Water Tops County Leaders' List

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Gila County's top 10 accomplishments in 1999 included several road projects, assistance to families in need and individuals impacted by the BHP copper mine layoffs, working with other groups to find a long-term solution to the county's water needs, and securing additional funding for payment of federal lands from Congress.

When asked to pick out the county's major accomplishment for 1999, Dist. 1 Supervisor Ron Christensen said, "All of these are very important."

Christensen said the one thing that would affect most of Gila County was the lobbying effort on behalf of the county to increase and secure additional funding in lieu of taxes from Congress.

"All federal projects out here are managed by the federal government," he said.

In 1976, Congress enacted a law that paid local governments for services associated with the existence of federal lands.

"We went for many years without increases," the supervisor said. "We then lobbied Congress to keep up with inflation. Congress fell way behind on payments. We continue to work at that payment in lieu of taxes is a substitute for the federal properties being taxed by local governments."

The federal government now pays the county 8 or 9 cents an acre which amounts to $134 million nationally, he said. The federal government should be paying $400 million in payments in lieu of taxes.

"For example roads," he said. "Districts 1 and 3 spend about $200,000 more on those roads than we receive back. We feel we should be maintaining them, but we should be reimbursed. Lots of people use our roads that are not (our) taxpayers."

Road projects around the county also are high on Christensen's list of accomplishments.

He said the paving of Houston Mesa Road is 80-percent complete. Two bridges will be built across the East Verde River to complete the project, which will provide an all-weather road.

Fossil Creek Road is another one of the county's priorities. Design work on the narrow, winding road west of Highway 87 on the edge of Strawberry has begun.

Christensen said the first phase of work on Fossil Creek Road should be started this summer and will probably begin at Highway 87 and end at the Strawberry Schoolhouse.

As always, Gila County is focused on finding and transporting water to northern Gila County communities, Christensen said.

This year, the county will drill 2,000 feet into the ground near Strawberry deeper than anyone in the Rim country has drilled before. County officials think that great, underground rivers flow beneath the Rim and surface at Fossil Springs and six other natural springs near Strawberry. They're hoping to tap those "rivers" to provide Pine and Strawberry with a stable new source of drinking water.

"We know water flows to those springs," Christensen said, "but we don't know where the water comes from."

The county's exploratory drilling project, which is scheduled to begin this year, was designed to find out.

"These are just on-going things," Christensen said. "I think we're going to see these remain on the list for some time. They are really quite important issues that we're facing."

Accomplishments of Gila County in 1999

Completed realignment of Houston Mesa Road;

Started design of Fossil Creek Road;

Started construction of juvenile detention facility;

Started design of Six Shooter Bridge project;

Worked with Payson to complete rodeo grounds project;

Provided housing rehabilitation to six families in the northern area, which totaled about $90,000 in funding;

Assisted 630 families/1,555 individuals, at an estimated cost of $89,515. Assistance was provided for emergency rent, utility payments, utility deposits, weatherization, and emergency shelter, clothing, firewood, and telephone assistance;

Served about 700 individuals impacted by the BHP copper mine layoff. Many were enrolled in retraining and on-the-job training contracts with local employers;

Department of Interior, Department of Water Resources, the Navajo Nation and Gila County are working together to find a long-term solution to the water needs of Gila County;

Successfully increased and secured additional funding for payment in lieu of taxes from Congress.

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