Among other initiatives and developments, the announcement of and first steps to the creation of a new $17 million “super” department topped county news this year.
The new department, Health and Human Services, began in July by combining Public Health Services District, Community Services and the Career Center. Each former department was operating out of Coconino County’s King Street facility individually; as one department, County officials said these groups can better apply for collaborative grants, be more informative to visitors and provide multiple services in one visit.
In addition to renovations of the existing facility, a new building up to 60,000 square feet in size will be constructed on the King Street property to make room for these services and the offices of the Treasurer, Recorder and Assessor and the Community Development Department, which will be moved. The project team hopes to have “significant progress” in construction by the end of 2020.
Another new facility, the Medical Examiner’s Office, a $3.7 million, 6,200-square-foot repurposed warehouse on East Huntington Drive, debuted in May with a ribbon-cutting ceremony allowing members of the public to walk through the space prior to the arrival of decedents. An improvement compared to the former office on Fort Valley Road, where the Medical Examiner’s Office was located for the last 40 years, the new building has an enclosed delivery area and larger autopsy suite and cooler, as well as aesthetic features to promote the health of employees and visitors.
In June, the Board of Supervisors approved a $215 million budget for the County for the 2020 fiscal year. The expenditure budget is 18% higher than the previous year; an increase County finance officials attributed to the King Street expansion. Primary property tax rates were raised by 2% over last year and two 5% secondary property tax increases by the Library District and Public Health Services District were also approved. The budget now allocates funding for unexpected emergencies like floods and fires, as well as the predicted recession.
After two years of planning, the Bellemont 20-year area plan was approved by the Supervisors and added as an amendment to the 2015 Coconino County Comprehensive Plan in October. This document replaced the original 1985 area plan and sets a vision and goals for aspects of the community. Priorities outlined in the plan include maintaining Bellemont’s “small-town feel” while also creating amenities like U.S. Post Service cluster mail boxes and utilities for future developments.
The County welcomed new leaders this year as others moved on to opportunities elsewhere. Supervisor Lena Fowler was appointed as chair of the Board of Supervisors when Art Babbott’s term came to an end this summer. She has acted as chair for two previous terms. In early December, after nearly 20 years with the County, Deputy Manager and Chief Financial Officer Mike Townsend left the organization in for a position as Administrator of the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS) for the State of Arizona. His position has not yet been filled. Thomas Pristow, former deputy commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, was named the director of the new Health and Human Services department in July, beginning his role a few months later.
A massive initiative to remove fire fuel has begun at Bill Williams Mountain, which was identified as the biggest threat for post-fire flooding in Coconino County, with the potential to cause up to $694 million in damages. The total 15,200 acres will be treated through a combination of flat ground mechanical, steep slope mechanical and helicopter thinning. The goal is to reintroduce low temperature fire to the ponderosa pine and mixed conifer ecosystem in order to ensure the forest never returns to the current amount of trees per acre.
Reflecting national trends, Boy Scouts of America (BSA) troops throughout the region began to disappear as troops chartered by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- making up about 70% of all Boy Scout troops in Arizona -- pulled away from scouting in preparation of a faith-based activity program the church will be starting in January. As a result, Camp Raymond, the BSA-owned camp in Parks, did not host its six-week scout summer camp for the first time in 55 years because of low enrollment and the Cedar Avenue Boy Scout Store, the only one in northern Arizona, closed its doors after decades of operation due to financial losses.
The County began additional diversity and inclusion efforts this year -- as a component of the organizational renewal that was allocated $300,000 of its 2020 fiscal year budget -- starting with a six-month evaluation of the organization’s intercultural competence, which showed that, though leaders recognized the importance of diversity and inclusion, they struggle to implement these concepts in policies and procedures. County officials said the next steps to this initiative include training for all employees in cultural competency and a restructuring of regular employee evaluations to include conversations about professional advancement.
In order to increase sustainability practices, Public Works is looking to bring electric vehicles into its fleet of about 400 vehicles with a pilot program that would begin by fall 2020, if approved. Electric vehicles are more expensive to purchase, but save users in fuel costs. Now that manufacturers are offering eight- to 10-year battery warranties and all-wheel-drive options, electric vehicles have become a more viable option for the County, which will also be installing four charging stations at its King Street facility. The new vehicles would likely replace some of the fleet vehicles that have reached their lifespan, including four hybrids.
This summer, the County also revised its decades-old youth employment program, giving it a new name: SOAR (Success, Opportunity And Readiness) with Coconino County Careers for Youth. The program offers teens ages 16 to 18 the opportunity to be paid to work part-time in not only County departments, but also other local government, educational and nonprofit groups, based on the participants’ interests. They also have a chance to meet with other participants and reflect on their work and learn interviewing, customer service and leadership skills. The revisions to the program were based on the pilot program, Youth Leaders in Action, held last year.