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Council considering tax increase

The proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2019/2020 and what can be done to provide the needs and services being requested from the new budget were part of a special joint meeting between the Douglas City Council and the Finance Committee on Tuesday, May 28 at City Hall.

City officials are considering three options for next year. One would be to add a one-cent sale tax increase to next year’s budget which would increase the city tax from 2.8 to 3.8 percent and the overall tax (city, county and state) to 9.9 percent. If approved, the proposed tax would cost the average citizen $3.86 per month and generate roughly $1,750,000 extra in revenue.

Another option is a .75 percent tax increase which would cost the average citizen $2.90 per month and generate roughly $1,313,000 in revenue. The third option is a .5 percent tax increase which would generate $875,000 and cost the average citizen $1.93 per month.

A tax plus a bond increase of $10 or $20 million was also discussed with the financial impact being anywhere from $7.08 to $10.56 per resident each month. The bond, if passed, would provide funds for street repairs as well as other capital improvement projects.

A public hearing on the proposed increases is scheduled right before the June 12 regular city council meeting at City Hall.

Douglas’ interim city manager Jerene Watson told the council that as of May 1 Douglas’ population is in decline, there have been reductions in personnel as well as city programs, most city employees have multiple tasks adding more stress, morale has been impacted and the city is losing employees to other entities that pay better. She added revenues the last two years did not meet expenditures and that comes from declining revenue streams.

“(The) City is treading water,” she said.

City Finance Manager Monica Flores reported that the third quarter was decent for Douglas and as of May 21 there was $4,971,661 left in the general fund reserve. She added the 45-day operating reserve will run $1,782,493; the capital reserve will be $1,463,708 and the debt service should be $1,274,078 leaving the city with an overage of $451,382.

Flores pointed out the budget shortfall/overage had shrunk from $275,182 in the second quarter (July through December 2018) to $74,054 as of the end of April.

“The spending freeze by the departments that have been instilled to curb our expenditures have been successful,” she said. “We’ve bridged the gap $201,108 and should things continue we could end the year in the black.”

“Due to incoming revenues that we are expecting I expect us to finish the year in the black,” City Treasurer Luis Pedroza added.

Flores added sales tax collections were down this last July and November but up the remaining months when compared to 2017-18. March sales figures were up 7.27 percent compared to previous years with April, May and June figures still pending.

At the start of the meeting Adam Brake was appointed to the Finance Committee. He replaces Javier Fimbres who resigned.

Mitch Lindemann was appointed to be the new Mayor Pro-Tempore. He replaces Donnie Huish who questioned why this was even a voting item on the agenda when city charter states, “The mayor shall designate a member of the Council as Mayor Pro Tempore, who shall serve in such capacity at the pleasure of the mayor.”

“I don’t agree with this,” Councilwoman Margaret Morales said. “I think Councilman Huish has been doing an excellent job and he should be allowed to finish as mayor pro-tempore. I don’t see what the motive is behind this. Obviously, you have a motive, I understand that’s your prerogative but I don’t agree with it.”

The vote to approve Lindemann as the new Mayor Pro-Tempore passed 4-3 with Mayor Robert Uribe and councilmen Cesar Soto, Jose Grijalva and Lindemann voting in favor and Huish, Morales and Ray Shelton voting against.

The appointment will be on a rotation basis, Mayor Uribe said. The approval was met with some resistance from those attending the meeting prompting the mayor to gavel the audience advising them any outbursts would not be tolerated and could result in their removal.

A prolific life: Douglas native, American Indian artist explores heritage through art

Every bit of paper in Douglas-based artist Ben Lucero’s home studio, from squares of cardboard to large pages, is filled with art: a quick watercolor of the California coast, a stone lithograph of a Native American dancer, his plumed headdress a blur of motion.

Lucero, 82, doesn’t throw away any of his work, even if a painting was a “warm-up” or didn’t turn out the way he had planned.

Artists learn from everything they create, he said: the turn–of–the–19th century Native American artists that he studied, some of whom painted or drew on wrapping paper or other scraps, created art that was just as worth saving as work laid down on pricey canvas.

“What did I learn from those guys? It comes from here — the mind and the spirit,” he said, touching his head and chest.

Lucero, who also goes by his Raramuri Indian name, Chírí Soporí, is an American Indian painter — not because he limits himself to Native American themes, but because he is “an Indian who paints,” he explained wryly.

“Art is art, and it’s a philosophy of life to each individual, regardless of racial or ethnic groups,” he said.

Lucero’s prolific and varied body of work, which he steadily continues to produce even as his mobility has declined in his older years, spans decades and has been exhibited throughout North America and Europe. It doesn’t adhere to one style or trope — much like the Douglas native’s dynamic life.

Lucero was born in Douglas in 1937 to a Raramuri Indian father and a Mayo Indian mother, peoples native to areas of Northern Mexico, back when numerous families were drawn to the border town because of work available at the now-closed smelter.

Lucero was more focused in academics and sports as a child, his interest in art not taking hold until he began studying at Bacone Indian Univeresity in Oklahoma under renown Cheyenne artist Richard West.

“He made an impact on me, as he did other students,” said Lucero. “He wanted all of us, in taking art from him, to study our cultural birth and our cultural background, who our parents and grandparents were.”

While Lucero had had a home education about his origins from his parents and grandmother, he, like most of the students at the college, didn’t grow up in a reservation setting and had somewhat “limited” knowledge of his heritage, he explained.

Applying what he learned about American Indian history and culture to art helped him continue to develop his identity: “I started doing this research, and looking into who we are,” he said.

Those studies led to a Master’s degree in art from San Diego State University, and to a career teaching and lecturing about Native American art, law, history and other topics at colleges and universities in both the U.S. and Europe.

One of Lucero’s proudest accomplishments as a teacher was starting satellite community college centers throughout Indian reservations in California in the 1970s, a project that stemmed from his firm belief that everyone had a right to a strong education.

“We all make a difference in one way or another,” said Lucero. “...My mother and father used to emphasize, “God gave you three things: intelligence, good health, and the ability to stand on your own two feet,” and it’s up to me to use those attributes.”

Those attributes, and Lucero’s hunger for knowledge, drove him to many careers and projects throughout the years. He has headed numerous boards and commissions for academic and political organizations, including stints as president of the California Indian Education Association and director of the Republican Party of Douglas, all while continuing to evolve as an artist and teacher.

Although Lucero doesn’t identify himself as “traditional” (“My question to you is, what is a traditional artist?” he countered when asked to define his style,) experimenting with everything from silver wirework etchings, to abstract paintings, to digital storytelling, it his is vibrant, intricate portraits of Native Americans that have been most widely reproduced — and that first captured the attention of his wife of over 30 years, Edith.

“We met in Belgium — he was producing his art work overseas, and he had an importing exporting business also,” she said. “The first time he introduced me to his artwork, there was a lot of artwork that I didn’t know, like stone lithographs and silk screens, so he opened this brand new world for me.”

Since settling down in Douglas in 1990, the pair has also become involved in Cochise County art scene, selling work to many collectors in the area and regularly attending events such as Art in the Park in Sierra Vista, she said.

“I love his art,” said Edith, gazing at one of the many paintings that brightened the walls of their home. “It’s very traditional, and that’s what I like, the traditionalism of his work — and the colors, the amazing colors.”

Lucero slows no sign of slowing down, even in his 80s. He spends his days among stacks of photographs and discs, completed and half-completed paintings, cards and gifts from loved ones dating back decades, continuing to create art and develop “the portfolio of my life,” he said.

“At 82, I’m still hungry for more knowledge,” he said. “It never stops, and I’m glad that the Great Spirit, God, has given me that blessing.”