The Independent offers its Top 10 stories of 2016

Over the course of 2016 the Town of Paradise Valley Independent reported on hundreds of topics ranging from the cell phone reception woes to a lawsuit against the town after a pedestrian was hit by a teenage driver to residents looking for answers to justify expensive water bills.

The Independent offers a look back over the last year’s Top 10 stories in the Town of Paradise Valley:

1. Can you hear me now in TPV?

In what may seem like a never-ending saga, the Town of Paradise Valley has taken another step toward understanding the depth of its cell phone coverage issues.

During a study session held Sept. 22 at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive, President and CEO of Ghost Networks Robert Lopez thoroughly walked town officials through problems town residents face when it comes to poor cell phone reception.

Mr. Lopez presented town officials with a solution: install three macro sites within town limits that can equally support all four major cell carriers: Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.

The three locations being proposed are near Camelback Country Club, at the intersection of Mockingbird and Mockingbird, and near Lincoln Drive and 56th Street. There are a variety of aesthetic options to choose from ranging about $300,000 to $1 million.

Mr. Lopez said three sites was the minimum needed to get the results the town wants. He suggested the town uses collocated macro sites, which offer the fewest sites with the highest coverage, for the lowest costs.

2. Paradise Valley police investigation under scrutiny

The family of a Paradise Valley man hit and killed while walking his dog in the community last year intends to sue the Paradise Valley Police Department and two town residents, one of whom is an elected official, for the alleged mishandling of a fatal accident investigation.

At 4:10 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015 Paige Dembow struck and killed Paradise Valley resident Howard Brown while he was walking his dog, police reports show. Ms. Dembow is the daughter of Paradise Valley Councilman Paul Dembow .

Timothy Casey, an attorney with the Phoenix-based Schmitt Schneck Smyth Casey & Even law firm, claimed Ms. Dembow was given preferential treatment by local police due to the stature of her father in the local community —a charge steadfastly denied by the town’s police chief.

The police report obtained by the Independent states Ms. Dembow was allowed to leave the scene of the accident with her father, was not subject to a sobriety test or requested to provide blood or breath samples.

According to the report, Ms. Dembow showed no signs of impairment.

3. Burglary rates remain steady as department overhaul continues

While the frequency at which home burglaries are occurring within Paradise Valley town limits remains flat compared to historical numbers, police officials say more than half of all home burglaries result from unlocked doors and unset alarms.

But police officials also say response times for priority 1 calls for service —including a home burglary —have been reduced to under 5 minutes on average, which they say is primarily the result of the creation of three police substations.

The numbers show in the month of June there were four reported home burglaries in the Town of Paradise Valley while there were seven reported that same time last year. So far this calendar year there have been 32 reported burglaries year to date, and three of those cases have been solved, according to data provided to Independent Newsmedia.

Camelhead North Homeowners Association President Gary Edends with a community petition for other local residents who too have concerns about Phoenix sewer bills. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

4. Nine hundred TPV residents paying ‘unjustified’ Phoenix sewer bills

District 6 Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio says its going to take a united Paradise Valley front to move the local sewer fee assessment needle to within reasonable bounds for out-of-market customers.

A collection of Paradise Valley residents — it’s now estimated the issue impacts about 900 Paradise Valley property owners — have cried foul over how the city of Phoenix is assessing their sewer fees. They have met with both Phoenix and local officials, and appealed to elected leaders of both communities to find a resolution to what many believe to be exorbitant sewer fee assessments.

While nothing has changed, Paradise Valley residents say they will take the issue to court but will exhaust every attempt to avoid litigation in this matter.

Where you live in the Town of Paradise Valley determines what entity handles the wastewater leaving your home. Paradise Valley residents have three options: Use a septic tank, use town services if within a certain geographical area, or sign up for the city of Phoenix sewer service.

The 71 homes within the Camelhead North Homeowners Association are provided sewer service by the city of Phoenix, but residents there say they are fed up with what many call “outrageous” sewer bills ranging from the hundreds of dollars to sometimes into the thousands.

SB 1449 sets new statewide guidelines for unmanned aircraft usages similar to the one pictured here. (File photo)

5. Privacy concerns persist as SB 1449 sets statewide drone regulations

Municipal leaders at the Town of Paradise Valley and the city of Scottsdale say SB 1449 has stripped them of their ability to regulate unmanned aircraft flying above their jurisdictions —at least for the time being.

Officials at both municipalities say they are continuing to look at the new legislation signed into law on May 11 by Gov. Doug Ducey and expected to go into effect last August. They are looking to see what, if any, local provisions cold be developed to quell fears of privacy and public safety.

The new laws are meant to help fuel the idea of a “shared economy” championed by Gov. Ducey —which local leaders say is well and fine —but ties the hands of municipal regulations to address privacy concerns expressed by local residents, particularly in the Town of Paradise Valley and portions of Scottsdale.

The devices are used for a variety of purposes. Real estate agents use them to obtain aerial photographs of top-tier properties. In the public sector, unmanned aircraft are often used for surveillance purposes in municipalities such as Phoenix.

In places like Paradise Valley and north Scottsdale, photography and video shot by unmanned aircraft are becoming a staple of selling homes in the luxury real estate game.

The new law makes it a crime to interfere with police and fire operations and also makes it unlawful to photograph or film sensitive locations such as nuclear power plants. In addition, SB 1449 requires all Arizona municipalities with more than one park to allow unmanned aircraft operations.

6. SUSD voters approve millions for bond, override

Scottsdale Unified School District voters on Nov. 8 approved two funding initiatives meant to aid students in and out of the classroom.

The $229 million bond to be used to repair failing infrastructure and school buses passed with a 57.6 percent approval by voters, according to unofficial results available at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office.

The $8.5 million capital override to be used for books, curriculum, technology, chairs, desks and playground equipment passed with 55.5 percent approval, results show.

The school district operates 30 schools with about 24,000 students, according to the district’s website.

7. Interim school leader given permanent nod

Dr. Denise Birdwell

Dr. Denise Birdwell will soon remove the “interim” from her superintendent title as the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board unanimously voted to begin negotiating a contract to officially make her the district superintendent.

The decision came at the board’s Tuesday, Nov. 23, Governing Board meeting at Coronado High School.

Dr. Birdwell has been the interim superintendent since January 2016. She was appointed to the position temporarily while the district conducted a nationwide search for a replacement to Dr. David Peterson, who had abruptly resigned in December 2015.

On Dec. 13, the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board approved a superintendent contract with Dr. Birdwell. The contract runs through June 30, 2019, according to a press release.

8. SB 1350 likely to spur new marketplace

Local leaders say SB 1350 has gut the ability for local municipalities to regulate short-term vacation rentals outside of commercially zoned resort or hotel establishments within city and town limits.

Senate Bill 1350, sponsored by Arizona Senate Majority Whip Debbie Lesko (R), goes into effect at the end of calendar year 2016 and restricts local cities and towns from being able to regulate or restrict the use of vacation rentals or short-term rentals within municipal boundaries.

The city of Scottsdale had regulations prohibiting rental of a home for fewer than 30 days since the late 1950s, which many say was an effort to protect the tourism industry specifically hotel room rates and occupancy.

Municipal leaders say the proposed legislation is meant to help fuel the idea of a “shared economy” championed by Gov. Doug Ducey, but the unintended consequences of allowing residential homes to act as boutique hotels could be devastating to local neighborhoods, they contend.

A view from the apex of Camelback Mountain. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

9. Town takes first blush at Camelback home

A number of concerned neighbors attended a concept review meeting hosted by the Paradise Valley Board of Adjustment at Town Hall Thursday, Sept. 8 to voice concerns over plans of a proposed mansion to be built atop Camelback Mountain.

The property in question, 5507 E. San Miguel Ave., has drawn ire from nearby residents over safety concerns since construction plans for a driveway to the property became public last March.

Records show the proposed site of the 10,000-square-foot home is about 3.44 acres large with a slope of approximately 53 percent, on an undeveloped plot of land.

The project consists of constructing a house, driveway, retaining wall and pool.

Prior to the preliminary hearing, about 40 homeowners who live in the Stone Canyon enclave of Paradise Valley have expressed safety concerns regarding planned blasting to make way for the driveway, the potential damage to Camelback Mountain and a lack of communication between town leaders and concerned residents.

10. Police 9-1-1 dispatcher is national award finalist

After a heroic effort to give assistance to a woman on the other end of the phone during a 9-1-1 call, north Scottsdale resident Samantha Denning has been named a finalist for the Smart Telecommunicator Award.

Samantha Denning, a finalist for the Telecommu (photo by Paradise Valley Police Department)

The award, presented by Smart911 recognizes the 911 dispatchers who work tirelessly to ensure that each emergency is responded to effectively and every caller receives the assistance they need.

Ms. Denning, 30, has been a dispatcher with the Paradise Valley Police Department for almost one year and has already been recognized on a national level for dedication to her profession.

On a recent call from a suicidal female, Ms. Denning talked to the woman while sending officers to the woman’s location. In the conversation, she keyed in on the fact that the caller had dogs she obviously cared for.

At one point, Ms. Denning asked the caller who would care for her dogs if she killed herself? This caused the woman to pause long enough for officers to arrive and help.

News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be reached by e-mail at mfittro@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MelissaFittro

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