Payson and Gila County officials met for two hours Monday but failed to resolve their conflict over the funding of the town's library.
Officials from Globe, Miami and Hayden were also on hand for the meeting at the county courthouse in Globe to discuss the county's proposed cut in the County Free Library District property tax rate. The proposal would reduce the county's funding to municipal libraries in the four towns for the current fiscal year.
The Payson Public Library could see a loss of $92,000 in county funding in the coming year if the supervisors adopt a proposed 6 cent cut in the library district tax rate.
County Attorney Mark Dunning told the mayors and town councils that if they no longer wanted to be a part of the library district, they could dissolve their relationship with the county's library district -- but residents within the municipalities would still have to pay the secondary property tax that funds the district.
"Based on the raw reading of the statute, all of the county must pay the tax," Dunning said.
He also said that the Board of Directors of the Library District, the three members of the Gila County Board of Supervisors, determine how much that tax will be.
Payson Mayor Vern Stiffler told the group, "There's nothing more damaging or hurtful than a family fight -- even a resolution here is going to leave lasting scars."
Mayor chides supervisors
Stiffler told the supervisors that Payson town officials had acted in a "most natural way" to demands from the county to pay for health care costs that had previously been funded by the county.
Stiffler said when Payson town officials told the county to "go fly a kite," they did so because the county was wrong.
"What you have done is wrong," he said. "Let's give taxpayers some consideration and do what is right for them."
Stiffler told the supervisors that Payson town officials want full funding for the library.
"If the library district is not working, let's make it work," he said. "Let's take some time and make it work."
He also said that Payson would be willing to assist in solving the county's budget woes -- but in a timely manner.
Town officials from Hayden, Globe and Miami called for a funding formula for the library district and time to come to a solution that would deal with the county's declining revenues from the mining industry. One proposal that was submitted included a gradual tax reduction by one cent a year for six years.
County Administrator Steve Besich told the group that if the library tax is cut, the libraries outside the municipalities would not be affected because they have no real ability to raise money.
Payson Town Council member Ken Murphy said municipalities are already subsidizing libraries in outlying areas because of the amount of property tax that is collected within towns' limits.
"We don't mind putting in more than we're getting back," he said, "but let's look at other things we can share costs on."
"Your problem is a shortfall," Stiffler told the supervisors. "But you're making it up on the backs of the libraries."
District 1 Supervisor Ron Christensen said the Board of Supervisors is not singling out libraries. He said the supervisors are going over each general fund item, looking at what the county has been providing one department at a time.
District 2 Supervisor Edward Guerrero said that there are some costs over which the county has little control, and that there is an obligation to provide some services.
"All we're trying to do is leave as much money in the taxpayers' pockets as we possibly can. We have to do what we have to do as a board," he said.
But Stiffler said he saw no benefit to the taxpayer when the library district tax is reduced by 6 cents to offset a 30-cent increase in the property tax rate in the general fund.
"As we evaluate what you have offered here today," Christensen said, "we are rapidly running out of time."
County services to state?
He talked about turning some of the county's services over to the state, a solution that may require county residents to travel long distances for some services. "Those are the things, as the years pass, that we will have to look at," he said.
District 3 Supervisor Cruz Salas said, "I'm embarrassed that all of us are fighting amongst ourselves. We're going to have to raise taxes this year. Because of the high cost of health programs, we may have to raise taxes by 30 cents, but we haven't made any decision."
The Gila County Board of Supervisors will set the county's tax rates Aug. 16. As of Tuesday morning no more meetings were scheduled between Payson officials and the supervisors before Aug. 16, said Payson Town Manager Rich Underkofler.
"It's a tragedy for county and local government officials to be scrapping like this," said Underkofler, who was not at Monday's meeting. "What we should do is join hands and go down to the State Legislature to get them to pay for health care costs rather than expecting local property-tax-payers to pay for services that are mandated by the State Legislature."