Congressman Defends Funding For Gila County

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In a flier from Congressman Rick Renzi's office recently, it appeared to some that Gila County was severely overlooked when it came to federal funds.

The flier arrived in the eight counties of District 1 during the first week of June.

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Congressman Rick Renzi

Amid projects totaling up to $40 million for some counties, Gila County's total was $150,000. The money was used for an assessment of a bridge over Tonto Creek.

Renzi claims the flier didn't reflect all of the projects in Gila County.

In a list of accomplishments supplied by Renzi's office, Renzi said he has worked on several projects for Gila County, including one to improve Highway 60 to Gonzales Pass ($11 million), one to perform forest-thinning operations on the Tonto National Forest ($1 million), and one to establish a sustainable drinking water system on the Fort Apache Reservation ($300,000).

The list also included $500,000 for education to be sent in 2005, pending approval from Congress.

So if Renzi has sent so much money to Gila County, why wasn't that reflected in the flier?

"In the space available on the mailer, we only listed one item for Gila County. The Tonto Bridge project is a very significant allocation and the $150,000 represents the first stage of millions of dollars in future funding for the construction of the bridge," Renzi said via e-mail.

"To the people who live in the affected area behind Tonto Creek, the prospect of a new bridge was important news that we wanted to share with the entire community."

Renzi said he also is working on other projects for the county, such as improving the health of local forests.

For many county officials, the flier did not come close to representing all that Renzi has done for Arizona.

"He's been extremely supportive," said Supervisor Ron Christensen, Gila County District 1.

"There are so many requests, so many projects coming to him. We end up competing with everyone else out there, and he has been extraordinarily fair about doing that."

Connie Bullock agreed. The Mogollon Republican Women treasurer and founder said that when she received the flier, she was happy to see plans in place for the people of Tonto Basin.

"Those people really do need help," Bullock said. "They can't get in or out. I was just so happy that that had happened, that I didn't think about anything else. He has been a pleasant surprise. He was worked hard for all the counties."

While Renzi has attracted many followers, some remain skeptical of his work.

"My personal opinion is that he's all skin and teeth," said Mark Reza, chair of the Gila County Democratic Party. "He's a nice-looking fellow, but he doesn't get it."

Reza said Renzi could do so much more for Gila County, like convincing the federal government to spend more money in the county.

"Where's our money? We have to pay for roads and all the other things that are part of the county," Reza said. "The federal government should pay a fair share."

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