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Barbara Bruce / Barbara Bruce/The Independent  

Dressing up or not — though most did — for an annual Christmas photo with Santa Claus at Aspen Ridge Animal Hospital in Lakeside, owners brought their pets in Dec.6. They received a digital Christmas photo of their pet and the $10 fee was donated to the Giving Paws Fund, which helps save the lives of ill and injured pets within our community.

Post Office showing its age

SPRINGERVILLE — For the past several years, the U.S. Post Office in Springerville has needed a face lift. The outside of the building, which was originally built in 1937, has been showing its age. No one remembers the last time it was painted, including the current Postmaster of Springerville, Randy Ellis, but efforts to try to spruce it up has been ongoing for years. That much-needed beautification is now finally coming to pass.

When Congressional Representative Tom O’Halleran visited the White Mountain communities during the summer, he made a stop in Springerville and spoke to town leaders about issues and concerns for the area. One of the issues raised by the Mayor of Springerville, Phil Hanson, was the condition of the post office and its need for maintenance and beautification. The building’s exterior has become worn over the years, especially after a fire occurred in 2004. It was becoming an eyesore on Main street. Community members had even come forward over the years to volunteer to repaint the building themselves. But since the building is a federal property, the post office lies outside of the authority of the town. There was little if anything the town of Springerville could do, or even allow to be done, for the aging facade. If the post office was going to be repainted, it would need to be done through the proper federal channels.

After multiple monthly follow-ups between the mayor of Springerville and the Congressman’s aides, a signed letter was sent to Rep. O’Halleran’s office in Washington, D.C. by the town council. Things finally started to move. Shortly after receiving the town’s letter about the post office, O’Halleran contacted the United States Postmaster General’s office directly. On Nov. 4, the congressman issued a letter to Postmaster General, Megan J. Brennan, formally requesting that the Postmaster give Springerville’s Post Office “full and fair consideration” for the maintenance that had been submitted — and turned down – “at least five times.”

A response letter from Brennan dated Nov. 21 arrived at O’Halleran’s office just weeks later, acknowledging the request and stating that the repainting project for Springerville’s post office was approved and going forward.

On Dec. 12, crews from a California contractor arrived to begin prep work on the building. They masked off the letters, windows, doors, and trim, and by noon, they had already put primer on two sides of the building. The post office will need more work once the weather cooperates long enough for paint, but it’s a very welcomed start to solving an old problem.

Photo by Amber Shepard  

Crews begin prep work on the old Post Office building. The project is tentatively scheduled to be completed by the end of Feb. 2020.

The workers and machinery out front of the post office is driving a lot of community interest, Springerville Postmaster Randy Ellis said. Caution tape is up all around the building, but access has not been affected aside from a few cordoned off parking spaces. On the inside, the post office was running normally. The repainting project should go quickly, causing little inconvenience to residents in the area. According to Postmaster General Brennan’s letter to O’Halleran, the project is “tentatively scheduled to be completed by the end of February 2020.”

Amber Shepard is an local journalist covering municipal governments and other Apache County topics.

Tax evader Wynn guilty on all counts

PHOENIX—Alpine property owner Kevin Scott Wynn was found guilty on all counts by a federal jury Dec. 6, in the U.S. District Court of Arizona. The government had charged Wynn with one count of tax evasion, a felony, and three counts of failing to a file tax return, all misdemeanors. The trial lasted three days.

Wynn was indicted Dec. 18, 2018 by a grand jury. The indictment says that “Starting in 1995, Kevin Scott Wynn determined to no longer file personal income taxes, or to pay taxes on his personal income to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”). Wynn kept the money for himself and spent it on his personal lifestyle.” The indictment states that Wynn has worked in the construction industry, and controlled companies called SCC Southwest Construction, Black River Construction and Development, Wynn Companies and “In later years, he also operated a Mesa bar known as Monsterland.”

He came to the attention of the IRS based on “earnings reported to the IRS by third parties,” says the indictment. That probably means 1099s, forms which persons must file with the IRS letting them know how much money, if $600 or more, that they paid to someone in a particular tax year. When the 1099s don’t match up with the receiving person’s income filings the IRS “assesses” a tax on an estimate of income for the non-filer; in Wynn’s case, $43,311 for 1999; $89,848 for 2000 and $8,775 for 2002. These amounts are much higher now with the addition of penalties and interest.

The IRS also noted that when Wynn applied for a refinance on his Alpine property in 2006, he told the lender that he had paid $40,000 in estimated taxes for 2005. In fact, claims the government, Wynn hasn’t filed personal income tax returns since 1995. Then the government got ahold of a credit application Wynn allegedly gave to a lender in 2010 in order to get a loan for “a BMW 6501 Coupe.” He claimed his salary was $25,000 per month and “additional business profit of $40,000 per month” in 2010, the indictment says.

After that, the IRS finally contacted him about paying up their “assessments” for tax years 1999, 2000 and 2002. The indictment says that Wynn wrote them back and said “I am more than willing to comply if it is ‘required’ or ‘Mandatory’”(sic), and demanded a letter from the IRS “saying just that.” Wynn told The Independent the same thing. He didn’t get such a letter, and didn’t pay up, either.

Somewhere along the way, the government filed tax liens in Navajo and Maricopa Counties with the county recorders’ offices. Generally, the purpose of recording a tax lien is to give notice to anyone who intends to buy real property from Wynn or any lender who is thinking about loaning money to Wynn to buy real property, that the IRS can take the property and sell it to get their money. That’s when Wynn started a scheme to hide his cash, the government alleged.

The indictment claimed, and the jury apparently agreed, that Wynn had a female identified only as “A.F.” open a Bank of America Account in California under her name and signature, and stashed his own money there, to the tune of $235,349 in 2011 and $161,425 in 2012.

At the end of the evidence at trial, the jury had a question about whether there is a statute of limitations on tax evasion charges. Most felonies under Arizona law have a statute of limitation of seven years--it may be the same in federal law. But it is noteworthy that although the tax assessments were made for years 1999, 2000 and 2002, the actions that Wynn took to evade paying those taxes, by hiding money, took place more recently, in 2011 through 2014. The judge told the jury that the statute of limitation issue was a legal one for the court to decide, not them.

Federal law says that for a single count of tax evasion, Wynn can’t get more than five years, but the range of sentence below that is unclear. Federal sentencing is complicated with charts, tables, additions to or subtractions from “base levels” of prison time starting points. In tax crimes, the starting point for prison time starts at how much taxes the government lost. That may be problematic to prove. The three misdemeanors for failing to file tax returns carry a maximum of one year each. The financial part of the sentence could be huge. Fines, restitution for back taxes, penalties, interest, plus the “costs of prosecution,” per the statute (Arizona doesn’t have such a thing) could mean that if Wynn is indeed sent to the big house, after words he could be headed to the poor house.

Sentencing is set for March 23, 2020 in Phoenix.

Photo by Pete Aleshire  

Legend, the dog, with Deputy Daniel Deets during his retirement party at the Navajo County Board of Supervisors meeting. See full story on Page A2.

White Mountain Lake zone change

HOLBROOK — The Navajo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a controversial zone change in the White Mountain Lake development near Show Low, despite protests by neighbors.

Public Hearing Notice mailed to residents regarding zone change requested by Gateway Oasis IV LLC.

The 126-acre zone change will replace 126 acres worth of large-lot home zoning with a dense cluster of RV parking and camping sites. This could add 400 people or more on the weekends to the neighborhood, already struggling with a heavy influx of visitors who use White Mountain Lake.

White Mountain Lake zone change

Neighbors said so many new residents will not only create traffic problems, but overwhelm White Mountain Lake, a 268-acre lake that the existing 3,300 parcel owners pay an annual fee to use. The lake has too few parking spaces for cars and boats already – and has so many boats bobbing about on the weekend that it’s hard to enjoy, said several residents who pleaded with the supervisors to delay approval of the zone change or reduce the densities.

Nav Co Board of Supervisors Dec. 10, 2019 agenda (partial)

Both the planning staff and the county planning commission recommended the zone change for a parcel known as the “Silver Creek Home Sites.” The new zoning would include a chunk of commercial development while also converting the 1.5-units-per-acre maximum to a much higher density.

Planner Sandra Phillips told the board the current zoning was granted to a master planned development that was never fully built. The zoning on such a large, master-planned development allows the developer to shuffle densities and open space. However, a new owner bought 1,200 acres of the original development, including the 127 acres on which he’s now seeking a rezoning.

Phillips said the planning staff originally asked the developer to adjust densities elsewhere in the master planned community. However, that didn’t work since the new owner controls only a portion of the whole development.

White Mountain Lake zone change

The new plan for the 127 acres calls for a RV subdivision, with lots the developer can lease or sell. The likely buyers will mostly include weekend and part-time visitors bringing up their RVs during the summer. The project is about a quarter mile from Juniper Ridge and Silver Creek Village, separated by a chunk of state land.

The new landowner hasn’t submitted a plan for the remaining 1,000 acres.

The supervisors listened to four opponents and thanked them for their input, but then unanimously approved the zone change. The supervisors assured the opponents the concerns about parking, sewage, lake access and traffic will all be addressed in numerous meetings required for the developer to win approval of the actual plan. The approval of the zone change is contingent on the completion of a traffic study focused on how to minimize impact on the neighbors. The developer would have to pay for any street upgrades required to accommodate the additional traffic.

Outgoing Supervisor Steve Williams said, “I appreciate those who have come today. Their concerns will have to be vetted for the project to progress. The only issue before us today is the zoning.”

However, the zoning decision remains the key to many of the residents concerns. State law gives developers broad rights based on the zoning. For instance, a town or county can’t generally reduce the requested maximum density allowed by the zoning without paying compensation to the property owner for the decline in the value of the land.

The residents offered a variety of concerns, many focused on the impact on the already crowded lake during the summer. Ironically, the Board of Supervisors also serves as the governing board for the special taxing district formed to develop the lake, the key amenity for the whole neighborhood.

Pat Stevens, who manages the lake, said the rezoning will allow for 200 residential lots, each with the potential for two RVs, with several people in each vehicle. This could bring in 400 to 600 new residents on busy summer weekends.

“Many people have already said there are too many people and boats on the lake to enjoy it during the weekend,” said Stevens.

The lake draws about 700 boaters and some 2,000 cars, but has only 26 parking spaces, 12 boat-trailer spaces, two portable toilets and three staff members to provide supervision and services seven days a week, she said.

“This year we had two near-drownings on the beach, so we’re very concerned about safety and use and liability. We’re asking for a capacity study for the lake before you go forward” with the rezoning, she said.

Resident Penny Stegman said the rezoning will increase the density from 1.5 units per acre to 2.36 units per acre – which could add 300 additional RVs with perhaps 600 additional people during busy summer weekends.

“The developer says they’ll work with our issues, but I haven’t been involved with any of them who have worked with residents. We are limited on parking – so we could potentially have to get up at the crack of dawn and pay for parking to access the lake. Our community will get a bad reputation. They’ll bring in all these people and all these boats and they won’t even be able to get on the lake. I understand everyone loves growth – but we cannot forget the current residents who have supported this lake.”

Resident Buzz Ethel said the opponents who appeared represent the views of hundreds of residents. “The lake is at capacity now with the existing community. There’s a lot of frustration that nobody is talking to us out there. We request you pull this zoning request and do further research.”

Resident Jim Cutler, a former chairman of the Show Low Planning and Zoning Commission, said “I believe a community is either growing or it’s dying. But I have many concerns” about the zoning request.

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