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Watson selected new city manager

Jerene Watson had the “interim” tag removed from her title as city manager and was unanimously approved to be the city manager for the next year starting Monday, July 29.

The approval came at a special Douglas City Council meeting held on Monday, July 29 at City Hall.

Watson’s interim agreement with Douglas expired on July 28. With the new agreement, she will be paid an annual salary of $115,000 plus receive a housing and car allowance not to exceed $1,500 per month. The city will not pay any health insurance for her as she is already covered by her retirement health coverage. Benefits that will be paid however include short-term disability coverage, Workman’s Compensation and life insurance in the amount of one and a half times the annual base salary.

A flexible work schedule was included with Watson’s agreement with a minimum of three days a week in the city and the rest, remotely. Due to the one-year agreement Watson states she will not seek any payout or termination severance/payments.

“Mayor and members of the council I am really honored that you would like me to stay another year,” Watson said. “My intent is to be here to help Douglas. I have felt a love for this city since the first month I was here. I’m honored and grateful that you all gave me this chance. I’m committed to giving 110 percent just like I have been.”

Douglas’ residents Jesus and Tanya Duarte expressed their concern that Watson is now a city employee and yet allowed be allowed to live outside the city stated boundary of 60 miles.

“If she wants to sign an agreement to be employed by the city, she should have the same requirements as all other city employees,” Tanya said. “She should have to live in the city or least in the miles that we now allow. She should not get a living expense.”

Duarte admitted its hard to find a city manager nowadays but the same can be said for a police officer, firefighter or other city employees.

“Are we going to give each of them a $1,500 a month living allowance,” she asked? “It’s setting a really bad precedent to be giving certain city employees extra living money and tell them they don’t have to live here all the time. That’s not right and it’s not fair to the other city employees.”

Councilman Shelton praised Watson for the job that she has done since coming on board but also expressed some frustration regarding all the negativity.

“This is a very important night,” he said. “We can go out of here with hate or we can out of here with love and determination to make this go. We need to come together as a community and stop this moaning and groaning. She is going to help us. She has a lot of capabilities; all this knowledge that we need to take advantage of.”

CARE Fair provides local children with school supplies

Hundreds of local children and families are now stocked up on school supplies and community resources following Saturday’s CARE Fair which took place at Airport Park.

The 18th annual event was made possible thanks to Freeport McMoran, Making Connections/DBA Cochise Connections, Christian Life Center, The Douglas Dispatch, and other local businesses.

The CARE (which stands for Children’s, Assistance, Resource Event) Fair was initially started by the late Carol Huddleston, who founded the idea of bringing the community together during a day of free school supplies, activities, and family wellness.

Saturday’s event featured the ever-popular pony rides from DMD Hearts & Hooves out of Portal.

“Freeport McMoRan is one of the major sponsors of our back to school event not only here in Douglas, but also Bisbee,” said Adriana Romero of Cochise Connections. “This year they donated 400 backpacks for this event that were handed out within an hour.”

Various participating agencies provided school supplies to go inside the backpacks and there were give-a-ways throughout the event to those that attended.

“We had a huge turnout today,” Romero said after the fair was over. “We had great cooperation from all the organizations. I really do appreciate The Douglas Dispatch for helping us out with this event. I think one important thing we saw today was how much the community comes together to host this event in a way to give back to the kids and the families. We want to make this an enjoyable event for all the families.”

JCPenney was a first-time participant this year. Manager Fernanda Hernandez said she found out about the event through the Dispatch’s Facebook page. Her store was able to set up a table and distribute school supplies. She said afterwards she was happy her store was able to take part in this event. JCPenney also donated two $50 gift cards that were given away during the fair.

Participating businesses this year were: Making Connections 4U/DBA Cochise Connections, Freeport McMoRan, Christian Life Center, The Douglas Dispatch, Tucson Medical Center (TMC), DJ Legacy, Douglas Police Department, Community Health Associates, U.S. Census Bureau, Caring Connections For Special Needs, Easter seals Blake Foundation, Consulado de Mexico, City of Douglas (Recreation Division), Douglas Public Library, Copper Queen Community Hospital, Cochise County, Board of Supervisor Campaign, DES Rehabilitation Services Administration, JCPenney, SEABHS, Arizona@Work/Employment Services & Voc Rehab, Wells Fargo Bank, CSL Plasma, Pioneer Title Agency, Douglas Area Food Bank and the DUSD #27 Migrant Education Program, DMD Hearts & Hooves, and Chiricahua Community Health Centers, Inc.

Council approves sales tax increase

Douglas’ new sales/use tax is set to go into effect Sept. 1.

By a vote of 5-2, the Douglas City Council gave its final blessing to a 1-cent sales tax increase and a 2-cent bed tax hike during a special meeting on Monday, July 29.

With the combined city, county and state tax, Beginning Sept. 1, Douglas will now have a 9.9 percent tax, the highest in Cochise County.

It is anticipated the tax will generate a about $1.4 million extra in revenue, which will be used for raises for city employees as well as emergency equipment for the Douglas Fire and Police Departments. It will also be used to help fund a new school resource officer as well as provide upgrades to city recreational facilities, and help design and develop G Avenue’s downtown streetscape.

City officials contend the average person living in Douglas will spend an additional $3.86 per month after the tax is implemented.

The bed tax will be collected from visitors and anyone who rents for 30 days or less.

In his presentation to the council, Douglas City Treasurer Luis Pedroza announced the city is lined up to receive a $1.8 million grant which will be used for the runway at the Douglas Municipal Airport.

“With that comes a 10 percent match so that is one of the proposed uses” for the increased revenue, Pedroza said.

Local residents Tanya and Jesus Duarte as well as former Mayor Dr. Mike Gomez and former councilman Danny Morales asked the council to reconsider the tax increase during the call to the public.

“We all know this tax increase will more than likely get approved regardless of what the residents of Douglas want,” Tanya said. “We’ve all learned that our voices don’t matter. We also know there has been severe misuse of funds throughout the last couple years. The residents of Douglas should not have to be forced to pay for the misuse of our money. This increase should not be approved. I don’t think the taxes should be increased.”

“‘Taxation without representation.’ You guys know where that came from and what happened at the birth of our nation,” Jesus Duarte said. “We showed up here to a public hearing and we were not allowed to speak. Stop misusing our money. When we see adversity in Douglas we buckle up and make do with what we have. Show us that we can have confidence in you. Work with the current tax rate that you have. Show us you are going to respect our money, use it properly and bring it back next year. Put it on the ballot and see what people want. We oppose this tax.”

Morales stated in his remarks that, “Trust is one of the most valuable assets that you can earn as a public office holder and unfortunately there is a lack of trust with this whole body. What is happening here is not good, strategic thinking. Address the issues first, gain the trust first and then you can go and ask the constituents (about a tax increase) when you actually have a tax base to raise taxes on.”

Councilman Mitch Lindemann moved to approve the tax hikes, seconded by Jose Grijalva. Lindemann, Grijalva as well as Mayor Robert Uribe and council members Ray Shelton and Cesar Soto all voted in favor, while Margaret Morales and Donnie Huish voted against.

Lindemann stated he feels this move will benefit Douglas down the road.

“Elected officials are elected to make the hard decisions. We make many of those decisions based on facts not popular opinion,” he said. “Officials are elected to represent their wards, but also expected to collectively guide the city as a whole. Ultimately, what is sound policy for the city will be good for the wards.”

Huish said right up to the start of the meeting he was receiving calls from concerned citizens regarding the sales tax increase.

“I see the needs, but I also understand we could probably do a better job with what we have and make the impact a little less on the dear citizens of Douglas,” he said.

“We need to be prepared for the future, especially when the new port of entry comes,” Shelton said regarding the increase. “I think we need to be more progressive than we have in the past. To some extent we have been complacent.”

The mayor praised Pedroza and the finance committee. “I am proud to vote in favor of this proposal because I know that you (Mr. Pedroza) worked in the city’s best interest. You worked with the finance committee so my vote is a resounding yes.”