Category Archives: Local Issues

News and updates on matters impacting Surprise.

Bell & Grand Interchange Improvements

Big changes are coming to the city’s busiest intersection as the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) prepares for improvements at Bell Road and Grand Avenue.

Plans call for ADOT to construct a new Bell Road bridge to travel over both Grand Avenue and the adjacent Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks. The bridge will eliminate the existing intersection where Bell Road is located on the same level with Grand Avenue and the tracks, which often causes slow traffic conditions due to signal changes and passing trains. This option minimizes impact to area businesses. Construction is scheduled to begin by early 2016.

Grand Avenue also will connect to the new Bell Road bridge via on- and off-ramps traveling to and from Grand Avenue’s center median area. This was the option City Council supported and the one preferred by residents in a city-wide survey.


The Federal Highway Administration has reviewed and approved the Final Environmental Assessment for the Grand Avenue/Bell Road intersection improvement project. The approval includes a Finding of No Significant Impact, which means the federal agency has determined the planned improvements would not create any significant environmental impacts.

ADOT has posted the final and signed versions of the Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the project online at and copies are available at Surprise City Hall, PORA offices in Sun City West, and at the ADOT office in downtown Phoenix.

Questions about this and other ADOT projects can be emailed to  ADOT’s Project Hotline is 1.855.712.8530.

Welcome Fire/Medical Chief Tom Abbott!

I am proud to share the news that Surprise Fire-Medical Department Chief Tom Abbott is on the job and having an impact in our community.  Chief Abbott joins me in grasping the power of partnerships, especially to share costs in our fire service.

“Each city is unique, but collaborative efforts with other departments will help us find ways to share resources and work together to attract grant funding,” he says.

We are fortunate to have him and he competed against many highly qualified and distinguished fire service professionals following the retirement of Chief Michael White, who retired in April having guided the Department for 10 years.

The 38-year-veteran of the Tempe Fire Medical Rescue Department is well known throughout the region.  While rising to the rank of Assistant Chief in Tempe, Abbott served with the Phoenix Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue Team, working at disaster scenes in Northridge, CA and Oklahoma City.  He teaches Fire Science courses at Mesa Community College and ASU and has trained hundreds of hazardous material technicians throughout the state.

He also brings valuable experience coordinating with private manufacturing, a growing business sector in Surprise, serving 8 years as Fire Marshall for Motorola Semiconductor in Scottsdale, improving response to potential emergencies at the sprawling plant.

Chief Abbott’s background includes planning for major regional events. He coordinated Tempe’s emergency management plan for the Super Bowl in 1996 and the last seven Fiesta Bowls played in there.

For 25 years Abbott has worked as an instructor at the International Association of Fire Fighters in Washington, D.C. In 2007, Governor Janet Napolitano appointed Abbott to serve on the Arizona Homeland Security Coordinating Council and in 2009, Governor Jan Brewer appointed him to the Central Region Advisory Council.

Abbott holds a Master’s degree in Security Studies, Homeland Defense and Security from the Naval Postgraduate School and a Bachelor’s in Industrial Technology from Arizona State.

Budget: A vision for the future

After open discussion and public input, the City Council and I unanimously approved a $310,885,200 FY15 budget in June that represents the Surprise of today: a successful city with a community-supported vision for the future.

The budget includes a projected $29 million surplus, $14.9 million constituting the two month General Fund reserve, fulfilling a Council goal to have the fund replenished by June 30, 2014.

We also approved a lower primary property tax levy rate of 75.9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The previous rate was 77.8 cents.

There are no tax increases in the FY15 budget.

Even after budgeting for long-overdue civic improvements in FY15, the budget projects a balance of $27 million by June 30, 2015.

Our finances are restored, and now it’s time to pursue an aggressive agenda of civic improvements and job creation.

We approved long-awaited improvements at Surprise Farms and Veramonte Parks that total more than $2.5 million.

We plan to fund a $15 million expansion of team clubhouses and public facilities at Surprise Stadium, after staff reported the expansion could be financed without adding to the budget, due in part to the City’s improved credit ratings.

Creating white-collar jobs in Surprise will continue to be our top priority in FY15.  We are supporting economic development efforts by adding ED personnel and improving our City’s showcase AZTechCelerator program, an award-winning business incubator near Bell and El Mirage roads

Some of the public improvements in the budget include:


Surprise Stadium team and public improvements $15,000,000(app; financed)
In-Ground Skate Park $500,000
Boys and Girls Club in east Surprise $2,000,000
Improved Drainage to 107th Avenue/Union Hills $2,428,000
Linking Mt. View Blvd. to Grand Avenue $300,000
Competitive youth Sports Programs $250,000
Median and ROW landscaping $300,000
Park ‘N Ride enhancements $1,686,300
Surprise Farms Park improvements $1,686,300
Veramonte Park Improvements $948,000
Dial a Ride Expansion $75,000

Cobalt Breaks Ground

This was an exciting morning in Surprise as Cobalt Medical Partners broke ground on the new Cobalt Rehabilitation Hospital, which will be located at the northeast corner of Dysart and Bell Roads. I had the chance to be a part of the groundbreaking ceremony, along with Cobalt’s CEO Richard Fiske and co-founder/principal Erik de Vries who flew in from Dallas to be a part of this morning’s festivities.


CEO Richard Fiske and I at the May 13 groundbreaking.
CEO Richard Fiske and I at the May 13 groundbreaking.


In November, Cobalt Medical Partners (CMP) told Council of their plans to construct the 50,000-square-foot facility with 40 beds on three acres at the northeast corner of Bell and Dysart roads.

“We are bringing a whole new level of medical service to the community,” said Mr. Fiske, at that time. “Our advanced rehabilitation center will specialize in treating traumatic brain injuries of military veterans, first responders, athletes and the general public.”

A project like this aligned perfectly with the Council’s Strategic Plan.  It presented an opportunity for job creation and the recruitment of new healthcare operations, both of which are cornerstones of that plan.

The facility, which will open next year, enhances our commitment as a city to create a robust business environment that attracts employment, capital investment, and enhanced opportunities for our residents. In addition to create 125 new healthcare jobs, Cobalt Medical Development’s project represents an investment of $15 million into our city to build the new hospital, which serves to revitalize an area of Dysart and Bell that had been skipped over in the development boom that our city has experienced in the last decade.

What’s more, I’m hopeful that a facility of this caliber will serve as a magnet to attract ancillary businesses to the surrounding area. I would not be surprised to see a future medical campus that can provide additional capacity for other healthcare facilities and professional office development opportunities.

In the meantime, as construction begins, Cobalt will occupy a temporary office inside our AZ TechCelerator building at 124th Avenue and Bell Road. What’s more, we will partner with the company to co-host a job fair as the project nears completion to help Cobalt hire new employees from our region.

Without a doubt, this exciting new facility represents another element to the continuum of healthcare now available in Surprise. It’s a continuum of care that champions healthy living, conducts medical research, and provides excellent rehabilitative care, all while positively impacting the economic development and growth of our city.


Vice-Mayor Hall, Councilwoman Villanueva and I were on hand with others to break ground on the new facility.
Vice-Mayor Hall, Councilwoman Villanueva and I were on hand with others to break ground on the new facility.


Mayor Issues Pickleball Challenge to KMLE Country’s Morning Show Team

I thought you all might enjoy this story about my upcoming pickleball challenge to Steve and Nina of KMLE Country’s Morning Show, in their quest to obtain the key to our city!


Mayor Wolcott Issues Pickleball Challenge to KMLE Country’s Morning Show Team

That’s right:  “PICKLE” and “BALL.”

The new sport with a funny name will take center stage at the Surprise Pickleball Court at 11 a.m. Monday, May 19 when Surprise Mayor Sharon Wolcott and her playing partner face off against Steve and Nina, the morning show duo at Phoenix radio station KMLE Country.

Steve is new to Arizona and longer-time Zonie Nina D is helping him get to know the place. They have been stopping in on communities around the Valley looking for ways to earn a “key to the city.”

“We don’t have a key, but we’ve made the world’s largest City of Surprise ID badge, customized for Steve and Nina,” says Wolcott.  “But….they will have to earn it.”

Surprise is the “Pickleball Capital of Arizona,” and pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States. Nearly 45 new pickleball courts are opening every month to keep up with demand.

“How to describe Pickleball? “Imagine playing tennis with a giant pingpong paddle and a whiffle ball and….oh, never mind,” Wolcott said.

But that’s actually a very good description. The game is not as fast as tennis. The oversize pingpong-style paddles, larger plastic ball and smaller court make it easier to play. “It’s the kind of game we might have made up when we were kids,” Wolcott said. “It’s a lot of fun, it’s easy, it’s great exercise and you can start playing right away.”

“Some people are intimidated by tennis,” she added. “But it’s hard to be intimidated by a big whiffle ball.”

The radio hosts have already received “keys” from the mayors of Tempe, Mesa, Buckeye and Florence, but their biggest challenge will come at what Mayor Wolcott is calling “The Showdown at Surprise.”

The match will be played at Community Park, located at 15930 N. Bullard Avenue in Surprise.

Oh, by the way, Steven and Nina must win the match in order to win the giant ID badge. “I know they are going to want to frame it for display back at the station,” Wolcott said. “They’ll be ready.”

Mayor and City Manager’s Statement on Pension “Spiking”

The following is an official statement from Surprise Mayor Sharon Wolcott and City Manager Chris Hillman, dated May 5, 2014, regarding the pension practice known as “spiking.”

Recently, there have been news reports about the cities of Phoenix and Tucson and the pension practice referred to as “spiking” by some of their respective city employees preparing to retire.

Pension spiking is a practice in which employees convert benefits, such as unused sick or vacation time, to boost their final salary or extend their credited length of city service. Salary and length of service are basic criteria used in calculating public employees’ pension amounts.

Pension spiking is prohibited by both the Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS) and Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS), which Surprise employees are members of, as the city does not have its own retirement plan. Both of these state retirement systems are subject to Arizona statutory regulations and have specific rules as to when and how Surprise employees are eligible to retire.

Thus, represented (union) and non-represented employees are not allowed to convert unused sick and/or vacation time to inflate their final salary figure or years of service prior to retiring from the city of Surprise.

Caring for Cabrina

As mayor, I deal with regional and community-wide issues every day.  I don’t often have a chance to share with you personal stories from Surprise that touch me so deeply.

But today, I want to tell you about someone very important. Her name is Cabrina Heil and she is 12 years old.  She is part of a generous and loving family.  Her parents, Rose and Jason Heil, and her siblings,  Jacob (10), Abby (6), and Brooklyn (1) have shared a happy life in our community, and friends say their frequent acts of kindness, whether opening their home to a loved one during a time of need, or volunteering at church, have been characterized by a welcoming, willing spirit.

Not long after Thanksgiving, on December 6, Cabrina was diagnosed with an inoperable malignant tumor, which has since cost her the use of one eye. Now in the care of a team of excellent doctors at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Cabrina is in the midst of a six-week radiation and chemotherapy regimen.  Ultimately, she will not recover.

Caring for Cabrina and spending as much time with her as possible has become her family’s first priority. We need to work together to make that possible for them.  I hope you agree with me that this beautiful young girl and her family need and deserve the full power and support of her community during this difficult time.


Photo Courtesy of Chace Salon


On January 25, 2014, Rose Heil’s coworkers at Chace Salon (16630 West Greenway Road #302, Surprise) led by owners Kim Peacock and Cory Flotta, will host a Cut-a-Thon for Cabrina, from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm, with all proceeds benefiting the Heil family.  The stylists at Chace Salon, along with friends and neighbors of the Heils would like to help create a beautiful new bedroom for Cabrina in the family’s first-ever new home, along with the financial support that will allow Cabrina’s parents to be home with her.

In addition to the Cut-a-thon, you can also contribute to the Heil family by making a deposit in a specially designated bank account:

Arizona State Credit Union

Belinda Shafer

Sub-Account: Cabrina

Routing Number: 322172496

Account Number: 0046040006

 Arizona State Credit Union has locations throughout the Valley. The nearest to Surprise is 8285 West Union Hills Drive, Suite 106, Glendale, AZ 85308.

I wish I could express how touched I am by Cabrina’s story and her family’s courage and determination.  I feel honored to have the opportunity to help her and her family during this difficult trial by reaching out to all of you and asking for your kindest consideration.  It is not often that one can have an immediate impact in the lives of people in immense need.  I hope you will reach out to help a Surprise family in such need.

My thoughts and prayers will continue to be with Cabrina and her family, now and always.

Join the City of Surprise in our efforts to support Yarnell during the Surprise 4th of July event

On behalf of the City Council, our employees, our public safety personnel, and all the residents of our community, I want to express how heartbroken we are by this unspeakable tragedy, and how deeply we too feel the loss of these brave firefighters who died in service to their fellow Arizonans.

On July 4th, at Surprise Stadium, our annual Fireworks celebration is scheduled to begin at approximately 8:30PM, immediately after the Rookie League game between the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals. It is a free celebration, and it is always a high point in our community life. This year, it will also be a chance for us to come together, remember, and help.

Whether you come for the ball game, the fireworks, or both, you will have the opportunity to bow your head in memory of those who died, and to contribute to the support of the families who mourn them. Our Surprise Firefighters Charities will be on hand to accept your donations and see to it that all monies collected are delivered to bereaved families.

I can also tell you that the City of Surprise will donate our proceeds from all food and beverage sales at the Stadium on July 4th. Out Stadium vendor, Aramark, has also generously offered to donate a share of their proceeds, and we thank them. This means in addition to what you care to donate personally, a portion of what you buy at concessions will also help surviving families.

I hope you will join me, many members of our council, and thousands of your neighbors Thursday at Surprise Stadium. Let’s unite in celebrating America, and at the same time helping these grief stricken families, and remembering a group of special people whose death reminds us of how important family and community really are. Click here for more information