County Squeezed By Drop In Mines' Tax Payments

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Most years, the budget process for Gila County has been relatively painless, as county leaders add up the numbers that will set the spending limits for the coming year.

This year's bean-counting sessions resulted in a $47.4 million tentative budget and has been far from painless, said District 1 Supervisor Ron Christensen.

The end result of the planning process --which has included battles over funding for the health department and libraries --could be as much as an 8.2-percent increase in the county's property tax rate, according to County Finance Director John Nelson.

The most notable source of contention, Christensen said, has been the dispute between the county and towns of Payson and Globe over funding for the county health department.

The Gila County Health Department provides services to county residents, such as flu shots and immunizations, a well-baby clinic, health inspections of restaurants and other health-related matters.

"For years, the county has provided this health care," Christensen said, "but with the increase in population, and decrease in our tax base, it's just not possible any longer. With the loss of the copper mines, we simply cannot maintain the same level of services without some compensation."

Christensen said Gila County's incorporated towns were asked to chip in, but only Hayden/Winkleman and Miami responded favorably.

"Globe and Payson both said no, so we've had to look at other alternatives," Christensen said.

That alternative may come at the expense of the county's libraries, as the supervisors look at dropping library funding from 24.25 cents to 18 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

"In other words," Nelson said, "we'd be taking about $174,432 away from the libraries, and putting that into the health department."

"The libraries would then have to either cut back their expenses, or the towns will have to kick in to help fund them," Christensen said.

Another item on the tentative budget is an $80,000 item for water development fees.

"That item is mainly for attorney's fees associated with the regional water alliance I've formed," Christensen said. "This is for the development of water for the entire northern end of the county."

Christensen said it was imperative that the county use an attorney who specialized in water development, property rights and water credits.

When asked why the entire county was being charged for water in the north, Christensen said the southern half of Gila County was invited to join the alliance. "The other end of the county --Globe, Miami, Hayden/Winkleman --they were smart enough not to sell off their CAP allocations. We had to go out and secure another water supply." That water supply, he said, will probably come from off the top of the Mogollon Rim.

The tentative budget for the sheriff's department is up slightly over last year, but Christensen said he was encouraged by the turn-around in the department.

"We still have problems with the sheriff's department, but it has vastly improved," he said. "This is the first time in I don't know how many years that the sheriff (Joe Rodriquez) didn't overrun his budget.

Christensen said this is also the first time the sheriff's department has provided justification for proposed expenditures, instead of just throwing a dollar amount into the budget.

Also included in the tentative budget is a 2.5-percent, across-the-board raise for all county employees.

"That was an absolutely necessary increase," Christensen said. "We keep losing our best people. We can't afford to keep losing them."

Adoption of the tentative budget will take place at a public hearing at 10:15 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3 at the Supervisor's auditorium, 1400 E. Ash St., in Globe.

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