Keeping Money Highway Robbery

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When the Payson Town Council convenes Thursday evening, one of the items on the agenda will be the recovery of $192,450 in vehicle license taxes improperly distributed by Gila County to the towns of Globe, Hayden, Winkelman and Miami.

The amount of vehicle license taxes due to municipalities is based on population, and the money due Payson has been going to the wrong towns since 1996 because Gila County Treasurer Priscilla Knuckey-Ralls was unaware of the 1995 special census that increased Payson's population from 8,377 to 11,004.

In a letter to Knuckey-Ralls dated Oct. 11, Anna Ortiz, attorney for the towns of Miami and Hayden, stakes out a new position on the matter. Ortiz explains that because the overpayment was not its fault, the Town of Miami had previously only been willing to reimburse Payson for half of the monies it wrongfully received. But since the results of the special census were never certified to the state treasurer as required by law, Miami and Hayden officials now think "there has been no overpayment to any city or town in Gila County."

Passing on the temptation to use the term "highway robbery," we would like to respectfully point out to Ms. Ortiz that there is a difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.

Fortunately Deputy County Attorney Mark Gunning agrees. In an Oct. 6 letter to Payson Mayor Ray Schum and the mayors of the other four towns, he wrote, "We must now determine how each municipality must repay Payson the amounts the Treasurer overpaid since July 1996."

Gunning also points out that "Payson has been very obliging with the Treasurer and municipalities," and that its "accommodation in resolving this issue" is appreciated.

Payson Town Attorney Sam Streichman will ask the council Thursday evening for permission to pursue this matter with the possible assistance of Gunning. There is little doubt the council will grant him that permission.

And while there is much to be said for taking the high road in this matter, there also comes a time when being the nice guy becomes counter productive.

Considering the fact that the towns of Miami and Hayden are trying to use a technicality to keep the money that is rightfully due the Town of Payson, that time might be now.

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