The town of Wellton’s 2018 was spent shoring up the Coyote Wash Golf Course while signs of a new growth spurt began to sprout in the east Yuma County community.
Town Manager Larry Killman said taking over management of the town-owned golf course from previous leaseholder John Bass on May 1 was the biggest project Wellton had to take on, due to the condition its 18 holes were in.
“We’ve put $400,000 into it in the first six months, just basically sprinkler systems, and trying to fix things that haven’t been replaced. It was run-down, really bad,” he said.
That is a big chunk of change for a town with just 3,197 residents, according to the most recent state population estimates. It helped push the budget into the red at the end of the fiscal year in June, Killman said.
But finances at the golf course have already begun to turn around, he said, with the number of players up 10 percent and $108,000 in revenue raised in November alone, so some of that is going back into the town’s reserve funds.
In November town voters approved a ballot question giving the town permission to sell the golf course if an offer was made, but Killman said nothing is on the table.
The town held an open house and grand re-opening event at the golf course on Dec. 15 to welcome the community, which roughly doubles in size with the annual influx of winter visitors.
Wellton Mayor Cecilia McCullough said in an email this week the golf course was indeed one of the top accomplishments of the year: “Credit to Mr. Killman and town staff working hard on turning it around.
“The grounds are greatly improved and the recent grand opening and open house was a success. Efforts to increase player numbers are in full force.”
The Coyote Wash housing development and other parts of town are beginning to see more homes built again.
“We’re trying to promote the whole area out there, because we built 13 homes total in the town last year. I got six under construction right now. So it’s starting to turn,” Killman said.
He said the improvements to the golf course are helping property values in the surrounding neighborhoods, and the rest of the town seems to be garnering some attention as well.
“We’re starting to see some interest, because at this point we’re 5 to 10 percent cheaper than the Foothills, even. And the commute, it’s 18 minutes to the Foothills. So that’s good to see, and prices are still down, but if we get some activity, it’s really a good time to buy,” he said.
The town’s success in winning grants continued apace this year, he said, as the federal Community Development Block Grant program awarded the municipality $481,000 for a fire station expansion to the water tender truck the town purchased in 2015.
Another CDBG grant for $500,000, plus another $385,000 from the HOME Investment Partnership program, will rehabilitate owner-occupied homes in need of repair.
Funds from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality are covering the engineering costs for building a loop in the water system serving Coyote Wash, to improve water quality during the summer, and a beautification grant from Southern Pacific gave the town a chance to clean up a blighted property on the rail line.
The town’s fire department used the burning of buildings on the property as a training opportunity for recruits, and volunteers continue to remove the debris left behind, Killman said.
The town was able to restart its free KidsClub summer program this year with another grant, $4,200 from the Cocopah Indian Tribe, he added.
The town took over its signature Tractor Rodeo event in January after it lost its sponsor of nearly 40 years, Yuma Regional Medical Center, and will be doing it again next month, on Jan. 18-19.
In spite of the progress that’s been made this year, Killman said, “It’s still very tight out here. We’re still losing population in the east county, a lot of people don’t understand that.”
This is because there aren’t as many residents in Dateland, Hyder and other further-out communities to come in and shop in Wellton, to build back its sales-tax base. The town does not have a property tax, and voters rejected a proposal to institute one in 2017.
Funds are so tight that a past success can sometimes come back to haunt the town, as it did in the form of a long-planned pedestrian bridge the Arizona Department of Transportation is now moving forward with.
Killman’s predecessors applied six years ago for funding for the million-dollar bridge and multiuse path over Coyote Wash at Los Angeles Avenue, and construction could start in early 2019.
Wellton is required to pay a local share of $59,000, but is only getting about $100,000 in state Highway User Revenue Funds per year, its lone source for street maintenance funds.
“So I’m basically doing no paving, and no patchwork, because all of my money has to go to that bridge. They sent me what the bill was and I tried to get out of it, I said I don’t have the $60,000.
“I never had a pedestrian bridge for golf carts, and they seem to go back and forth across the wash every day with no problem, maybe a little bit dangerous,” he said.
But a couple of potential projects that could bring a significant number of new jobs to the area are leaving him optimistic. “East county, we’re not the shining star right now, we may be one of these days,” he said.
The November 2018 election returned two incumbents, Mayor Cecilia McCullough and Councilman Kenneth Baughman, and is bringing one new councilman, Scott Blitz, to the dais. Blitz was sworn into office this month and will begin casting his votes in January.
Killman said he hadn’t had much of a chance to speak to Blitz as of mid-December, so was unsure of how his presence would affect the town, other than his desire to have the town provide internet access to residents and businesses.
McCullough said in an email this week, “Our voter turnout was up and, with the number of candidates on the ballot, the margins were smaller. I am very grateful for the privilege to serve a third term and honored to have been appointed to continue as mayor.”
She added, “Mr. Blitz is well qualified and engaged in the community. I believe our council will continue to work well together for the good of the Town of Wellton and our entire community.”
Blitz said in a campaign document posted on his Facebook account before the August primary that his priorities include giving every resident a voice whether they’re part-time or full-time, small business development, and starting a local business group that would meet often and brainstorm ideas on bringing in new development.