Getting to Know Camp Verde Town Council candidates

Candidates on the ballot for Camp Verde Town Council (from left): Wendy Escoffier, Robert Foreman, Marie Moore and Robin Whatley

Candidates on the ballot for Camp Verde Town Council (from left): Wendy Escoffier, Robert Foreman, Marie Moore and Robin Whatley

CAMP VERDE – The Town of Camp Verde has three council seats up for election this year, with four candidates on the ballot.

Incumbents Robin Whatley and Marie Moore (an appointee) are running to stay on council, while Robert Foreman and Wendy Escoffier, who have both worked at Town Hall, also want a seat. Early voting starts today, July 6.

Coming Sunday, July 10, a Q&A with mayoral candidates Dee Jenkins and Reason Shipley.

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Wendy Escoffier

WENDY ESCOFFIER

Years in Camp Verde: 33+ years as a property owner, full time/part time resident

Hometown: I consider Camp Verde my home town because I moved frequently as a child and this is where I have spent more than half my life and I raised my children here.

Education: Bachelor of Science in Journalism and a Master’s in Public Administration with an emphasis in municipal planning; both from Northern Arizona University

Work: Rural AZ newspaper reporter for Western Newspapers Inc., including in the Verde Valley. Over 26 years of government experience including 12 years for the Town of Camp Verde as a records clerk and public information officer at the Marshal’s Office, a planner working on the Town’s first general plan, and special projects coordinator. I then served as the Coconino County Clerk of the Board of Supervisors and as a consultant for the Prescott Valley Town Clerk’s Office.

Politics: Republican Precinct Committeeman and Camp Verde Unified School District Board of Directors including a year as president of the board

Community service: T-Ball assistant coach, assistant Girl Scout Leader, two terms as president of the AZ County Clerks Association, Salvation Army Bell Ringer, member Camp Verde Dark Sky Community Board of Directors

Family: Married to Rene’ for over 36 years. Our two daughters, Mandy and Lynette, attended Camp Verde schools from Miss Minnie and Miss Lynda’s preschool through high school graduation. We have seven grandchildren.

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Robert Foreman

ROBERT FOREMAN

Years in Camp Verde: 30 years

Hometown: Prescott

Education: Lifetime PHD in Hard Knocks and picking my keister up off the ground.

Work: 20+ years restaurant management, construction, small engine mechanic, Building Official

Politics: Amateur

Community service: Rotary, Kiwanis, AYSO soccer coach, Little League T-Ball coach, Board of Appeals, Planning and Zoning Commission, Chamber of Commerce past Board member and President.

Family: Widower. Two boys, one granddaughter and one grandson due shortly.

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Marie Moore

MARIE MOORE

Years in Camp Verde: 25

Hometown: Verde Valley

Education: Mingus Union High School, College of Court Reporting

Work: Court reporter, transcriptionist, office administrator, co-owner of Udderly Divine Café & Bakery

Politics: Appointed this year to Camp Verde Town Council

Family: Married 16 years with three daughters

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Robin Whatley

ROBIN WHATLEY

Years in Camp Verde: 37 years

Hometown: Prescott

Education: Prescott High School-Yavapai College AA-Prescott College BA

Work: Teacher for 19 years; retired in 2018 from American Heritage Academy

Politics: Current member of the Camp Verde Town Council.

Community service: Volunteer at almost every festival over the years; Currently a Big Sister; Teach ESL at the library once a week; former chair Parks and Recreation Commission

Family: 4 children (all graduates of Camp Verde High School), 3 of whom make the Verde Valley their home; one son on active duty major in the U.S. Air Force serving as a JAG at Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts.

What do you feel is Camp Verde’s top priority for this fiscal year?

Escoffier: The Town’s top priority this fiscal year should be updating the Town’s zoning ordinances and policies and programs related to housing and development in order to be prepared for growth. The General Plan, approved by voters, includes goals and implementation strategies related to the types of future businesses and housing, and locations for both. The actual ordinances, policies and programs need to be updated and created to match the implementation strategies of the General Plan. The process of updating the ordinances, policies and programs needs to include a robust community engagement component.

Foreman: Top priority every fiscal year is preservation and protection of the Verde River. Continue expanding infrastructure and Sports Complex.

Moore: Camp Verde is rapidly growing and with that growth comes the responsibility of good management. Good management of our facilities, our events, our infrastructure and housing to name a few. Camp Verde has many things it will need to focus on and prioritize, as most of the Town’s needs are interconnected. Affordable workforce housing is needed if new industries are going to consider our area, and new industries and employment are necessary for residents to consider Camp Verde its home. New industries must have solid infrastructure in place to consider our area for their next investment. Our children must gain knowledge and skills to work in new industries to have the desire and ability to remain in our area, and with proper resource management we will have a beautiful place for folks to raise their families here.

Whatley: With the completion of the library and the widening of 260, we now need to set our sights on finishing the Camp Verde Sports Complex. Recently, the park held a 'soft opening' where citizens can now hike and bike the park with large open areas for soccer practice and play. Very soon the ballfields will be complete with lighting, as well as a concession area and restrooms.

What has the Town of Camp Verde not done well over the past two years?

Escoffier: The Town of Camp Verde has not engaged citizens well over the past four years. There needs to be a mechanism in place to have two-way communication with citizens regarding complex projects. Having citizens ask questions during “Call to the Public” at a council meeting is inadequate since council is unable to respond. Local government should be the easiest level of government for citizens to interact with. I believe it is the role of local officials to seek out citizen interaction. Citizens need the opportunity to engage in Town government in order to ask questions and be informed on town projects.

Moore: I have watched Camp Verde change in many ways since I’ve been a young girl in this town. Each decision that was made 20+ years ago has an impact on how today’s decisions are made. Decisions over the last four years have brought us today’s Camp Verde. What residents must decide is how they want tomorrow’s Camp Verde to look like and how involved they need to be to see that come to fruition.

Whatley: Camp Verde is always striving to improve services to the community. Sometimes growth means that we have to play catch up on providing the opportunities the Town affords our citizens. However our road maintenance is now on a regular schedule. We've acquired the water company and the saitary districts without raising the rates on either of them.

We are soon to complete the 1st phase of the park and are providing new hiking trails and river access points. We are extending sewer and water out to 260 for business growth.

What decision over the past two years do you think will most benefit Camp Verde?

Escoffier: Asking voters to approve a Permanent Adjustment to the State-Imposed Base Expenditure Limitation is a council decision that will most benefit Camp Verde into the future. In a simplified explanation, the Permanent Base Adjustment allows the Town budget to match sales tax and revenues that are currently collected instead of the budget limit imposed by the State when the Town incorporated in 1987. Passage of the Permanent Base Adjustment is providing the funds to operate both the water and sewer utilities. The decision to acquire the Camp Verde Water Company and operate the Camp Verde Sanitary District will also benefit Camp Verde into the future as the Town will secure water rights.

Foreman: Acquisition of the water company, Sports Complex, Opportunity zones.

Moore: Camp Verde has taken the time to consider future growth, where they’d like it to be constructed and how our town will eventually look. They’ve done so without jeopardizing other needs of the Town and remaining fiscally responsible.

Whatley: Our decisions regarding growth and preparing for that growth will benefit Camp Verde in the future, as well as, decisions regarding the park. Also, the IGA with the Yavapai Apache Nation will see us working cooperatively for many years into the future. In addition, for many years the Camp Verde citizens have wanted cooperation and consistency within the Town government. I think that goal has been achieved. You now have a council who don’t agree all the time, but we have learned to agree to disagree and continue to work together for the betterment of Camp Verde.

What would you like Camp Verde to accomplish in the next four years?

Escoffier: Providing fiscal transparency and government accountability by increasing citizen engagement and communication opportunities is the most important priority if I am elected. Communication to and from citizens should not be limited to council meetings. I would like to re-establish the town’s Housing Commission/Division in order to provide options for safe and affordable housing. Additionally, the Town’s Planning and Zoning Ordinances and policies related to infrastructure need to be updated to meet the future development needs of the Town and protect our quality of life. The ordinances and polices need to be in place in order to provide adequate jobs, housing that is affordable and more local shopping opportunities, all while preserving our historic character, views, and dark skies.

Foreman: Focus on the Downtown and Verde Lakes areas, continue infrastructure expansion.

Moore: Camp Verde has several community projects that are currently in process or waiting to begin. I would like to see strong progression with those projects. I would like to establish and maintain regular occurring community meetings with strong resident participation – it is imperative that we hear from our residents and have more involvement in decisions made and events to be held. Our youth is our heartbeat of this town, raising up our children with good morals and values is every parent’s focus. Equipping our children with skills to be successful in life should be a community wide responsibility. Bringing in more industries to our area and educating our children will give them the opportunity to thrive and remain in our community to keep it alive.

Whatley: I would like to see the completion of the Camp Verde Sports Complex so that the whole family can take advantage of the wonderful outdoor space that the Town and our tax dollars have created. Also, I would like to work on a plan to help our pedestrians and our older and younger bicycle riders get to our park safely. Getting to the park from the town site or off Salt Mine Road or Quarterhorse Lane is really a public safety hazard that needs to be addressed.

What is your response to those residents who are concerned about accountability in Camp Verde Sports Complex?

Escoffier: Many people have approached me regarding the Camp Verde Sports Complex. The project has taken the better part of 20 years to get to the point it is at now and there is still work to do for it to be 100% completed. It took more time than was anticipated to acquire the property for the park. Then there was a down turn in the economy. There have been several change orders related to the sports complex. If elected to the council I would make sure that the change orders being considered by the council are truly due to valid changes. I would ask for a council review of the original bid documents and the contract that was awarded. The results of the review should be made available to citizens in order to answer questions and resolve concerns. The results should also be used to determine if additional portions of the complex not yet started can be sent to bid separately in order to ensure that the best possible price is obtained.

Foreman: I trust our Finance Director and his staff. However the Town has an independent third-party financial audit every year and I can assure that I will examine it every year.

Moore: The sports complex is the biggest undertaking the Town of Camp Verde has ever taken on. The goal is to provide an amazing facility for our local youth to enjoy as well as the opportunities to host numerous sports league events. The Town of Camp Verde has kept diligent records thus far which are available for review, discussion and explanation to any resident with questions. I hope more residents show interest and support to the new facility to ensure the completion happens as soon as possible.

Whatley: I would encourage any and all citizens who have concerns about the park to contact our Finance Director and/or our Town Manager who would be more than happy to sit down (for however long it takes) to have their questions answered.

What is Camp Verde’s best option for affordable housing?

Escoffier: People need to understand how affordable housing is defined in order to erase the negative stigma of the term affordable housing. Affordable housing is housing that costs no more than 28% of the family or person’s income based on monthly income and housing costs. The single best option for safe and affordable housing is to re-establish the Town’s Housing Commission and Division that can focus on home ownership for first-time home buyers and rehabilitation of existing homes to make them safe. I am not implying or suggesting that the Town Housing Commission/Division become a housing landlord. The Housing Commission working with the Community Development Department, Planning and Zoning Commission and the Economic Development Department should develop a “toolbox” of programs and incentives to encourage affordable housing opportunities including home ownership and rentals. Reinstating the Town Housing Division will provide staff that can administer the Community Development Black Grant (CDBG) funding and apply for other grants that can be used for a variety of programs including down payment assistance, down payment savings, and housing rehabilitation. Affordable, safe housing is an intricate part of our local economy. Our town needs industry that will pay wages to allow employees to live in our area. At the same time, industry will not locate here if there is no housing for their workers. Construction costs have increased. There is an influx of people moving here with cash from the sale of their previous home in an even higher cost area. Add the rising interest rates into the mix and housing in our area is out of reach for too many.

More than one option is needed to address the affordable housing issue in our Town. It will take citizens, businesses and elected officials working together to offer solutions. That effort should be driven by the Town Housing Commission.

Foreman: That is a tough nut. Block grants for existing older units. Partner with non-profits to assist first time home buyers. Encourage smaller homes (NOT Tiny Homes!) Look for the type of development that is coming to the 260 and I-17 corridors that will provide decent wage jobs. Take a look at 3-D printed homes. (Yes, that is a thing.) As the former Building Official I can assure you that the cost of construction has gone through the roof, and material and supply deliveries have taken a beating.

Moore: Affordable housing is definitely a high priority topic everywhere, not just in Camp Verde. Real estate development is a complex and lengthy process. Almost half of the rental home residents in the United States are spending over 30% of their income on housing, when adding in the lack of housing available, it’s a failed recipe. There are steps the town has taken and are currently working toward promoting builders to seek out our area, including the opportunity zone as incentives.

Whatley: Our best option for affordable housing is to work with developers as they make plans for housing developments. It would be a very tricky business to take tax payers money to build affordable housing. If we did that there might be many people (and rightfully so) that could argue that they should receive help in paying their monthly rental payments or their mortgages while the Town is at it. However, I might be open (depending on the particulars) to a plan to loan down payment money–to be paid back over time – for down payments on affordable housing.

What pitfalls do you see in Camp Verde’s acquisition of the water utility, and how will you address those?

Escoffier: It is important to note that the Camp Verde water utility does not serve the entire town. With the acquisition of the water company, the Town of Camp Verde has increased control of the new growth in the Hwy. 260/I-17 and west Highway 260 growth corridors. Acquiring the water company also gives the Town a claim to water rights. For literally decades, I have heard complaints about the high cost of Camp Verde water. The cost of water will continue to be a concern from those who receive water from the Town’s water utility. The Town is running the water company as a not for profit but must cover costs so that residents who are not benefiting from the Town’s water do not subsidize it. The Arizona Department of Water Resources has control over water quality so naturally there are various standards and requirements that the Town’s water utility must meet, and undoubtedly, upgrades are needed. There are many grant and funding opportunities available to the Town to fund upgrades. As with other Town projects, community engagement and outreach are critical to those who receive Town water. Town water users need a dedicated avenue of communication with town officials to both receive information and to provide input.

Foreman: There is no downside, it is all upside.

Moore: The benefits of the acquisition are many and the pitfalls are few, if any. The Town owning the water utility provides a public service to its citizens, businesses and industries. The water company is now a not-for-profit community owned entity rather than a for profit private business. Not only will resident’s rates remain the same, but our water rights are more secure. As a municipality we have advantages afforded to us such as tax-free financing for future growth, the ability to implement water resource management and implement long term community goals.

Whatley: The Town, through the acquisition of the water company, now can make decisions about water as a public utility versus a private, for profit business. We can secure water rights to be held by the Town. And, all this was done without raising the cost of water to our citizens.

What is your opinion of Camp Verde’s infrastructure?

Escoffier: Our Town is on the brink of unprecedented growth. We need to be prepared to meet the challenges of this growth and protect our quality of life. The Town’s infrastructure including roads, sewer, water, and recreation facilities will be significantly impacted by this growth and the influx of residents and visitors.

Infrastructure encompasses many things, not just water, sewer and electricity. Roads and parks should be included when discussing infrastructure. It is important to note that the Town of Camp Verde itself does not have the monopoly on the infrastructure that serves the residents. The Camp Verde Water Company and Sanitary District only serve a portion of the residents. A large geographic portion of the town is served by private wells, septic systems and even private roads. The Town’s sewer treatment facility appears to be operating efficiently and is producing reclaimed water that can be used to water the fields at the sports complex. In my opinion, traffic and roads will be an infrastructure issue during the next four years. The intersections of Montezuma Castle Highway and Camp Lincoln Road by the elementary school has heavy congestion at the start and end of the school day and options to relieve the traffic issues are being reviewed by the Town and School District. The Town has applied for a Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant in the amount of $22,073,000 to improve Finnie Flat Road, Main Street and Montezuma Castle Highway through town from Main Street to the Verde River bridge. The other traffic/road issue will be the Highway 260 and McCracken/Quarterhorse Lane intersection once the sports complex is fully operational. If I am elected to the council, I would like to increase the community input on the capital improvement projects related to public facilities and infrastructure.

Foreman: Fantastic strides have been made in the past 5 years, and I would only say keep going.

Moore: Last summer as a resident and business owner, I personally was affected by the sewer infrastructure on Main Street. We worked closely with the Town and although frustrating, we resolved the issue in a timely manner. I then brought my concerns before Town Council and informed them of the serious setbacks I faced. I requested the town address what I felt like was a failing system for its business owners. Within two weeks, numerous council members as well as the Town Manager followed up with me with solutions that were both short and long term. Infrastructure is necessary but costly. The Town has taken smart steps in planning for future growth and staff work diligently at maintaining what is already in place, all while working toward upgrades and replacements.

Whatley: Camp Verde has been investing in our infrastructure for decades. A substantial portion of the budget each year is put toward strengthening our infrastructure in stormwater mitigation, road maintenance and along Highway 260 to encourage business growth along the corridor.

Describe your level of satisfaction with town management.

Escoffier: This question is difficult to answer since I am not on the council. I have had little contact with town management as a citizen. The limited interactions I have had with department directors and the town manager have been positive. I thought the town manager did a good job with the opening statements for the Fiscal Year 2023 budget discussions.

Foreman: Fairly high, but there is always room for improvement.

Moore: Council is currently working toward a restructuring of our town management which will include changes to departments, staffing and processes. With this restructuring, the town will be able to more efficiently handle the growth that has come to Camp Verde and the growth that is on the direct horizon. Every time I speak with a staff member of Camp Verde, it is clear they have a love for our Town and that is impressive. Knowledge, skill and a general appreciation for our community is necessary for our town to survive and thrive in the future, and I can genuinely say each department has shown me those qualities.

Whatley: As a council member I have absolute confidence in our Town Manager and the incredible job he has done. Mr. Martin has always had one goal in mind -to make Camp Verde a better place for all of us to live in.

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