If you run into Barbara Ganz, provost of Gila County Community College Programs, chances are good you'll get an earful about the advantages of Proposition 400.
Ganz is on a mission to get the message out that passing the measure, which would establish a provisional community college district, is critical to the future of higher education in Gila County.
"I do not perceive any downside from an operational perspective," Ganz said. "This is such a win-win for the community and for education."
Ganz is attending neighborhood cookouts, coffee gatherings and just about any other assembly of two or more people who will listen to her.
She tells them that Gila County is one of four counties in the state without enough population or valuation to have our own community college district. As a result, the county is required by state law to partner with another community college district to operate the Payson and Globe campuses and the Hayden/ Winkelman and San Carlos education centers.
For many years that partner was Eastern Arizona College, but Gila County recently severed that relationship. Beginning this school year, Gila County's new partner is Pima Community College.
"By creating our own district, we will have our own elected local board controlling our college programs," Ganz said. "Right now all we can have is an advisory committee that makes suggestions to the district we are contracting with."
If the measure passes, Armida Bittner, county school superintendent, will appoint a five-member board, one member from each of five districts, until those districts can elect their own representative in the next election.
Another major advantage Ganz tells her audiences is that Gila County will no longer have to pay out-of-county tuition.
"Whenever our residents choose to attend a community college in another county, Gila County taxpayer dollars are sent to that county in the form of out-of-county tuition," Ganz said. "Once we create our own district, we no longer have to pay this fee for our students to go to another county."
Gila County stands to save $1 million a year in out-of-county tuition currently paid to Maricopa, Pima and other counties including Graham County, despite the fact that EAC, our previous partner, is based there.
The Gila County Board of Supervisors is committed to using the money saved for:
Community college capital equipment needs such as long-distance learning upgrades.
Financial aid for water needs and ranching problems.
Property tax rate equalization.
A Globe-based group that opposes Proposition 400 Taxpayers Against Provisional College District says the measure will eventually lead to higher taxes. They point to ballot wording that stipulates "a maximum primary property tax levy limit of $4,125,015....", well above the $2.9 million paid last year to Eastern Arizona College.
The group also believes the county is using underhanded tactics to get it passed.
"The main problem I have with this thing is that the Industrial Development (Authority) of Gila County gave ... a public relations firm in Phoenix $85,000 to make us all say 'yes,'" said Mildred Wills, chairman of the group. "If this was something that the board of supervisors wanted to be fair about, all they had to do was put all the pros and the cons on an 8 1/2 X 11 piece of paper, slip it in my tax bill, and let us make up our own minds.
"The bottom line is, nobody down here trusts our board of supervisors that's the bottom line. We're really not against the provisional community college district, per se."
Ganz counters that $4,125,015 is the minimum levy limit allowable by state statute and must be included in the ballot language. Not only does Gila County have no intention of assessing that amount, it is guaranteed that taxes will not increase the first year.
"These people are confusing issues," she said. "Whether or not they trust the board of supervisors and whether or not they like the switch to Pima Community College aren't what this is about. We planned to put this measure on the ballot even if we had stayed with EAC."
The provost points out that there are 21 tax jurisdictions in Gila County with levy limits, 19 of which are under those limits by a total of $7,569,140. The two that are at their limit are the Whispering Pines and Tonto Basin fire districts.
Ganz hopes that the final message she leaves with the groups she addresses reduces a very complicated issue to a few simple words:
"If you want to stop paying an extra $1 million to other counties for community college services ..., vote 'yes' on Prop. 400. If you want to strengthen local control through an elected board of your neighbors, vote 'yes' on Prop. 400."
Prop. 400 workshop
Proposition 400 will be the topic of discussion at a forum scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday in the community room of the Rim Country Learning Center at Highway 260 and Mud Springs Road. Provost Barbara Ganz and county officials will be on hand to answer questions.