How Arizona Is Coping With The Coronavirus: Checking In With Communities


city photo collage
KJZZ

Across Arizona, small communities are feeling the effect of the coronavirus pandemic and community response.

KJZZ is checking in with cities and towns outside the Phoenix area to see how they are faring.

Click on a community to find out how the residents are coping, and check back for updates.

| | Ajo | | Apache Junction | | Avondale | | Bisbee | | Chandler | | Clifton | | Douglas | | El Mirage | | Fountain Hills | | Gila Bend | | Glendale | | Globe | | Guadalupe | | Kingman | | Navajo Nation | | Nogales | | Pinetop-Lakeside | | Scottsdale | | Wickenburg | |

Ajo

June 11: People still need help in southern Arizona, and folks at the Ajo Plaza have streamlined ways to get food reliably delivered to them. Even when they’re more than an hour’s drive away.

Nina Sajovec founded the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture. She said the need first doubled, then tripled as supplies dried up.

“As farmers that’s what we do so we started giving out free food at the end of March and as days and weeks went by, the demand just started increasing,” said Sajovec.

The group works with several districts on the Tohono O’odham Nation and now supplies boxes of food for communities near the Mexican border south of the capital, Sells.

She estimated the group has distributed about 10,000 boxes of food. Each weighs 25 pounds and the food comes from Southern Arizona farms.

Terrol Johnson volunteers to drive the boxes of food out to Sells every week.

“At first we were using our truck because there were only 40, but since it got to be a lot more, we take two trucks out to Ajo to pick up the boxes and then go out and deliver,” said Johnson.

He also delivers as far as Tucson where about a half-dozen families rely on the Ajo program.

April 6: In southern Arizona, the small town of Ajo, population 3,300, much of the central plaza has been closed. Some from the pandemic and some because Ajo can be a tough place to run a business. even in good times. Aaron Cooper is with the International Sonoran Desert Alliance. The alliance and others launched a fundraiser to help local businesses — fast.

Maria Singleton
Maria Singleton
Ajo resident Maria Singleton and her dog Coco.

“Making the decision to create this fund to accepting applications reviewing and making the first awards was a week,” Cooper said.

They call it Kickstart Ajo and it raised about $15,000 for 16 recipients.

Maria Singleton lives on Ajo’s main drive. She says she’s watching a constant flow of heavy trucks moving workers and equipment down SR 85 to Lukeville for ongoing work on the Trump administration’s border wall. At the same time, she sees many local residents gather for food bank donations every Thursday.

“So many people in Ajo live below the poverty line, are needing to get food from the food bank and yet on a daily basis we see all this government money go through town to build the wall and I find myself wondering what’s going to happen to Ajo when COVID-19 hits here,” she said.

The U.S. government has been pressing forward with about 90 miles of border fence construction in southern Arizona even as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the country.

Border wall
Michel Marizco/KJZZ
Border wall construction has continued uninterrupted along Arizona's border with Mexico.

Apache Junction

June 9: Apache Junction is a popular winter destination for travelers and snowbirds from throughout the United States and Canada. The East Valley city is now trying to reopen its economy during the slow season.

Apache Junction City Manager Bryant Powell said the pandemic took a big toll on city finances, however the CARES Act is providing much needed flexibility as the city prepares a tentative budget for the upcoming fiscal year:

“The dollars for Apache Junction are about $4.8 million,” Powell said. But he says the state sales tax numbers are not looking good and revenue coming to cities and towns will be down.

“It’s 800,000 less than last year, which equates to about a 7.7% reduction,” Powell said.

Powell says the city is doing everything it can to keep services open and maintain current staffing levels. “At this point, we are not anticipating furloughs or layoffs,” he said.

Superstition Mountains
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
The Superstition Mountains as seen from Apache Junction on July 17, 2017.

Denise Hart, CEO of the Apache Junction Chamber of Commerce, says the city’s only newspaper, the Apache Junction and Gold Canyon News, was forced to close. Mom and pop shops and the restaurant industry were hit hard, too.

“We’ve provided reopening guidelines by sector and what they will need to stay relevant after reopening,” Hart said. “And in some cases that means changing their business model.”

She says travelers who extended their stay due to the pandemic have pulled up stakes and departed, but she hopes international travelers will be able to return.

“We’re a little bit anxious about this winter because Canadian visitors are the majority of our visitors,” Hart said, “and they’ve had a lot of restrictions due to their health care insurance.”

She says they are seeing signs that those restrictions are starting to loosen up as more flights are scheduled for July and August.



April 20: The population of Apache Junction doubles every winter as snowbirds from around the country pull into the city in RVs and take up residence in vacation homes. Many visitors have decided to weather the COVID-19 storm in Arizona by extending their stays and the city is doing it’s best to provide essential services to everyone during this trying time.

Many businesses in the East Valley city have been forced to close or at least curtail their operations this past month.

And some city services, such as parks and recreation and libraries, have scaled back as well.

Apache Junction City Manager Bryant Powell says his biggest concerns moving forward are the unknowns.

“I recognize we will bounce back. It’s just a matter of like, when and how long is this going to go on?,” Powell said.

Apache Junction’s main revenue source is the city sales tax , but Powell says it won’t know how much its budget will be impacted for a few more weeks.

COVID-19 care packages
Horizon Health and Wellness
COVID-19 care packages prepared for vulnerable populations living in Apache Junction and Gold Canyon

He says major street projects are continuing because they were funded by state grant dollars, and the city is moving forward with a much-needed upgrade to Apache Junction’s dispatch center.

65% of the population of Apache Junction is older than the age of 55.

Cheri Debree is the director of community initiatives for Horizon Health and Wellness. She oversees a program called Apache Junction Cares that ensures vulnerable communities in Apache Junction have access to goods and services.

“So, it’s by delivering free coronavirus care packages, which would include groceries, toiletries and cleaning supplies,” Debree said.

Debree says many winter visitors who live in RV parks and senior centers have decided to stay in place due to the threat of the coronavirus.

“That being said, that need for the elderly, not to go out, because they are more susceptible, creates an even larger need than what would be normally happening during this time of year,” Debree said.

She says Apache Juntion Cares has served more than 130 residents in Apache Junction and Gold Canyon in the past two weeks, and those efforts will continue until there is no longer a need.

COVID-19 care packages
Horizon Health and Wellness
COVID-19 care packages prepared for vulnerable populations living in Apache Junction and Gold Canyon

Avondale

June 16: The West Valley has seen fast development in recent years with Buckeye and Goodyear now among the fastest growing cities in America. Nearby Avondale has grown too — its population more than doubled over the past 20 years.

Alongside that population growth, West Valley economies have been growing, too. 

“People want to be in the Phoenix metro area and the West Valley’s just booming right now," said Ken Chapa, Avondale’s economic development director.

Ken Chapa
City of Avondale
Ken Chapa

Chapa said some of the biggest investment in Avondale has come from e-commerce, manufacturing, and logistics companies — the kinds of industries that have stayed in operation right through the pandemic.

“Based upon what I'm seeing right now, I see us rebounding very quickly," Chapa said. "During this whole time we still had businesses opening up.” 

At the beginning of June, Denver-based Stack Infrastructure announced it will open a new 1 million-square-foot data center in Avondale. Chapa said smaller Avondale businesses have continued expanding during the pandemic as well.

“We had some restaurants open up in the middle of this. My Place Hotel, which is right here on Avondale, part of our boulevard mixed-used development, they opened up and we had the grand opening about a week ago," Chapa said. 

The city of about 88,000 is not untouched by the pandemic. The Arizona department of health reports more than 500 COVID-19 cases have come from Avondale ZIP codes. And a city spokesperson said Avondale lawmakers are closely monitoring budget impacts the pandemic may cause. But from a development perspective, Chapa said, business is still going strong.

Bisbee

June 18: Over at the website, bisbeepride.com and on social media, Bisbee virtual pride is planning speakers, games, tours of the town people can enjoy remotely, says Ramon Garcia, president and CEO of Bisbee Pride.

"We’ve got entertainers from all over the country that have agreed to perform for us."

The town is joining with Virtual Arizona Pride for the festival. School superintendent Kathy Hoffman created this promotion video.

"This year like so many other things in our lives, pride feels different. but its significance and meaning are no less important," she said. 

Garcia says this year’s event is carrying on a tradition of being open to anyone.

"When Bisbee was looking at starting a pride, it was literally a group of friends that got together and started having dinners that evolved into a picnic that grew into an event that unlike other communities where you go to a park, you pay to get into a fenced off area to celebrate pride, Bisbee is truly a community event."

In previous years, Garcia says hotel rooms were booked well in advance and sell out throughout Bisbee. 

Bisbee pride may be virtual this year but organizers hope to keep the same energy as previous years.



April 20: The Greenlee County Health Department is on a mission. It intends to furnish 8,500 masks, one for every resident of the southeastern Arizona county.

The county has only two coronavirus cases, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services data late last week, but still, county officials were calling for masks March 30, even before the CDC issued its guidelines.

Amanda Gray with the Gila Health Resources clinic in Morenci has been pushing the homemade mask drive.

Courtesy: Amanda Gray
Karissa Wiltbank, Moriah Ray and Amanda Gray ready a table of masks for the giveaway.

"I’m very good at a lot of things, and one of those is organizing people. I can’t sew, I can cut, but I definitely can organize people," Gray said.

She led mask drives all last week, where hundreds more masks were produced.

And up in the Mile Mountains, Bisbee Mayor David Smith commended the internet service company Sparklight with providing free mobile hotspots throughout the city.

"People can be easily spaced out over a very large area, and these are large parks which have walls where people can sit on and some benches and some things like that," Smith said.



March 17: In the southern Arizona town of Bisbee, the Copper Queen Library decided Monday to close through the end of March.

The choice has led to some novel ways for the library to continue reaching out into the community, said assistant coordinator Allison Williams. She’s looking into temporarily lifting copyright rules on authors’ books so she can record readings and give children virtual story times.

“There are a lot of questions from librarians across the country about how to address this and make that available,” Williams said.

Copper Queen Library in Bisbee, Arizona
Michel Marizco/KJZZ
The Copper Queen Library in Bisbee, Arizona.

Chandler

Chandler City Hall
City of Chandler
The city of Chandler's budget manager, Matt Dunbar, said the effect of COVID-19 on the local business community has been less egregious than expected.

June 16: Some parts of Chandler’s economy have fared better than others during the coronavirus pandemic. The city’s budget manager, Matt Dunbar, said tax revenue from grocery and home improvement stores has increased significantly from last year, but the same can't be said for restaurants, bars, hotels and motels. 

Businesses weren’t the only ones that had to shut down when the pandemic hit in March. The annual Ostrich Festival produced by the Chandler Chamber of Commerce was canceled hours before opening, said Terri Kimble, the chamber’s president and CEO.

Ostrich Festival
Chandler Chamber of Commerce
The annual Ostrich Festival produced by the Chandler Chamber of Commerce was canceled hours before opening due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The chamber is hoping to reschedule it for late October.

"It was very tragic that we had to make that decision," she said, adding that the event brings in nearly $5 million to the area and provides a fundraising opportunity for nonprofits," she said.  

The festival has been rescheduled tentatively for Oct. 30-Nov. 1 at Tumbleweed Park in Chandler.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to host it in late fall, maybe kind of with a Halloween-type thing," Kimble said. 

Overall, Dunbar said the effect of COVID-19 on the local business community has been less egregious than originally expected, especially with many businesses now reopened. 

“We hope that things will be able to progress in a positive manner without too much regression because of the additional cases that are popping up," he said. 

Dunbar is referring to the growing number of coronavirus cases in Arizona. Some businesses that started welcoming back customers, like the SanTan Brewing pubs in Chandler and Phoenix, have recently closed after employees tested positive for COVID-19. 

SanTan is looking to reopen its pubs again this Sunday.



April 23: Like other Arizona cities, Chandler is struggling to predict how the coronavirus pandemic will affect its future.

Chandler is meeting later this week to plan its 2020-2021 budget, but Management Services Director Dawn Lang said the city’s economic outlook is hard to predict because this pandemic is different from past recessions. 

“Our permits are actually up right now, contracting is actually going strong in the community, planned developments are still moving forward, but it’s interesting to see that those type of things are still moving along which is very different than a regular recession and downturn," she said. 

But Lang said the city is sure of one thing: it will end its fiscal year with about $10.5 million less than originally projected. 

“Beginning July 1, we are looking at and already incorporating into our proposed budget a $20 million reduction in revenues and corresponding expenditures," she said. 

The city is already implementing some cost-saving measures, like keeping some vacant positions open and suspending travel, Lang said.  

Chandler Police Department
Paul Atkinson/KJZZ
Chandler Police Department building.

Meanwhile, the Chandler Police Department is offering a new service for businesses that have reduced their hours or closed due to the pandemic. Sgt. Jason McClimans says whenever possible, officers will patrol businesses that sign up. 

“It’s something that we decided to go ahead with, give the business owners who have those restrictive businesses right now some peace of mind," he said. 

The program is model off of another service the Chandler department offers to residents who are out on vacation and need someone to keep an eye on their homes. McClimans said the department hasn't decided yet if it will make the Business Watch program permanent. 

Another thing the department is doing to deter crime is having officers work on paperwork from parking lots throughout the city, McClimans said.

Clifton

March 17: Near the state’s boundary with New Mexico, the town of Clifton issued an emergency proclamation Monday, one that only impacts City Hall. 

Mayor Luis Montoya said the rules follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines about minimizing crowds and handwashing. 

“Outside of that, as far as private business is concerned, small restaurants, the few small restaurants that we have here, all we do is make recommendations,” he said.  

As of Tuesday afternoon, Montoya said business hadn’t changed.

“The customers still are going through, I guess is my most simple response,” he said.

Douglas

June 9: Restrictions on non-essential travel at the border with Mexico implemented in March have been extended until at least June 22. For small border towns like Douglas, that means businesses already struggling during the pandemic have also been cut off from many of their customers.

Since the border closure, pedestrian crossings into Douglas have collapsed, falling roughly two-thirds from over 70,000 in February to just 23,000 in April. And vehicle crossings show a similarly sharp decline.

That’s bad news for the city's recovery, said Mayor Robert Uribe.

"If the border isn’t open, we can’t expect much," he said. "Because we depend on our neighbors and our neighbors depend on us.The border is just very unique and different, so we have to work together internationally. So it's not a quick fix."

Uribe said the success of any reopening plan in Douglas will depend just as much on what’s happening in neighboring Agua Prieta as it does on the rest of Arizona. So at the same time he has been working with Arizona leaders to secure coronavirus relief funds, he said he's also coordinated with his counterpart across the border.

Douglas protests
Jenea Sanchez
Protesters in Douglas join a nationwide movement calling for racial justice in the United States.

"And this is where I encourage our leaders to actively stay involved in Mexico as well," he said, referring to the city’s incoming mayor who takes office Wednesday.

In the midst of the pandemic, Douglas also held elections in March and an all mail-in run-off in May. Mayor-elect Donald Huish was not immediately available for an interview.

Uribe, who took office in 2016, is the city’s first Afro-Latino mayor.

"We made history. I was elected the first [black] person in any U.S.-Mexico border city. I'm the first Dominican mayor on the West Coast. So it was a big deal, and I've done things I've never imagined," he said.

But it wasn't always been easy.

"That was pretty challenging, to be honest with you," he said. "My critics weren't criticizing my work."

But Uribe said as he's watched Douglas residents — especially youth — join in nationwide protests for racial justice, marching with signs in both English and Spanish, he feels positive about the city's future, despite the current hardships of the pandemic.

"It made me hopeful. It made me proud," he said.



March 31: About 80 miles east of Nogales, the town of Douglas is also facing a sharp economic and social toll from the coronavirus.

“It’s an overwhelming disaster. Because every small business in Douglas, every small business lives paycheck to paycheck," said Robert Uribe, mayor of the small border town, about a two-hour drive from Tucson.

Douglas is doing everything possible to slow the virus’ spread, Uribe said, but it’s a tough road ahead for the city’s economy.

Like in Nogales, travel restrictions mean businesses here have been cut-off from their customer base in Mexican.

It doesn’t help that the community is remote.

“It’s like we’re an afterthought," Uribe said. "That’s how I’ve always seen it."

He fears both medical and economic aid might be exhausted before it ever reaches rural, border communities like his. And language and cultural barriers could make it harder for local business owners to access new relief funding and loans, he added, saying that he's trying hard to advocate for Douglas at the state and national levels.

But despite the fear and uncertainty many people are facing, Uribe says his community is resilient.

“I’m just proud of Douglas and Agua Prieta, because we’re just one community. And we always rise above whenever we face any difficulties," he said.

That sense of unity would have been the theme of a cross-border performance in Douglas-Agua Prieta last Saturday. But like so many events, it was called off two weeks ago.

Douglas city limits
Jude Joffe-Block/KJZZ
Like other Arizona border cities, Douglas has struggled during the pandemic, especially in the wake of restrictions on who can cross into the United States.

“We realized, OK, we need to think of the communities first," said Ammi Robles, an artist and production coordinator with the cross-border group Las Fronterizas.

She said the performance, called Mis Amores Fronterizos, was a love letter to Douglas and Agua Prieta through dance, theater and digital arts.

"I can tell you, we've never seen anything similar to this, as big as this was going to be," she said.

Now, Robles, who lives in Agua Prieta, can’t even cross the border to see friends and colleagues on the other side. Many others are separated from family.

"It’s hard as communities, being separate," Robles said. But she hopes after this is all over, their project will take on an even deeper meaning.

“Separate we’re not as good as we are together," she said. "That’s the whole point of our project."

And it’s a message we need now more than ever.

El Mirage

Northwest Valley Connect rider
David Wilson
Northwest Valley Connect offers free and subsidized transportation services to older adults and people with disabilities in the Northwest Valley. The organization has continued its services during the pandemic.

June 18: Many El Mirage-area businesses have already reopened, but their consumers might not be ready for them. That’s according to a survey conducted by the Surprise Regional Chamber of Commerce, which represents six cities in the northwest Valley such as El Mirage, Surprise and Sun City. 

The survey also found that El Mirage residents were more concerned about COVID-19 than residents in neighboring cities in the region. 

Raoul Sada
Raoul Sada
Raoul Sada is the president and CEO of the Surprise Regional Chamber of Commerce. Survey by the chamber found that El Mirage residents many not be ready to return to their normal shopping habits.

“The government and other entities can say whatever they want about when the economy is going to reopen, but ultimately it’s the perceptions and the feelings of the residents, i.e. the consumers who decide when the economy is going to open up and when they are going to start shopping," said Raoul Sada, the chamber’s president and CEO. 

Sada said this may hurt local retail businesses, but that sector isn’t very large in the city. 

“Where El Mirage does excel is in the manufacturing sector," he said. "So those jobs have been somewhat more insulated from COVID-19 in the sense that a lot of the construction still goes on.” 

The pandemic may also put a strain on nonprofits like Northwest Valley Connect, which offers free and subsidized transportation services to older adults, veterans and people with disabilities. 

Kathy Chandler, the nonprofit's the executive director, said sponsors are hard to come by right now due to the financial uncertainty for many businesses. 

“Fundraising in the future is really a big question mark," Chandler said. "So the stability of the agency really depends on that.” 

But for now the group is doing what it can to continue serving its clients. That includes rides to doctor's appointment and beauty salons, grocery shopping assistance and weekly check-ins with folks feeling isolated at this time. 

“We’ve had the children of the seniors that we are calling and helping with grocery shopping who have thanked us for doing that," Chandler said. "It’s very appreciated.”



April 30: Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, El Mirage Mayor Alexis Hermosillo was one year and half into her term with big plans to transform the city of roughly 35,000 residents.

"We are moving into a direction that's more innovated," she said. "I say that we are tiny, but we are mighty. I think we are going to be more up and coming than people are used to when it comes to the city of El Mirage."

El Mirage Mayor Alexis Hermosillo
City Of El Mirage
El Mirage Mayor Alexis Hermosillo said her city is ready to transform and modernize, but it's future may be unclear after the coronavirus pandemic is over.

But now the future is unclear. Hermosillo said the city’s sales tax revenue hasn’t been heavily impacted and it doesn’t depend on hotels and sporting arenas like it’s neighboring cities, but El Mirage is expecting to lose state-shared revenue. 

“We can’t plan long term as best as we can so we don’t have a definite perspective of what things will look like in a year and so I really worry about our community and how everyone will adjust," she said. 

Annie Ansell is the executive director of the Dysart Community Center. Her organization provides after school and adult programs in the El Mirage and Old Town Surprise areas. 

A majority of the children it serves are Hispanic youth living below the poverty line. Ansell said some children have parents who don’t speak English or are living with grandparents because their parents were deported. The center has intervened after realizing some of these students are struggling with online learning because they and their guardians don't speak English or aren't tech savvy enough to know how to download classwork and turn it in.  

“We communicated with the school on their behalf," she said. "We were able to get a different method of them downloading their work and to let their instructors that they are actually working on their work pack, they just don’t understand how to download and attach files.” 

Ansell said the center is also helping students with their homework over the phone or in-person when they come to the center to pick up food donations. 

El Mirage City Hall
City of El Mirage
The city of El Mirage's sales tax revenue hasn’t been heavily impacted, but it is expecting to lose state-shared revenue.

Fountain Hills

June 8: When we last visited Fountain Hills, it was during the early days of the shutdown. Community leaders didn’t know how things would shake out from an economic standpoint.

As the mayor of Fountain Hills, Ginny Dickey has a lot on her plate. But from an economic standpoint, things could be worse.

"And so we have very high expectations that FY 20 is going to end up fine as far as what we were expecting," she said.

That’s because the town went into March — the same month Gov. Doug Ducey announced a statewide lockdown — with better-than-expected numbers. Then something surprising happened

"Ironically, I guess, is that the rush on supplies in March, when all of the stores were empty, will actually help that number a bit."

Also helping those figures was a slight increase in sales tax.

"But in an abundance of caution, we didn't budget for it," she says.

So those figures will also serve as a buffer. And perhaps in a true sign of confidence, the town is moving forward with some big construction projects, like Keystone, a residential and rental community.

Fountain Hills seal
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
Fountain Hills in northeast of Phoenix.

Grady Miller is the town manager of Fountain Hills.

"So, we believe that that's going to be very good for the businesses and restaurants that are based in the downtown, which will then, of course, help with employment and also generate revenues for the town," he says.

While Miller is cautiously optimistic, he’s also realistic and has to consider the worst-case scenario, which could look like the 2008 Great Recession.

"They took about 18 months to 24 months before they started recovering and it took really about six to seven years before they actually came back to where they were previously," he says.

And since no one can really predict what this recovery will look like, Fountain Hills and many other communities will have to proceed with caution. 

 Keystone construction project in Fountain Hills
Town of Fountain Hills
The start of the Keystone construction project in Fountain Hills.

April 20: It’s a big year for Fountain Hills. This December, the iconic fountain turns 50. But because of the coronavirus, plans to celebrate the town’s landmark could be delayed or modified.

Rachael Goodwin is the town’s community services director. She says right now the town is moving forward with its current plans to celebrate the fountain. And if they have to adjust those plans?

"I don't think that will change the idea that we want to celebrate what the fountain means to our community after 50 years," said Goodwin. "So it may mean something virtual. It may mean something where we ask the community to contribute photos and memories and things like that of their time here in Fountain Hills. 

The fountain was built in 1970 by Robert McCulloch — the same man who brought the London Bridge to Lake Havasu.

Fountain Hills fountain
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
Fountain Hills fountain in April 2020.

Gila Bend

June 11: It took a while for the coronavirus to show up in Gila Bend. And when it did, people were startled, said Town Manager Katherine Valenzuela.

“There was a lot of concern and a lot of fear,” she said.

Gila Bend now has between six and 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19. A woman said publicly that she tested positive. Finding out who was sick brought people together, and their alarm was replaced by a desire to help, said Valenzuela.

“Through her self-disclosure, it made it more real, and more human, and more about ‘Wow, this happened to my neighbor,’” she said.

Valenzuela and her staff continue to juggle a number of roles, including helping people who admit they have the coronavirus stay isolated. A budget is also in the works. And officials are planning a sort-of drive-in movie setting for fireworks on Independence Day.

“It’s going to be a very different Fourth of July celebration than we had last year with bounce houses and watermelon-eating contests, she said.

Traffic through Gila Bend has picked up, Valenzuela said.

Reopenings and summer road trips mean there’s been more people on the highways southwest of Phoenix.



April 20: The town with just one ZIP code recently got some good news. State data showed no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Gila Bend, among those who’ve been able to get tested. 

Town Manager Katherine Valenzuela says her staff wears multiple hats on a good day.

"I heard an expression once that it feels like you’re laying down the tracks while the trains come in," she said as she laughed. "That’s very much how it feels."

The pandemic has piled on jobs like distributing bleach and food-bank items to residents. Officials also have to learn the rules for unlocking federal aid money. And it’s budget season.

"We’re internally planning different scenarios showing 30% loss, 40% loss, and trying to come up with ways where we’re able to trim the budget and not affect services for residents," she said.

Valenzuela says informal polling of local businesses shows a sharp drop in their revenue. Retail and restaurants are Gila Bend’s biggest industries. People also work at nearby dairies and in hospitality. Valenzuela estimates that 25% of the population lost their jobs in the last month.



Katherine Valenzuela
Town of Gila Bend
Katherine Valenzuela

April 6: People in Gila Bend can’t find bleach. It’s gone as soon as it hits the store. But the local government buys its own extra-strength bleach in bulk. So officials diluted some and put the word out for residents to drop off plastic containers with their name and phone number on them.   

“So with bleach being so important for disinfection, we thought it was an important service to provide for free," said town Manager Katherine Valenzuela.

Valenzuela’s team has triaged other problems, like delivering meals to elderly people who rely on them but can no longer gather at the senior center.

It’s all happening so fast that Valenzuela said it’s hard to track the cost. One big expense is sewer maintenance caused by people flushing things other than toilet paper.  

“In a shortage of toilet paper, it’s hard to give directions because there’s really not a lot of options,” she said.

The old normal was thousands of cars passing through Gila Bend on their way to and from Mexico or California. Valenzuela said the new normal is a town with streets that are mostly bare.



March 17: Gila Bend sits in the southern portion of Maricopa County, about 70 miles from Phoenix. The population of roughly 2,000 people doesn’t make much money. 

Town Manager Katherine Valenzuela said Gila Bend’s local shopping options include a meat market, a Dollar General and a Family Dollar. 

“They sell dried goods and some frozen goods, but not a lot of fruits and vegetables,” she said.

Valenzuela said residents have struggled to find what they need at those stores because people from other places are coming to Gila Bend to shop. 

“Buying out the stock of things such as toilet paper, and cheese, and eggs, and milk,” she said. “I feel like it’s an unfair burden for our residents to be wiped out by members of other communities.” 

Those who can’t get the groceries they need in Gila Bend face a 40-minute drive to Buckeye or Maricopa. Valenzuela said living in Gila Bend means a lifestyle that’s far away from essentials, and it’s imperative that the goods that are in town go to local residents. 

Glendale

June 15: Officials opened the Glendale City Hall on June 8 in a signal government is returning to some sense of normalcy after access was restricted in mid-March.

Glendale City Hall
Tom Maxedon/KJZZ
Plexiglass and other safety measures are now routine at Glendale City Hall, which reopened to the public June 8, 2020, after closing in mid-March.

Rick St. John, deputy city manager, said many safety guidelines including social distancing by visitors and increased cleaning by staff have been implemented. “We’ve installed plexiglass at all of our customer service locations, so people can come in and have interaction with our staff but still be protected by a barrier. We’ve got sanitation stations. We’ve got masks, gloves and disinfectant on every floor.”

St. John said because of ongoing business development in the city, Glendale has a very healthy rainy day fund, especially due to property being developed on land annexed near the Loop 303 on the city’s west side.

“Out in the 303 for example, Red Bull, White Claw, represent about 2.1 million square feet in industrial [business] and jobs come with that. Around the city, we have about 21 million square feet in development that’s occurring all the way from north of Union Hills, down to the southern border and all the way out west," St. John said.   

He added there isn’t any new growth in the next fiscal year budget.

“The next fiscal year, we were able to maintain our base budget from the current fiscal year with no reduction and we think that’s a good thing,” said St. John.  

Despite calls by some Valley residents to reduce funding for police departments in multiple communities following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, Mayor Jerry Weiers and all six members of the Glendale City Council released statements before the budget vote last week supporting fully funding the Glendale Police Dept.

The City Council unanimously passed the budget June 9, 2020.



April 27: The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic is rippling through city and state governments across the country. In Glendale, the loss of spring training, the rest of the Coyotes season, and the prospect of future event cancellations is cause for concern.

Mayor Jerry Weiers, who has been in office since January 2013, says the city’s fiscally conservative spending allowed it to develop a budgetary safety net.

“We went from zero eight years ago to pretty close to $44 million in our reserves to cover our short falls, and that covers our general fund," he said. "General fund basically covers pretty much most of the day-to-day activities in the city, and that includes our public safety, which is our number one priority right now."

Jerry Weiers
City of Glendale
Jerry Weiers

The Glendale city manager's proposed budget for the next fiscal year that Weiers says will be pretty similar to last years, with few concessions for lost revenue.

"We're not going to turn our backs on the critical positions, we know those will be covered," he said. "It’s pretty early right now to try to guess if we have to cut anything. Our intention is to try to make certain that we provide all services and not have to cut our basic funds or functions.”

Temporary freezes on hiring for non-essential positions and non-critical spending have helped in the interim, Weiers says — but he thinks now is the time for the city to begin planning to reopen.

"Right now it's not a matter of shutting things down," he said. "It's a matter of trying to figure out how we start gearing up and doing it wisely."

Over the last few months, Weiers cited the positive work done by nonprofits in Glendale as cause for optimism. A blood donation program through Vitalent saved lives, he said. And the city's Glendale Works program, which provides day labor opportunities for those struggling with money, is quickly expanding.

“Something I never thought I’d live through was something like this, but we got people stepping up and making huge differences in people's lives, and really that’s what our city does," he said.

Globe

June 8: Arizona’s stay-at-home order was lifted last month, but the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic is still being felt by cities across Arizona including the city of Globe in the southeast region. 

Globe Mayor Al Gameros said the city is still calculating how much sales tax revenue it’s lost since the statewide coronavirus shutdown in March. It could be as high as $800,000, according to initial projections. Gameros is hopeful that the true number will be much lower.  

“We are also anticipating loss in the first quarter of next year so again we just have to wait for the numbers but it will affect us even into next year’s budget," he said.

Last month, Gov. Doug Ducey announced he was distributing $441 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to small Arizona cities. Globe is set to receive $843,000 of that money. 

The city is reviewing what the funds could be used for, but Gameros expects it’ll help offset the lost sales tax revenue.

“So if we could utilize it for that, that would be the priority," he said. 

The funds could also cover the cost for disinfectants overtime paid to employees in the police, fire and public works departments. Gameros also wants state leaders to consider allocating more funds to help Arizona cities during these hard times.



April 6: The city of Globe is located in Gila County, about 88 miles east of Phoenix. Gila was one of the last Arizona counties to report a coronavirus case, but Mayor Al Gameros decided to close Globe’s movie theater, restaurants and bars on March 26 before they were required to under Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order.

Globe High School
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
Globe High School was built in 1914 and is one of the oldest high schools in the state.

The Waggin’ Vineyard and Estate winery in the heart of the city had been opened for two months when it had to close down. It’s owned by Daisy Flores and her husband, Timothy Trent.

“People would come in for wine tastings or just have a glass a wine in the patio. Your average Saturday, Sunday we would probably have about 15-20 people just sitting on the patio, enjoying the great weather and unfortunately we can’t do that,” Flores said.

They’ve also cancelled scheduled events and suspended plans to open a petting zoo in the 7-acre property because of the closure.

The winery is offering drive-thru and pickup services at this time. Flores said the couple also converted their lime green 1969 Dodge van that resemble the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine into the Waggin’ Wagon to deliver wine to local customers. 

“We’ll ride it out. We have lots of wine ready to sell when folks are ready to come back and it’s just going to take a little bit of time and I’m certain that we’ll be back and going strong here shortly,” Flores said.

As the pandemic continues, Globe residents are finding ways to support one another. Noelle Anderson coaches the Globe Unified School District’s robotics team. Some of her students are making face shields to donate to their local hospital using 3D printers.

Waggin
Waggin' Vineyard and Estate
The Waggin' Vineyard and Estate's owner converted their 1969 Dodge van into the Waggin' Wagon to deliver wine to customers.

“The first day we managed to get 11 of the face shields printed and figured we could do about one per day to reach 100,” Anderson said.

Globe’s economic development director Linda Oddonetto learned about a New York movement where people were painting rainbows around their neighborhoods. Oddonetto decided to bring that movement to Globe to spread hope to her neighbors so and other city officials painted the giant letter G on a hill overlooking the city in rainbow colors with paint donated by their local ACE Hardware store.

“This is such a tough time that we are going through right now. To have even just a moment of escape from our day-in and our day-out is, I think, such a wonderful and positive thing to have,” she said.

The rainbow movement has now taken off in the Globe community.

“People are painting their business windows with rainbows,” Oddonetto said. “We have people putting out their Christmas lights again. We have a Globe rocks movement, you know painting rocks with messages and hiding them all over the community and so rainbow rocks are a new hit and they are popping up all over the community.”



March 17: Things were business as usual on Tuesday at the Gila County Historical Museum in Globe. 

The museum is run by volunteers, all of which are older adults. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says older adults are at higher risk of developing serious complications from the coronavirus, but 69-year-old Carl Lopez said he and other volunteers weren’t afraid of working Tuesday morning because their community has no known cases of coronavirus at this time. 

“The reason we stayed open [is] everything else is closed and people, they’re going to be going through town anyways, traveling or something and need a place to go,” he said. “They could stop and look around.” 

Two visitors did stop by while Lopez was working. 

While the museum is staying open for now, Globe schools are not. Over the weekend, Gov. Doug Ducey and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman decided to close all schools statewide.

Rainbow G in Globe
Rich Kruger
City of Globe officials painted the giant letter G on a hill overlooking the city in rainbow colors to spread hope to the community.

Globe Unified School District Superintendent Jerry Jennex said when he heard the announcement, he worried about what the closure would mean for his students. Around 60% of the district’s 1,700 students qualify for free or reduced lunch. 

So the district decided if students couldn’t come to their schools for food, the district would go to them. It set up 13 food distribution sites across the Globe area, including in the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, where about one-third of his students are members. 

“Our schools aren’t necessarily located in the neighborhoods where the kids live, so we decided that we were going to go mobile,” Jennex said. “We worked with the Arizona Department of Education to certify some of our bus stops as mobile serving sites.”

The district distributed about 400 meals, but ran out before they could serve everyone. The district hopes to provide more meals on Wednesday.

Guadalupe

June 12: The tiny town of Guadalupe has struggled since Gov. Doug Ducey shut down the state in mid-March.

Businesses were hurt and many kids struggled after schools closed. Now, Guadalupe is dealing with an outbreak of the coronavirus. 

Guadalupe’s Town Manager Jeff Kulaga opened Thursday’s evening’s Town Council meeting with a presentation detailing the number of  confirmed COVID-19 cases in Guadalupe. 

"If you see there, it's about 1,600 and change for Guadalupe per 100,000 residents compared to Maricopa County's rate of 358. Our rate is four and a half times greater than the county average rate."

That figure is down from the end of May when it was more than five and half times higher than the county average rate.

COVID-19 chart
Town of Guadalupe

While the numbers appear to be improving, Kulaga also addressed questions about what Mayor Valerie Molina could do to help curb the spread.

"Can the mayor declare a local curfew or a state stay-at-home order? No," he said. "Per the governor’s executive order, that's out of reach. Can the town regulate or limit religious gatherings? No."

The May 12 order Kulaga is referring to states no county, city, town may make or issue any order, rule or regulation that conflicts with the order or is in addition to the policy, directives, or intent of the executive prder.

At a press conference on Thursday, Gov. Doug Ducey was asked about letting cities decide what’s best. He said he continues to believe the government closest to the people is best.

"Except in a global pandemic," he said. "We want to have clarity and consistency for our citizens."

While Mayor Molina’s hands are tied, she and others are pushing ahead.

"So we're the little town that could," said Molina. "We take two steps forward. And then we kind of get knocked on our knees for a little bit. And we are a strong community. So our community has actually shown that they have an interest in combating the COVID."

COVID-19 chart
Town of Guadalupe

Molina says more than 600 people have been tested for the virus and the community is learning to practice social distancing.

But a big challenge here is that multiple generations live in a single home, making it easy for the virus to spread. Still, she says, they’ve been lucky. While there have been some deaths, most of their elders have remained healthy during the outbreak.



April 29: The tiny town of Guadalupe is struggling. It faced economic hurdles before the virus arrived, but the town’s leaders were moving forward to spur economic development

"We thrive based on our businesses. Huge part of how we pay our bills," said Guadalupe Mayor Valerie Molina. Now, the town is at a standstill. Its small businesses are struggling.

"And they don’t necessarily have the means to help themselves and the town doesn’t have the means to help them in terms of getting the paycheck protection, the small business applications, those types of things."

But it's not just the businesses that are hurting. Young people have faced some tough adjustments since schools closed last month.

Guadalupe, Arizona sign
Sky Schaudt/KJZZ
Guadalupe, Arizona, is now home to about 6,700 residents.

"And we know that not everybody in our community has the internet and we know not everybody in our community had the technology," she explained.

Ricky Vital is Guadalupe’s vice mayor. He also runs Lutu’uria, a youth organization geared toward kids in middle and high school. He says a lot of his kids are strugglin

"And a lot of our kids are high achieving kids, and if they’re struggling, imagine how the rest of them are doing and dealing with it," he said.

Before the pandemic, Vital said he wanted Guadalupe to be there for his grandchildren. While both Vital and Molina are hopeful, so much about the future remains uncertain. 

Kingman

June 10: Even as COVID-19 deaths pass the 1,000 mark in Arizona, the state is largely back open for business.

Coleen Haines, Kingman’s public information officer, is immunocompromised, so she’s still working from home and doesn’t go out much, but she’s seeing a mixture of status quo and some return to normalcy.

“What I see driving around is there are still some local restaurants that are still just offering takeout,” she said. “They are not doing dine-in seating at all yet. And I think those tend to be kind of more of the mom-and-pop-type restaurants. I think some of the chains have opened back up, and I think they’re as busy as allowable right now.”    

Haines said in addition to safety measures in public buildings, public spaces like parks have extra safety precautions on baseball and softball fields for instance as tournaments continue.

“They had to follow very specific guidelines from USA Softball like removing all the bleachers, so there’s no seating whatsoever, completely closing the dugouts, removing all the gates so no one’s touching gates to get in and out of the fields,” according to Haines.

The Kingman Parks and Recreation Department is working hard to keep safety a priority as people naturally want to get outside, making disinfectant runs twice a day at all parks and using a bleach solution to spray down all playground equipment and other areas.

“You know, whether it’s a picnic table or a bench, everything’s getting sprayed down. The workout equipment that’s kind of around the running track, that’s all getting sprayed down multiple times a day,” said Haines.

She added government buildings are limiting the number of people that can enter to avoid creating long lines for things like paying bills.

Tami Ursenbach, economic development director for Mohave County which includes Kingman, Lake Havasu City and Bullhead City said the county budget for the next fiscal year remains strong. "I have not seen any reductions in the budget. In fact, they even passed a 2.5 % raise for all county employees. I’ve done economic development in other states and frequently out of desperation, they will cut the economic budget even though that’s the thing that brings in more business, but Mohave Co. has not done that. They have given me the resources to do my job. In fact I’m getting a new employee next year," she said.

She also said permits for new residential and business starts are higher this year than what they were last year at this time as Kingman, Lake Havasu City and Bullhead City all have announced more development coming in soon.

"Since COVID-19 hit, I’ve had a lot more companies contact me directly from California that want to exit because of the way they feel they were treated," said Ursenbach.



April 20: Like many municipalities in the state, city offices in Kingman are closed to the public and the private sector continues only in a limited capacity.

As a result, frustration for residents who want things to return to normal is peaking.

“I think people keep hearing this word ‘peak.’ Peak. When are we going to hit our peak? When is that? Oh, is that at the end of the month? Oh, and then after that is rural Arizona going to get hit after metropolitan areas in Arizona. What does that look like? How many is it? What’s the magic number?” said

Coleen Haines, the city’s public affairs coordinator.

And while politicians of all stripes are eager to get the economy rolling again, especially in a state where its governor has consistently repeated the mantra “Arizona is open for business” prior to the coronavirus shutdown, the reality is city budgets are being re-written.

“You know, if someone wanted to remodel their office or buy new furniture that’s done with next year," Haines said. "Tentatively, because our budget hasn’t been voted on as with most everyone else in the state, we’re looking at big ticket items that we are looking at cutting.”

Haines says the city will not institute a blanket hiring freeze. For example, the current police chief is retiring, so that’s a necessary position to fill.

“But I think every position moving forward this year and also into next year, it will be weighed very heavily of the priority of that position if and when it will be refilled."

Haines says it will be up to the city manager and department heads to decide on those priorities.



April 6: Kingman’s Public Affairs Coordinator Coleen Haines said the city is following Gov. Ducey’s stay-at-home order, although Ducey put out a long list of “essential” services that were exempt from the order. 

As a small city with limited bandwidth to monitor business gatherings, Haines said Kingman is asking firms themselves to make the call.

“And we are asking those businesses, please take responsibility,” she said. “Take responsibility for your staff. Take responsibility for your community. And if you really believe that you are not essential, then please close.”

More than anything, Haines said uncertainty hangs over their decisions. Kingman has some coronavirus cases, but like other cities, does not know how bad the virus will get.

“We’re not waiting for this magic number tomorrow,” she said. “It’s going to be months down the road where we can really feel like, did we do a good job or were we careless? I don’t know. I don’t know what that looks like.”

On the bright side, Kingman was able to bring some delight to one of its residents last week. 

A parent of a 5-year-old named Landon called the Police Department, asking for a birthday surprise. The department sent police cars to the boy’s home to wish him a happy birthday. 

Haines got the drive-by siren song on video and posted it to the city’s Facebook page.

“What we have here is this little guy’s birthday is today and he’s turning five. But his birthday party got canceled,” Haines narrates over chirps and blares from the cars. “And his party was police- and fireman-themed and so our police department and fire department has come to help this little guy celebrate.”

Just a small gesture to brighten up an otherwise gloomy time.

“It was a nice thing that Kingman can do amidst, you know, a pandemic,” Haines said.  

Kingman
Jackie Hai/KJZZ
Kingman, Arizona.

March 17: The city of Kingman in northwest Arizona is a stop on historic Route 66. It’s close to Las Vegas, Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon. 

And American tourists continue to pass through town despite concerns about the coronavirus said Coleen Haines, public affairs coordinator for Kingman.

“I think we’ve seen [a] little bit of a downtick, I guess, in maybe some foreign visitors. But we’re definitely, I think, seeing some consistent numbers,” she said. “I think those people that aren’t traveling or able to fly overseas for their spring breaks are hitting the open road and going to the Grand Canyon and practicing social distancing in our national parks.”

Kingman has canceled City Council meetings in April, as well as a Citizens Academy. Callers to Kingman Dispatch will now be asked specific questions about health symptoms and recent travel history. 

Kingman Mayor Jen Miles planned to sign a declaration of local emergency on Tuesday, so the city could potentially receive any state or federal reimbursement for expenditures due to the outbreak.

And like other places, Kingman is seeing a lack of toilet paper in stores. That can lead to downstream complications — complications the city wants to prevent. 

Without toilet paper, people may resort to personal care products like baby wipes and paper towels, which can clog the pipes. 

“It’s definitely not a career highlight to tell people what they can flush down their toilet,” Haines said. “But it’s necessary. It really can affect wastewater treatment plants, it can cause flooding in your own home. Way down the line it can cause, you know, sewer issues.”

Only two things should be flushed down the toilet, Haines said: human waste and toilet paper. 

And that probably goes for people all across the state.

Navajo Nation

June 12: Although their coronavirus numbers are flattening, the Navajo Nation still has the highest infection rate per capita. 

As the state and the Grand Canyon National Park reopen many people are driving through the Navajo Nation on their way to Lake Powell, Utah or other destinations. Navajo President Jonathan Nez recently told House lawmakers the tribe relies on tourism but now is not the time to visit. 

“We had tons of people coming from Phoenix, Flagstaff going through the Navajo Nation,” Nez said. “I’m afraid some of our visitors were cited and that may discourage their return to our nation when this pandemic is over.” 

Navajo Nation President: Stay-Home Order, Mask Rules Are Working

The eastern entrance closest to the reservation is closed but Nez asked the Interior secretary to keep the entire park shutdown. 

Visitors who stop on the Navajo Nation are expected to wear a mask. Shanna Yazzie lives in Cameron.

“We witnessed where the cashier let some people know, ‘Hey, you can’t come in unless you have a mask,’” Yazzie said. “And they didn’t have a mask, so they didn’t know what to do but get back into their vehicles and leave.”

This normally would be the time of year when small businesses on the reservation do well. Slot Canyon tour guides, bed and breakfasts, jewelry craftsmen and food vendors are all out of work. Yazzie says chapters or Navajo communities haven’t allowed food vendors to return yet.

“Just because Taco Bell and McDonald’s are corporate and they have this and that doesn’t mean the food vendors are not able to comply with the safety standards,” Yazzie said

The tribe has lifted its weekend curfew but continues to take precautions. The Navajo president reminds tribal members to wear a mask, to practice social distancing and to stay home during nightly curfews to prevent a second wave.



April 13: Shanna Yazzie is tired. She’s tired of making sure her elderly mother doesn’t leave the house, of driving great distances to pick up supplies and of holding down a job. She says she thought she had more time.

“Then came the children’s school, the online courses, preparing meals, and then also caring for my mother,” Yazzie said. “I think I’ve kind of exhaust myself where I don’t even eat. I’m just making sure my family eats. It catches up with me where I start to get headaches.” 

On the Navajo Nation, the number of coronavirus cases continues to multiply, and they haven’t even reached their peak. The tribe has been self-isolating for three weeks and it’s especially challenging for tribal members without electricity or running water.

Yazzie drives 50 miles to haul their drinking water and dump their trash in Tuba City. The Navajo leaders ordered a weekend lockdown so on Friday afternoon everyone was out getting essentials. 

windmill
Laurel Morales/KJZZ
Many Navajo haul non-potable water from windmills like this one for their sheep and to do the washing.

“It was like a long line,” Yazzie said. “And there was like an hour left and I didn’t have the patience of staying there plus I needed to get back and cook for my children.”

On top of that, the hose that connects to their drinking water has cracked in the cold weather so the tank is leaking. She’s tried to replace it at hardware stores in both Tuba City and Flagstaff but neither has the correct size. So she ordered one but it won’t come in until the end of the month.

She’s recently decided to handwash their clothes to avoid going to the laundromat and practice social distancing.

“It’s a lot of work because I am doing laundry for a family of four,” Yazzie said.

And she discovered it’s a lot of water — about 50 gallons to wash clothes for her entire family.

After all of the things on her to-do list, she ran out of time and patience to get drinking water before the weekend curfew started. Luckily she has relatives who recently stocked them up with bottled water.



March 31: Across Arizona, communities are feeling the economic impacts of COVID-19.

For decades, the Navajo tribe relied heavily on the coal industry. But that’s changed since the Navajo Generating Station closed late last year. LeChee Chapter President Jerry Williams worked for the coal-fired power plant for most of his life. He’s one of the hundreds of workers who were redeployed to Phoenix.

"It’s hard as far as workers being relocated," said Williams, who can't go back to visit family in LeChee until the Navajo Nation is deemed safe. "A lot of our community uprooted and moved with their families down to Phoenix. I think the schools took a beating, too. A lot of kids had to relocate."

Antelope Canyon
Jean Clare Sarmiento/KJZZ
Navajo President Jonathan Nez said the tribe’s economic focus is now tourism. But on March 13, the president closed all Navajo parks and then asked visitors to postpone trips to popular destinations like Antelope Canyon.

Navajo President Jonathan Nez said the tribe’s economic focus is now tourism. But on March 13, the president closed all Navajo parks and then asked visitors to postpone their trips to popular destinations like Antelope Canyon also located in LeChee across from the shutdown power plant.

"We rely on tourism here," Nez said. "So some of those dollars should be given to some of our tour companies, restaurants, our hotels, our gaming enterprises should be able to get some relief through this $2 trillion package."

The economic relief package signed into law by President Trump last week includes $8 billion for tribes. But Nez is concerned the Navajo Nation won’t see much of that money after it’s divided among the more than 500 tribes in the country.

Nogales, Arizona

June 17: In February, 286,440 cars and 249,148 pedestrians crossed the border north into Nogales, Arizona, many on their way to work, shop or see friends and family. 

After border restrictions went into place in late March, those numbers collapsed — nearly 70 and 80% respectively by April, according to federal data analyzed by KJZZ. Local businesses and government, which depend heavily on spending by Mexican shoppers, worried about the economic and budgetary implications. 

Coronavirus on the Border
Murphy Woodhouse/KJZZ
Morley Avenue is the historic heart of retail in downtown Nogales. The coronavirus pandemic and border shutdown have hit it and other Arizona border cities.

“And so we did originally, when we were going into this, expected a really huge decrease,” said Santa Cruz County Manager Jennifer St. John.

But through April at least, the sales tax impact has been more modest than feared. Receipts from the county excise tax were down about 7.5%, according to state data. The city of Nogales’ sales tax receipts showed sharper drops, but significantly smaller than the plunge in crossings. 

“The only thing that I can attribute that to is just our local citizens shopped locally,” St. John said. “They stayed locally instead of going to visit relatives in Tucson or Phoenix or Sierra Vista.”

Local purchasing power was also likely improved by stimulus checks, and more generous unemployment benefits, according to St. John. But those are temporary measures. And while she says several million dollars in federal support for local governments will give them some breathing room, harder times could be coming. To prepare, county department heads were asked to make cuts.

“We told our departments that there’s a caveat, that we could come back and need more,” St. John said. “And most departments expect that we’re going to need more.”

‘Support Each Other’

“We were expecting the worst,” said Olivia Ainza-Kramer, head of the local Chamber of Commerce. “It is bad, but it’s not like we were expecting it.”

She agrees with St. John about some of the possible factors behind the less economic dramatic impacts. 

But now Santa Cruz County is contending with skyrocketing COVID-19 cases, which have roughly tripled over the last two weeks to well over 1,000, the fastest growth in Arizona during that period, according to state data tracked by KJZZ. The county now has one of the highest case rates in the state, and as of Tuesday, 12 people had been confirmed dead, according to the health department’s website.  

“We don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow,” Ainza-Kramer said. “That’s one of the things that is causing a lot of anxiety.”

Businesses have been trying to comply with the state’s reopening guidelines, but when employees get sick, that can mean sending workers home or shutting down, according to Ainza-Kramer. She pointed to the Memorial Day weekend as one factor in the surge, but also declining compliance with recommended practices, like avoiding unnecessary trips, safe distancing, and mask-wearing. 

“In order for us to continue being a safe and productive community, we need to support each other,” she said. 

And that means businesses and residents doing whatever they can to slow spread.

March 31: Last Fall, Santa Cruz County Supervisor and Nogales businessman Bruce Bracker thought it might be a good time to wade back into border retail. The city’s ports were again fully staffed, raising hopes of increased visits from Mexican shoppers. So, Bracker opened a clothing store in November in the old Nogales Woolworth building to liquidate a California friend’s merchandise.

“Everybody was looking forward to a good spring,” he said.

But in response to the pandemic, the United States and Mexico negotiated a border shutdown that would allow commercial traffic to continue flowing northward. There would, however, be limitations on the sort of pedestrian and personal vehicle traffic that Nogales merchants depend on. It went into effect about two weeks ago.

“Right before those announcements came out, we had made the decision that it’s just not worth the health risk,” Bracker said.

But cross-border trade has continued flowing, including the multibillion-dollar Mexican produce import business of critical importance to Nogales. After the restrictions went into place, pedestrian and personal vehicle crossings appear to have more than halved at Arizona ports, while commercial crossings were basically unchanged, according to a tweet last week from Guadalupe Ramirez, CBP’s director of field operations in the Tucson Sector.

Jaime Chamberlain, president of the local port authority’s board, said produce loads have actually gone up. But after a surge in demand as people in the United States flooded grocery stores, “the last two weeks have been probably the worst that we've seen in years,” he said.

And with good growing conditions in Mexico, supply is only going to increase, potentially pushing prices down further.

"We’re looking forward to see … this week how we can survive,” Chamberlain said.

As both a county supervisor and third-generation border merchant, Bracker knows how much local government depends on shoppers from Mexico.

“A vast majority of that sales tax is from Mexican nationals crossing that border to shop in our stores,” he said.

In the wake of the shutdown, Nogales declared a financial emergency, and county department heads have been instructed to reduce all non-essential spending, according to Bracker. He’s hopeful that the federal stimulus package will help small local businesses and Nogales residents weather the hard months ahead, and prepare for whenever normalcy returns.

“But right now the priority is everyone needs to stay safe and healthy,” he added.

Pinetop-Lakeside

June 10: In Arizona’s White Mountains, the small community of Pinetop-Lakeside depends almost entirely on tourism. So, back in March, with travel at a standstill and restaurants closed, Mayor Stephanie Irwin was feeling pretty concerned.

Stephanie Irwin
Town of Pinetop-Lakeside
Stephanie Irwin.

“It’s going to hurt a lot of people up here, a lot of small mom and pop businesses," Irwin said in March.

Now, it’s a different story.

“If you look at the traffic on Highway 260 that runs through town, I would say, yes it has recovered," Irwin said.

Irwin said second homeowners typically start returning to Pinetop-Lakeside in May for summer vacation. But this year she said seasonal residents started showing up earlier. She suspects families doing online schooling or people working from home took the opportunity to come isolate in the mountains.

Town Manager Keith Johnson said golf courses, restaurants and resorts are seeing business really pick up.

Keith Johnson
Town of Pinetop-Lakeside
Keith Johnson.

“Some of them have reported that they’re doing even better right now than they were at the same time last year," Johnson said.

Pinetop-Lakeside had furloughed 10 city employees in April. Now, all but a few part-time library staff are back to work.

Pinetop-Lakeside is beginning its budget plans this week. Johnson said even though the town is seeing more business lately, Pinetop-Lakeside’s budget is heavily dependent on state-shared revenue. He expects to see declines in those funds, but said that’s just a prediction.

“I wish I had a crystal ball," he said, adding Pinetop-Lakeside is still planning for a lot of unknowns in the year ahead.



April 13: This was supposed to be a big weekend for families in Pinetop-Lakeside.

“We’ve got thousands of filled Easter eggs and we put them out on the fields for the kids and we’ve had to cancel that,” said Keith Johnson, town manager.

Instead, the annual Easter egg hunt changed to a “drive-around” egg hunt. Families took a look at decorated houses from the safety of their cars.

Johnson said it was the closest the town could come to keeping some sense of normalcy, at a time when most things in the mountain community are not normal.

The mom and pop hotels and restaurants that drive the bulk of Pinetop-Lakeside’s economy are mostly empty during what would be the start of the high season.

“This is a hard time of year to be hit with this," Johnson said. 

Johnson said his office has already furloughed some city workers in anticipation of big budget shortfalls as tourists stay away.

Some second-home owners have been showing up for the warm season, but Johnson says, that brings up a different concern.

“We’re worried they’ll bring more virus with them," he said. 

Coronavirus cases have appeared across Navajo County, including in Show Low, Snowflake, Winslow, and Pinetop-Lakeside. It’s scary, but Johnson said he thinks back to all of the times he and his neighbors have braced for destructive wildfires.

“This is a resilient community," Johnson said.  "They have bounced back from these disasters, they’ve come together. They’re tough.”



March 31: About 4,000 people live in the Navajo County community of Pinetop-Lakeside. Mayor Stephanie Irwin said many residents chose the town for the hiking, outdoor recreation and scenery. And Irwin said, the appeal of the mountain getaway is also what drives the town’s economy.

“If we don’t have tourism, we don’t have employees going to work who can’t go the grocery store and spend money or go to restaurants, so it’s just a huge ripple effect,” Irwin said.  

Irwin said, as COVID-19 has spread, business for hotels and resorts in her town has come to a complete standstill.

“It’s going to hurt a lot of people up here, a lot of small mom and pop businesses," Irwin said. 

Irwin said she worries it’s just a matter of time before someone in her community contracts the illness. She said in addition to the town’s economic slowdown, the community could also be threatened by the limited capacity of health care providers in the rural area.

Scottsdale

June 15: Scottsdale received $29.6 million in funding from the CARES Act to help deal with the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Jim Lane says some of the money will go toward helping businesses reopen as well as maintaining services that have experienced an increased demand in Scottsdale.

“Some of that is in our senior centers and our rec centers and meal programs and those kinds of things,” Lane said.

Lane said the money will also go to help organizations that had events cancelled recover some of their costs.

He said they city will use some of the CARES dollars to retrofit city services for the reopening.

"In order to accommodate a higher level of safety and making sure those venues are safe and sanitized on an ongoing basis,” Lane said.

Mark Stanton is the president and CEO of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce.

He said he’s encouraging businesses to reopen carefully and cautiously.

“Take into account the CDC guidelines and the direction from the state and make sure you’re taking all precautions that are reasonable to protect your employees and your customers," Stanton said. 

He says three primary sectors in Scottsdale have been hit the hardest: hospitality, restaurants and health care.

Stanton says the Scottsdale Industrial Development Authority is offering grant funding for businesses in those sectors.

He says it’s still too early to tell how many businesses have closed temporarily and how many have shut their doors for good.

Stanton says the Chamber is giving businesses guidance as they attempt to reopen with modified business plans.

“So for example a floral delivery company like Cactus Flower Florist," Stanton said. "They’ve retooled their model so that people can come by and they’ll deliver the flowers our their front door to the car as well as delivering them in their traditional ways.”

Stanton says he’s been impressed by the innovation and resilience Scottsdale businesses are showing during such difficult times.



April 28: Mayor Jim Lane said it’s still too early to tell exactly how much the pandemic has affected the city’s finances:

“But we do know that the fourth quarter of our fiscal year, is going to be hugely impacted,” Lane said.

Lane says the city relies heavily on tourism, sports, restaurants and entertainment venues, all which have been hit hard in recent months.

“Most of those, thankfully, had gone through the high season, and it had been a record year,” he said.

The city is currently under a hiring freeze and Lane says requests for salary increases have been withdrawn.

Scottsdale Airport
Christina Estes/KJZZ
A plane flies by the air traffic control tower at Scottsdale Airport.

Sarah Ferrara is the aviation planning and outreach coordinator for the Scottsdale airport. She says the spring is generally their busiest time of year:

“Most of our operations are comprised from mid-sized business jets," Ferrara said. "And they can be owned by corporates, they can be charter flights or privately owned.”

Ferrara says corporate traffic was down 27% in March and they have experienced a significant decline in April.

She says the airport is expecting approximately a$157,000 from the CARES Act.

Wickenburg

April 30: Winter is high tourist season in Wickenburg and April is typically when business starts to drop off. So the timing of the coronavirus pandemic means the town of about 8,000 isn’t seeing major budget shortfalls.

“We aren’t as impacted as other places maybe are,” said Town Manager Vincent Lorefice.

But so much has gone digital in the age of coronavirus, and that did cause a challenge for Wickenburg.

When schools closed in March, Wickenburg Unified School District immediately surveyed its 1,500 students and found about a third didn’t have internet access at home for online learning.

Wickenburg Unified School District
Wickenburg Unified School District
The Wickenburg Unified School District teamed up with the town's mayor to find a way to get internet access for students amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Some students were able to connect through free or reduced-price broadband plans from internet provider Cox. But district superintendent Howard Carlson knew high-speed internet infrastructure just wasn’t available in all parts of his rural community.

“There are definitely swaths of the school district where there is no internet connectivity and you have to look at something like a hotspot,” Carlson said.

In particular, Carlson noticed one cluster of about 40 families in Wickenburg who couldn’t connect.

Carlson teamed up with the town’s mayor to find a solution. They found it on a centrally located water tower.

“If there was an antenna on the water tower, then they were able to get point-to-point internet access,” Carlson said.

The town leased space on the water tower to a company called AZ AirNet, which uses radio microwave signals to provide internet over antennas. Installations are in progress and the signal will go live soon, Carlson said. A grant from a local charitable foundation will pay for the families in range of the new water tower antenna to access internet for two months.

Lorefice said Wickenburg now wants the antenna to stay even after social distancing regulations lift.

“We’re negotiating a permanent lease agreement so that way [AZ AirNet] can actually expand their services here in Wickenburg as well,” Lorefice said.

He said what was meant as a creative, temporary fix could benefit the school district and the town long-term.

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