Carefree Town Council may take festivals in a new direction

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A Special Event license was approved for St. Gabriel the Archangel Roman Catholic Parish to be held on May 12 from 5:30 to 7:30pm with proceeds to benefit St. Vincent De Paul Conferences of St. Gabriel and Our Lady of Joy.

A continuance for a General Plan Amendment Case and a Rezone case for a new residential subdivision from CEV holdings, The Enclave at Carefree was granted until the June 5 meeting.

Thunderbird Artists made a presentation to hold an additional event in Carefree. Judy Combs said Thunderbird Artists was invited to produce a sculpture festival. She cited the 25 year partnership between Carefree and the group as the main reason why they wanted to hold the event in Carefree. She said Carefree has a great reputation in the art community.

According to Combs they won’t compromise on the quality of the art pieces to get more sculptors involved. Because it is a special event, the entry fee would be raised from $3 to $5. She noted the town does get 25 percent of the admission fees. Carefree residents would still get in free. A nonprofit organization is recruited to help with admission and they also receive 25 percent of the admission as well.

Councilman Gene Orrico says he has had a lot of complaints from local merchants that the festivals block off traffic for three or four days at a time, so customers can’t access the local businesses. He also said the three major entrances into the town’s retail core is blocked, and even the trolley couldn’t get through.

Councilman Mike Farrar suggested a solution by moving the event to Easy Street on the east side of the Sundial and around Sunrise Drive, as there is very little retail business on that side, mostly office buildings. Other Council Members were very supportive of the idea. Sounds of ‘Yea’ and applause was heard from the local merchants in attendance. Councilman Michael Krahe suggested that the other Thunderbird events be relocated to that area as well.

A motion was made to hold the sculpture festival Feb. 15-17 2019, with none of the event to be held west of Carefree Drive. An attempt was made to amend the motion to include the other Thunderbird events in this motion as well, but that would have to be placed on another agenda and addressed at another time. The motion passed unanimously.

An Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) for the Carefree-Cave Creek Consolidated Court (CCCCC) to continue to utilize the East Valley Veterans Court (EVVC) next came before the Council. Presiding CCCCC Judge Stephanie Olohan and Court Administrator Jennifer Wildeman explained what the EVCC is and how it works. EVCC was established to assist participating municipalities with the goal of improving the quality of life for Arizona Veterans and their families. The program addresses pending charges and life situations such as medical conditions, unemployment, lack of education, homelessness, mental health issues, and drug or alcohol abuse that may be contributing to the Veterans’ charges and is designed to expedite access to Veteran-specific resources such as benefits and treatment.

Judge Olohan said they are delighted to be a part of this and that specialty courts are happening more frequently and appears to be the wave of the future. It is a voluntary program and all parties, judge, prosecutor, and the defendant must all agree to use the program. The program costs approximately $275 per case and is for a one year term with the right to renew for three more terms. In 2017 there were 2 cases referred to EVCC. The Council approved the IGA unanimously.

Employee benefits was the next item for the Council. The Rural Arizona Group Health Trust (RAGHT) a multi-entity employee benefits pool made a presentation on the program and the cost benefits for the town to join. Carefree only has 15 full time employees so is a small pool when looking for employee benefit packages.

RAGHT counts among its current 17 members, small towns like Wellton, Eager, Miami, and the Golden Valley Fire District. Carefree would be the smallest entity. Like Carefree, these smaller government entities had been facing large increases in employee health insurance and no control over it. RAGHT is self-funded, which reduces operating expenses, reduces fluctuations in cost, increases employer benefit flexibility, and increases employer control of benefits. Since 2002 annual increases have averaged less than three percent and the cost was $30,000 less than other benefits packages. The program was approved by Council.

A motion tentatively adopting the town budget and to hold a public hearing June 5th on the budget came next. Town Administrator Gary Neiss said the town reserves of $7.86 million were the highest ever. At previous budget hearings it was noted that some of those reserves would be tapped in the next fiscal year for capital improvements.

Councilman Mike Farrar made a motion to table the vote so the council to review the marketing budget and make strategic decisions regarding the marketing of the Town to see what exactly is going to be done with the approximately half million dollar marketing budget. Neiss pointed out that the Council was facing time constraints to legally advertise the public hearing on June 5th and that the expenditures within a budget category could be reviewed and changed at any time. The motion to table was defeated by a 5-2 vote with Councilman Gene Orrico voting with Farrar. The bottom line budget was then passed by the same 5-2 margin. Mayor Peterson said soon the Council would get together and have a marketing strategy discussion.

A summary presentation on the Desert Hills Trolley was given by Councilman Farrar who organized the Trolley. The Trolley operated Saturdays & Sundays from December through April. Carefree’s portion of the Trolley expense was $12,314.59. However through sale advertising a 74 percent cost recovery was achieved with the Town’s share of the final cost $3227.09. The total number of riders who boarded the Trolley was 4,550. As many of those riders reboarded as part of a round trip, the number of actual riders is estimated to be between 2,275 and 3,600.

According to the drivers, the most popular stop was the Sundial. In a video a driver said that often parents would spend the trip to the sundial explaining to their children what a sundial is. There were 16 stops with three in Carefree. Farrar noted that in addition to the Sundial, the other stop locations in Carefree, Spanish Village and Mariachi Plaza, were sponsored by property landlords, not individual businesses. Most stops in Cave Creek were sponsored by individual businesses.

Farrar said there were requests for other stops in Cave Creek as well, including the Cave Creek Museum, but they wanted to have the total travel time for the Trolley to be about 30 minutes, so no one would have to wait longer than that. He said more analysis including surveys from riders and business owners would be done and another presentation made to the Council.