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Photo courtesy of Jerold Altaha  

The Dischii’bikoh Junior High School girls basketball team won runner-up at the Central Junior High League Tournament in San Carlos Saturday, Jan. 18. The championship trophy went to Globe Junior High School. Pictured from left are Klohe Early, Erin Wallen, Ashante James, Bernice Paxson, Cadence Hooke, Shaelyn Williams and Miss WMAT Princess Kaphiry Cosay.

Concho awarded Apache County CDBG funding

APACHE COUNTY — The Apache County Board of Supervisors will funnel some $225,000 in federal grant money into two key projects in the unincorporated community of Concho, including a new well and a community center.

Any leftover money will help the Springerville Fire Department buy air packs so firefighters can work in smoke-filled buildings, according to the priority listing approved by the board of supervisors earlier this month.

That apparently leaves the Round Valley Boys and Girls Clubs out in the cold, without enough leftover federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to cover the $153,000 request for an upgraded kitchen for use by the after-school organizations.

The county’s top priority for the federal grant is the new Concho Community Center, which needs $60,000 to finish work on a modular building, including handicapped accessible restrooms, workspace and walkways.

Community members have already raised the money to turn a modular building salvaged from a ski resort into a community center, relying heavily on donations and volunteer work. The center will serve the roughly 240 residents of Concho, where about 60 percent of residents qualify as low and moderate income under the federal guidelines.

Backers took advantage of a donation by the Mellon family to pay for the modular building.

The federal grant should also stretch to cover a $125,000 well at the Lion’s Club Park in Concho Valley, providing enough water to keep grass for a playing field growing as well as provide water for county road operations and fire department water-tender trucks.

The leftover money won’t be enough to provide the full $185,000 the Springerville Fire Department sought to buy equipment to help fight fires in the town of 2,000 more safely. About half of the people in Springerville qualify as low and moderate income, one of the key criteria in handing out the grant money. The federal Community Development Block Grant rotates from the county, St. Johns to Springerville-Eagar each year. But the supervisors rated the Springville request its third priority. Springerville will get to allocate money in a future grant cycle.

The money should arrive later this year.

Arizona sixth in federal funding nationally

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development doles out about $3.3 billion annually to counties and towns. The money’s intended to provide infrastructure and services for low and moderate income communities, but the federal government gives local agencies wide latitude in deciding what projects to fund. Arizona gets about $9 million annually from the federal program.

The grants contribute to the bounty Arizona receives from the federal government.

The state gets about $31 billion more funding from the federal government than its nearly 7 million residents pay in federal taxes of all descriptions. That represents a federal subsidy to Arizona of about $4,300 per person, according to the US Census Bureau and other sources.

One study posted on the Wallet Hub website (https://wallethub.com/edu/states-most-least-dependent-on-the-federal-government/2700/) concluded Arizona’s the sixth most dependent state when it comes to the federal government. The top five states include New Mexico, Mississippi, Kentucky, West Virginia and Alabama.

The states least dependent on the federal government include Illinois, Utah, New Jersey, Delaware and Kansas, according to the Wallet Hub compilation. Residents in those states paid more in taxes than they received in benefits, providing the money to subsidize residents of other states.

On average, Republican-controlled states like Arizona got substantially more money per-capita from the feds than the Democratic controlled states, the study concluded.

Arizona ranked 11th nationally when it came to federal payments to residents for things like medical care, food stamps and other programs generally related to family income. Arizona ranked 4th nationally when it came to the state’s reliance on federal funding for key programs, like schools, universities, highway projects and others.

Peter Aleshire covers county government and other topics for the Independent. He is the former editor of the Payson Roundup. Reach him at paleshire@payson.com

Photo by Amber Shepard  

On Sunday, Jan. 19, three days before the 47th anniversary of Roe v Wade, dozens of St. Johns residents joined together for a March for Life. The residents walked one mile from the New Covenant Church next to the Post Office to the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. Afterwards, participants listened to two “survivors of the abortion culture,” Susan and Laura Redinger, and joined in prayer together. Participants in this year’s march were representative of all the different churches in the area.

Grants will help Navajo County deal with sexual assault

NAVAJO COUNTY — Navajo County will receive nearly $200,000 in state and federal grants to help cope with two of its biggest problems — drug abuse and sexual assault.

One $127,000 grant from the state and federal government will help fund the Navajo County Sheriff’s Department drug and major crimes task force. The money helps the sheriff’s office coordinate with other agencies and hire deputies and investigators to crack down on drug smuggling rings.

In the past several years, the unit has seen a dramatic increase in seizures of meth, as a resurgence in that scourge outpaces the big increase in heroin and opiate smuggling and overdoses in the past decade.

The second grant totals just $51,000, which will provide money for counselors and investigators to help crime victims — especially persons who have suffered sexual assault. The money comes from the Arizona Governor’s STOP Grant (Services, Training, Officers, Prosecutors), with assistance from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

The state will provide $51,000, while Navajo County will provide $17,000 in matching funds.

The money will cover the salary, training and travel costs of the county’s Sexual Assault Response Team, led by SART Coordinator James Pike. The team works with the victims of sexual assault, who are often traumatized first by the crime and then by the legal process required to obtain a conviction. The SART team helps the victim navigate the system and provides support for the many frightening and agonizing moments required for a victim to face her abuser and win justice.

The team includes the county’s victim services manager, the crisis response coordinator, the Family Advocacy Center and the county attorney’s office.

Sexual assault remains shockingly common in Arizona and badly underreported, especially in rural areas, according to the report “Ending Sexual Violence,” issued by the Arizona Department of Health Services this year.

Some 41 percent of Arizona women and 20 percent of men have faced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. That compares to 33 percent of women and 17 percent of men nationally.

Rates of sexual violence are especially high for Native Americans, who comprise a large share of the population in both Apache and Navajo counties.

Native Americans accounted for 20 percent of the hospital discharges for sexual assault in 2017, although they make up just 5 percent of the population statewide.

Separate studies of assault involving Native American populations suggest a shocking 84 percent of women have suffered some form of violence in their lifetimes — including one third in the past year, according to a National Institute of Justice study. An estimated 56 percent of Native American women have suffered some sort of sexual violence in their lifetimes and 34 percent have experienced a rape. In 71 percent of cases, the woman knows the man who committed the assault — although they’re rarely tried or convicted.

Rural communities also face special problems, especially when it comes to reporting sexual crimes. The lack of anonymity in a rural area often deters women from reporting assaults, fearing the reaction of not only the rapist, but family and friends in an extended network.

An estimated 10 percent of children will suffer sexual abuse before their 18th birthday, according to estimates by the Arizona Department of Child Safety.

Among girls, only 10 percent of rapes involved a stranger. Most involved friends, intimate partners or family – making reporting such crimes agonizing and frightening.

In 2017, Navajo County had 20 hospitalizations for sexual violence. Gila County had 17 and Apache County had fewer than 6, according to the statewide report on sexual violence.

The grant providing support and services for victims of sexual assault is intended to both help victims and increase the conviction rate for sexual crimes.

In 2016 statewide, out of 306 sexual assault charges that started through the process, only 45 cases ended in a sexual assault conviction. Three cases ended in acquittal and 21 cases in dismissal by a judge. The rest were either dropped by prosecutors or plea bargained to lesser charges.

Accused child sex offender faces life in prison

ST. JOHNS — Accused child molester and former daycare worker Marc Wheeler, 34, has been formally charged with two counts of sexual conduct with a minor and sexual assault and molestation of a child under 15 years of age. They are all Class 2 felonies. St. Johns Police reported the victim to be seven years old. Wheeler is presumed by law to be innocent.

Court records allege that Wheeler, described as a former day care worker, assaulted the child on or about June 23, 2019 in a bedroom at the family’s residence. It is not yet known whether Wheeler was on the job at the time, or if he lived there. In July, the victim’s mother reported to the police that something happened. The police conducted a “forensic interview” probably of the victim, in Show Low in August.

Later that month, St Johns police swore out two warrants — one to collect a swab of Wheeler’s saliva for DNA evidence, which they got; the other to remove carpeting and pad in the bedroom. Allegedly, bodily fluid was left behind on the carpet. Police cut out three pieces of carpeting and padding which contains “unknown fluids,” according to the search warrant property supplement. It is yet unknown what the results were of any analysis or comparisons.

Wheeler was arrested on Dec, 12 , 2019, and is being held at the Apache County Jail, without bond. His attorney is Benjamin Brewer from Show Low.

Arizona has some of the nation’s harshest penalties for child sex crimes, especially involving victims under the age of 15. For example, a person possessing images of child pornography can be sentenced to ten years for each image. A divided Arizona Supreme Court found that such a sentence is not cruel and unusual punishment under the eighth amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Sexual assault and molestation in cases such as Wheeler’s carry life sentences under Arizona law and it’s possible that Dec. 12 was the last day Wheeler may ever be free. Available court records do not list Wheeler’s next court date.

Two local schools win national STEM contest

PHOENIX — Selected from thousands of entries nationwide, Snowflake Junior High School and Blue Ridge Junior High School have been named the only two Arizona winners in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Contest.

The national contest encourages teachers and students to solve real-world problems in their community using classroom skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Of the 20 finalists across the country, only Blue Ridge and Snowflake were from Arizona. In November, they were among six classrooms selected as Arizona State Finalists.

These two schools are among the nation’s 100 State Winners (at least one school from all 50 states) and will each receive $15,000 in technology for their achievements.

In addition, the schools will receive a Samsung video kit for students to create and submit a three-minute video that showcases their project development and how it solves a problem. The video will be used for the chance to advance to the next phase of the contest and win additional prizes and educational opportunities.

“Samsung is extremely proud of the evolution of the Solve for Tomorrow platform over the past 10 years: fueling students’ passion and curiosity to tackle issues that affect their communities in unexpected and creative ways,” said Ann Woo, Senior Director of Corporate Citizenship at Samsung Electronics America. “Reading the innovative proposals students and teachers have put forth this year exemplifies what we know to be true for every student – that young minds have just as much to teach as they do to learn.”

Courtesy photo  

The Snowflake Junior High School team. From the left, front row: Kyler Solomon, Shaun Davies, Natalie Seymore, Ben Sundby , Sam Whittle. Back row, left to right: Kai Rammage, Talan Story, Mason Reidhead, Britt Brimhall, Connor Spero.

Solving local problems

Snowflake Junior High School: Lowered groundwater levels lead to large formations of both sinkholes and fissures that are rarely explored and remain a mystery. Some of the largest fissures are 30 feet wide and hundreds of feet deep.

Proposed Project: Create a system or a device to remotely explore deep cracks and subterranean places safely to reveal geological mysteries and potentially protect against sinkhole disasters or earthquake rubble.

Courtesy photos  

Blue Ridge Junior High School team. From left: Ryan Flaherty — High School team mentor, Lucas Munera, Quinn Cochenour, Mathew Jerome, Ethan Van Meer, Trevor Miller, Kaitlyn Drevnick T.J. Hess, Dan Groebner of Arizona Game and Fish and Sarah Milofsky.

Blue Ridge Junior High School: The Southwest is in a sustained and deepening drought, and water catchment tanks installed by Arizona Game and Fish Department require time-consuming physical monitoring to ensure wildlife receive the water they need.

Proposed Project: Create a reliable, low cost sensor to monitor water levels, temperature/humidity and rainfall within water catchment tanks to decrease the cost associated with managing the wildlife water catchment program.

“Please help offer congratulations to the students in the Blue Ridge Junior High 4-H Physics and Engineering Club,” says teacher and project leader Kevin Woolridge. “They have been selected as a state winners in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow STEM competition. Out of more than 2,000 entries they have been selected as one of the top 100 teams nationally.”

“We are proud of the students who have earned the chance to compete on a national scale, and are so grateful for the efforts of Mr. Woolridge and for our partnership with the University of Arizona and 4H for supporting STEM education,” says Blue Ridge Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Michael L. Wright. “This partnership provides our students unique opportunities to explore elements of engineering and technology in hands-on settings. Go Jackets!”

Future contest phases:

All 100 State Winners will work on their projects and submit their three-minute video in hopes of advancing in the contest’s remaining phases. Twenty National Finalist schools will be selected to travel to the final event in the spring where they will present their project to a panel of judges. For achieving National Finalist status, schools will be awarded in total $50,000 in technology and classroom materials.

Five grand prize National Winner schools will receive in total $100,000 in technology and classroom materials and participate in a trip to Washington, D.C. to present their projects to members of Congress.

Public voting will also determine one Community Choice winner from the pool of National Finalists, who will be eligible to win an additional $10,000 in Samsung technology.