make between $8.50 and more than $20.00 an hour, and they are exempt from FICA. More than 50% earn between $9.00 and $11.00 an hour,” Ott said.

At Arizona State University, the student wage scale starts at $10.00 for simple tasks requiring no previous experience, and does not exceed $50 an hour for the most technical positions.

The University of Arizona’s lowest tier of student workers – positions requiring no previous experience – have an $11 to $15.50 an hour pay range. Wages do not exceed $28 an hours for students with duties similar to those of a graduate assistant. Though the university previously had an even lower tier, its website reveals this group was retired as of Jan. 1, 2013.

Ott said that major updates were made to the NAU student employment program in the last year to ensure pay rates are accurate to the technicality and responsibility of the jobs. The university is continuing to review its student worker positions and pay rates.

After the petition gains even more signatures, Berkstresser and her colleagues plan to present it to NAU administrators and the Arizona Board of Regents in an attempt to secure minimum wage for student workers in Flagstaff.

The petition, named “Demand minimum wage for NAU student workers!” can be viewed and signed at

City spent more than $210,000 on 2018 election

The growing presence of money in politics is becoming ever more prescient with voters, but candidates and Super PACs are not the only ones that spend money during the lead-up to an election.

From the beginning of June to the end of November, the City of Flagstaff spent as much as $210,494 on everything from voter education campaigns to the cost of running the election itself, according to city documents.

That number doesn’t include staff time, however, said City Manager Barbara Goodrich. The staff time necessary can be extensive, especially when it comes to certain propositions, Goodrich said. 

The affordable housing proposition, for example, was more demanding than the transportation focused questions as staff were not sure a housing measure would be on the ballot until about halfway through the year.

Indeed, the single largest cost to the city was to the Coconino County Recorder’s Office for running the election, a responsibility placed on them by state law. But the recorder’s office does not bear the elections expense, Goodrich said.

"We, and the community college and everybody else, we don’t all get charged 100 percent of the costs per voter, it’s proportionate,” Goodrich said, adding the expense of holding the election is split between all the agencies that have questions on the ballot.

“The most expensive election for the city to run is a special election that only has city questions on it, because then we bear 100 percent of the costs,” Goodrich said.

In the case of the 2018 election, that cost was split between the city, the county, Coconino Community College and the Flagstaff Unified School District among others and put the city back about $79,320. This comes to just $2 for every registered voter in the city.

But this is not where the city’s election responsibilities end, especially when the city is asking voters to weigh in on propositions, as was the case in 2018.

It is the responsibility of the city to create as informed a voter base as possible on the propositions put forth by the city; in 2018, these were the three transportation focused propositions and the proposition on affordable housing.

“Our success is if everyone votes with knowledge. It’s not if the question passes or doesn’t pass,” Goodrich said. “So our responsibility is to get those questions on the ballot and to produce a publicity pamphlet that has a lot of statutory requirements on what must be included.”

Last year, the city produced 27,000 informational pamphlets for voters, 1,000 of which were in Spanish. In all, the production, translation and postage for these pamphlets cost $39,263.

In addition, the city also holds open houses and presents information on the propositions to the commissions.

The city doesn’t just spend money to educate voters on ballot measures, but also to see how interested voters are in various issues.

“We did two pre-election surveys, one for transit and one for transportation,” Goodrich said. “We’re interested in where [voters'] rate sensitivity is and where they perceive the primary community need is so we can share that information [with Flagstaff City Council.]”

The city also paid for a number of surveys on the issue of affordable housing, which influenced the decision by Council to put an affordable housing-centered proposition on the ballot.

“That was very important information to the council because if [the surveys] didn’t show some positive results, then we would have gone back to the drawing board because running an election is very intense and very involved,” Goodrich said.

In all, the city spent $75,812 on efforts related to the affordable housing proposition.

John Locher 

FILE - In this July 16, 2014 file photo, what was once a marina sits high and dry due to Lake Mead receding in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Arizona. Arizona is nearing a deadline to approve a plan to ensure a key reservoir in the West doesn't become unusable as a water source for farmers, cities, tribes and developers. Other Western states are watching. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expects full agreement on a drought contingency plan by Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)