Bees, politics, grant funds, were WPCCC topics

By Ajo Copper News staff

Ajo Copper News of Ajo, Arizona

A long list of featured and regular speakers offered reports for more than two hours at the monthly meeting of the Western Pima County Community Council last Thursday. Topics included Pima County inspections, Africanized honeybees, state legislative action, Community Development Block Grant projects, local beautification efforts., Border Patrol statistics, Ajo Unified School District, and Pima County Natural Resources Parks and Recreation.

WPCCC chair Lil Jones reiterated that elections for WPCCC councilors in even-numbered districts will take place during the December meeting.

Deb Miller, representing Supervisor Sharon Branson's office, reported that Branson and Sheriff Chris Nanos are planning to attend the November WPCCC meeting. Miller reminded audience members they could report illegal dumping, zoning violations, and street repair issues to Branson's office by calling 520-724-8051 or by visiting the web-page online. Miller said building inspections for commercial structures may now be done via Skype to eliminate the long drive.

Charles Conner, a 26-year biological technician working with flora and fauna at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, talked about bees and fielded a host of lively questions. Conner stated that all feral honeybees are to be considered Africanized, and that honeybees are vital only for large-scale agriculture, which sees them trucked to fields and orchards by large bee raising operations. He said it is true they have "taken a hit" in total numbers, but it is only a concern for big agri-business and, although numbers are down at times, "they are managed and they are doing okay." Conner said the more pressing concern has to do with native bees and other pollinators such as butterflies, wasps, and moths, which suffer more from habitat destruction due to human land development as well as increased use of pesticides and genetically engineered pesticide-resistant corps, including crops engineered to have a pesticide incorporated in their genes. He explained that native bees don't make honey, don't swarm or make and defend hives, work individually or in very small groups, and rarely if ever sting. He added that while native bees are less noticed, they are beneficial, interesting, and beautiful.

Arizona state senator Lynne Pancrazi and District 4 state legislators Lisa Otondo and Charlene Fernandez addressed the audience on recent legislative matters. The trio said the latest 81-day session of legislative action involved "a lot of hard work" and blocking of bad bills. Items voted on in the session included the securing of state trust funds without raising taxes, protecting community health centers such as the one in Ajo, agriculture and water conservation issues, and education funding. The three agreed that Governor Doug Ducey's education plan is not sustainable long term.

Daniel Tylutki and Josue Licea of Pima County Community Development provided details on community development block grants along with a separate category of emergency solutions grant funding to assist homeless and special populations. They explained the grants are federal funds entitled to Pima County to meet a national objective to serve low-and moderate-income areas by providing public service and smaller infrastructure-type projects within targeted, unincorporated communities such as Ajo. Eligible applicants include not-for-profits, local government departments, and fire/school districts. The county is using an online application process for the grants, including a pre-application and final application due in February. Previous projects covered by CDBG in Ajo include blight demolition, a walk-in cooler for the food bank, and numerous ISDA projects. Pre-application is available via the county's online service in mid-October. Contact the county's community development office at 520-724-3777 to learn more. Also discussed was roadway landscaping projects and their funding.

USBP agent Roman Rubio, the community liaison for Ajo, reported on two recently compiled statistics for Tucson Sector. He said total undocumented migrant apprehensions in the sector, which includes eight stations, was 58,389 for fiscal 2015, which just ended September 30. Total marijuana seizures in the sector for the fiscal year were 686,839 pounds. Rubio said film crews from National Geographic and Fuse TV filmed at the Ajo Station recently. Regarding local events, he said a USBP horse patrol unit will be at the International Day of Peace celebration (which occurred on Monday) and an honor guard will be on hand for the October 14 historic military convoy visit to town. In addition, USBP Explorers will have an informational booth at the Red & White Weekend festival.

Superintendent Robert Dooley gave an update on news at Ajo Unified School District. He talked about the smoke damage in the school media center, noting that 2000 boxes of books, computers, and other materials had to carted out for cleaning as well as the 10,000-square-foot room requiring wall-to-wall scrubbing. MAP, or measurement of academic progress, testing is going on. The First Things First tobacco tax has lost 27% of its funding. Dooley said class sizes at AUSD have increased up to 15% due to funding issues, with "some classes embarrassingly" crowded.

Merrill Meadows, local director with Pima County Natural Resources Parks and Recreation, talked about the recent fishing odyssey at the community pool. She said parks & recreation sports teams won all their games last week.

Bond elections are scheduled for November 3. The deadline to register as a voter is October 5. Councilor Andrew Sisk mentioned that Bond 430, regarding historic infrastructure, has the potential to bring funds to Ajo. Councilor Freeman Fry said the Ajo District Chamber of Commerce is looking for a new director. A Fam (familiarization) Tour is scheduled for October 9 to 11 to bring outsiders to town to see what Ajo has to offer.

Jim Huffman of Why expressed concern over Scott Boyd of APS retiring, saying he believes there are no plans to replace him.

Many of the above topics will be featured in future in-depth articles in the newspaper.

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