By DAVID GREEN
Morenci’s Little League program is going strong, board members reported Monday at the city council meeting, and council approved a request to help strengthen it even more.
Scott Merillat and Brandon Stover presented a request for work at the large softball field at Wakefield Park to make it more adaptable for Little League play.
Work includes leveling a small mound on the infield where a pitcher’s mound was once located; reducing the size of the infield five or six feet by planting grass on the outer edge; and completing some electrical work.
Merillat told council members that the Little League board would like to expand tournament options for the older players. Tournaments bring a lot of people into town and serve as fund raisers for the ball program.
“We thank the city for your support,” Merillat said. “Our fields are among the nicer ones we play on.”
He said about 70 volunteers turned out this year for the annual clean-up day at the start of the season. After that, he said, city workers do a great job of maintaining the fields during the season.
Free use of the fields helps keep costs down, Merillat said, noting that ball programs are charged for field use in some communities.
During the past season, 225 children participated, ranging in age from five to 14. Twenty teams were formed and more than 40 people volunteered to serve as coaches. Others worked in the concession stand or volunteered time at tournaments.
“It’s a big group of people that makes it happen,” Merillat said.
Stephenson Park was used for practice sessions and T-ball games. Merillat said it worked out well except for families with children in two leagues. However, the fields at Wakefield Park were busy with either games or practices every night and many weekends.
LAWNS—The property maintenance committee, chaired by council member Leasa Slocum, will present a plan to streamline lawn maintenance enforcement in light of the many vacant homes.
The city attorney is examining a proposal that would bypass the current process of sending a letter to the property owner and waiting for the required response time.
SAVINGS—City administrator/clerk Renée Schroeder told council that more than $18,000 was saved after the AmeraPlan option was approved a year ago.
The city buys a higher-deductible plan through Blue Cross/Blue Shield to reduce premiums. When an employee needs coverage for an incident, the city pays the deductible and out-of-pocket costs on behalf of the employee.
Savings through AmeraPlan vary from year to year, Schroeder said, depending on how many claims were submitted to the insurance carrier.
LIQUOR LICENSE—Council voted 5-1 to approve a beer and wine license for Rex Crist, owner of the BP gas station/convenience store in Morenci. Keith Pennington voted against the request and Tracy Schell was absent.
Pennington voiced concern about past misdemeanor counts on the applicant’s record, but mayor Doug Erskin said they were unrelated to the liquor sales.
Police chief Larry Weeks explained that the state Liquor Control Commission requires a local police department to sign off on an applicant’s criminal history and character.
The commission makes the final decision, Weeks said, but it wants to hear local opinion before deciding. In addition, he said, a local ordinance requires council’s approval.
Pennington said the criminal history probably wouldn’t have affected his “no” vote anyway, but it drew added concern to the issue.
RETIREMENT—Council approved a change in the retirement benefit plan for part-time employees who work at least 24 hours a week. The city will match 100 percent of an employee’s contribution, up to four percent.