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Local YMCA brought back to life

Douglas residents were able to celebrate the rebirth of a historic building Saturday that is once again open for business.

Keith and Lupita Dinwiddie purchased the three-story YMCA building, located on 10th Street and Pan American Avenue from the City of Douglas in 2016 with a commitment to spearhead the structure’s restoration.

“We want to get it fixed up, and open it to the residents of Douglas,” Dinwiddie said in a 2016 Douglas Dispatch article. “The senior citizens should have a place to go, as well as the younger generation. We are really just interested in helping the people of Douglas.”

That commitment was fulfilled Saturday as Douglas residents showed up to witness what Cochise County Supervisor Ann English called the “birth of a new building”.

“We have seen this building over the years thriving at times,” she said. “The railroad used to come up here; people would off load their goods here. Douglas was a thriving town at that time and then circumstances brought it down. The Dinwiddie’s have done everything possible to bring it back to life. Today you are seeing the birth of a building that we hope will energize Douglas.”

English announced 17 different people have already committed to utilizing the YMCA in order to provide a variety of services to the community.

“I’m sure you are going to enjoy this building for years to come,” she said. “As time goes on and the local economy energizes the Dinwiddie’s hope to make this a place where you all can have parties and quinceaneras, baby showers, all kinds of family events that will bring people together. We’re hoping you all will take advantage of this building and it will become a real stable force in the community.”

A plaque outside the entrance states the YMCA was built in 1905 by El Paso and Southwest Railroad and the Calumet and Arizona Copper and the citizens of Douglas.

In 1916 it was expanded to include a gym, a swimming pool and other recreational facilities with additional support provided by Phelps Dodge and The Dodge Foundation. In 1984 the YMCA was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

With the help of Keith and Lupita, English announced the revealing of the Keith Dinwiddie Foundation that will keep the building going for many years to come.

“I want to thank everybody for coming today,” Keith told those at the celebration. “We want to celebrate the grand opening of the grand lady. We’ve been working long and hard on this project for three years. When we bought her from the city, she needed a lot of help and repair.”

Keith invited the citizens of Douglas to stop by and enjoy this magnificent grand lady.

“I’d really like to thank my wife Lupita,” he said. “She’s the one behind all this. She worked like a beaver to get this thing ready. It is such a joy knowing we’ve been able to bring this grand lady back to life.”

Keith added upgrades included putting on a new roof; the electricity as well as the plumbing was also upgraded.

“We worked really hard on the interior trying to get everything ready for today,” he said. “This has been a day that I have been looking forward to for a long time. God bless all those that helped us work on this project.”

Keith added all the repairs and upgrades were done without any grant assistance.

There are spaces inside the YMCA that are available for people to rent.

“We want to make this something like a mini mall,” he said. “That’s why we are calling it Plaza Esmeralda.”

Keith also announced he has applied for a liquor license with the city and if approved at the July meeting, a sports bar will soon be open on the bottom floor.

Lupita added this was a dream of hers and to see it come about makes her feel very happy.

“What Keith and Lupita have done with this place and done for the community is an act of love,” English said.

For more information on the YMCA, contact Lupita at (520) 227-9120 or stop by between the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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City council takes first step to raise taxes

Annexation, alleged city charter violations, a proposed city tax increase, the upcoming fiscal year budget and a possible investigation were some of the key items addressed during the close to five-hour Douglas City Council meeting that was held Wednesday, June 12 in the City Hall council chambers.

After some lengthy discussion the city council approved the tentative budget that included a one cent sales tax increase that would become effective October 1, 2019 should the ordinance authorizing it pass all three readings by the mayor and council.

The item passed the first reading and will now come back for a second reading on July 10 which will include a public hearing followed by the third reading at the August 14 city council meeting after which the taxes become effective 30 days later.

According to Luis Pedroza, Douglas’ finance director, the measure that was approved by the council will result in an additional $1,333,125 in sales/use tax revenue.

Pedroza said, “It was recommended to utilize $467,585 towards new capital items, $471,464 for funding of new positions, reclassifications and funding existing unfunded positions.”

He added, “$394,076 will be allocated towards employee compensation that included a two percent COLA (cost of living adjustments), new certification pay, bringing employees with salaries of 20 percent or more below market to within 20 percent, adding another step in longevity pay and shortening the gap between steps and funding for the minimum wage increase in January that includes also widening the gap between employees close to the minimum wage.”

The mayor and council also voted on four amendments to the recommended budget, of which two passed and two failed. The motions that failed were to keep the city attorney part time instead of full time and to remove funding for a School Resource Officer. The amendment to the budget that passed by a vote of 4-3 was to remove funding for a fulltime Tourism Specialist and in doing so keeps the position at halftime.

The second motion that passed was to add economic development functions to the deputy city manager position among other various departmental supervision as determined by administration and remove funding for the economic development director’s position once the deputy city manager position is filled.

“With these motions in place the city established a total spending ceiling of $40,601,910,” Pedroza said.

The mayor and council also agreed to double its bed tax from two to four percent which will affect all motels and hotels as well as assisted care facilities like the Haven of Douglas.

After the meeting Interim City Manager Jerene Watson sent out an email out to all city employees informing them what all had happened at the meeting in regards to the raises, etc. and asking them to “keep in mind, there is still a ways to go before all this is final. Nothing is official until the final vote of the city council.”

Annexation

Prior to the regular city council meeting a one-hour special informational meeting was held where Douglas Police Chief Kraig Fullen and Cochise County Planner Christine McLachlan proposed some annexation plans.

The annexation of Bay Acres, Pirtleville and the proposed Port of Entry site were the three areas being discussed.

During the regular meeting the mayor and council directed Chief Fullen and McLachlan to begin looking into possibility of annexing Bay Acres into the city limits followed by the proposed Port of Entry site and then Pirtleville.

It was noted at the meeting the city has adopted a general plan which establishes goals and objectives for future physical development of Douglas.

Chief Fullen emphasized this is still very early in the planning effort phase and nothing has yet to be finalized. The process is an eight-step process with step one being the preparing of a boundary map which will be followed by a requesting info period (which could take up to 60 days), the filing of the petition with the county recorders office which has a mandatory 30-day waiting period followed by two-separate public hearings in between which there is another 30-day waiting period.

Annexation benefits for the city will increase the City’s share of state sales tax, motor vehicle fuel tax, revenue sharing of state income tax. It also increases the assessed valuation of the city and will also allow for the collection of city sales tax from annexed parcels.

City charter violations / investigation

At the May 15 city council meeting Douglas resident Tanya Duarte presented a written petition regarding allegations of several City Charter violations against Mayor Robert Uribe.

The purported violations allegedly occurred between November 2018 through January 2019 and deal with how former city manager Jim Russell was removed from his job.

Since he is named in the allegation, Mayor Uribe recused himself from the meeting when this item came up after which Mayor Pro-Tempore Mitch Lindemann took over.

After some discussion at the June meeting the council unanimously agreed to acknowledge receipt of Duarte’s petition and to send a copy of the letter to the Attorney General seeking an opinion on the merits of the claim.

On a separate agenda item of which the mayor was a part of, the mayor and council unanimously agreed to have either a state or county law enforcement agency look into allegation of inappropriate disclosure of potentially privileged communications or leakage of personnel files by elected officials or city personnel and to produce a report on the matter to the city council at a future meeting.


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One step closer: U.S. House of Representatives appropriates money for Douglas POE

Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick’s State Director, Ron Barber, met with Douglas Mayor Robert Uribe on Friday, June 14, to personally share the news that the Congresswoman has been successful in moving money for the proposed commercial Douglas Port of Entry out of the House Appropriations Committee via the 2020 Homeland Security spending bill.

Nearly $1.2 billion is slated for land-based Ports of Entry across the U.S., and the Raul H. Castro Port in Douglas will be the recipient of a portion of the $848 million from this source designated for basic and major repairs of ports around the country.

“We are extremely happy to learn of this first step in the federal funding process for our commercial port,” exclaimed Mayor Uribe. “While there are more levels of approval to be gained nationally for our project, this initial step is huge and puts us in line for accomplishment of our long envisioned port upgrade. We are very grateful for the work by Congresswoman Kirkpatrick and her staff on behalf of the citizens of Douglas, to get our project moved up to priority No. 5 among the ports across this country. In April, Mrs. Kirkpatrick and her staff visited to see first-hand the need and they understood with clarity.” Mayor Uribe continued, “After some years of planning, some movement forward, and then going back to the drawing board in developing much-needed improvement for the Douglas Port, this appropriation is evidence of wide stakeholder support from the community, Cochise County, surrounding cities and the state, up to the highest offices in this land. We are finally sensing our entry into the home stretch of realizing an enhanced and modernized port for Douglas.”

A revitalized port of entry will bring not only opportunities for initial employment and revenues due to the construction of such a large federal project, but is anticipated to create spin-off development of warehousing, manufacturing and light industrial uses for the City of Douglas adding jobs for its residents and those in the region.

In anticipation of this project, the City has begun a study area for annexation towards the land designated for the port and has already begun to review the infrastructure needs to be provided by the City, utility partners and Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) relating to roads. This is in follow-up to the City Council-developed Strategic Action Plan from March 2019 that incorporates the vision of and preparation for future economic activity, such as the Port of Entry, that will strengthen the trade, commerce and economy of the city of Douglas and benefit the residents.

“Modernizing our Douglas Port of Entry is one of my top priorities,” Kirkpatrick noted. “I am proud to share that our southern port has jumped on the priority list for funding and I look forward to continue working on this committee until we see a new port complete.”

Kirkpatrick continued, “More than most districts around the country, this funding bill impacts our district significantly. I am proud to have a voice at the table and push to secure adequate funding for our border and border personnel.”

A comprehensive approach to enhancing our ports of entry was sought by the Congresswoman and the Appropriations Committee. Included as part of the funding bill is direction to the General Services Administration (GSA) federal agency to research related needs of ports on the southern U.S. border such as border infrastructure staffing and procedures for handling of immigrants, standard practice to process asylum seekers including evaluation of the procedures to ensure migrant protection.