County Advancements

Women make history in elections; focus shifts to trees, economy, education

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Gila County is a diverse, wide ranging county with a rich, storied history that includes a feud between cattle ranchers and sheep herders.

The county covers 4,752 square miles of both desert terrain and mountain ranges with elevations from 2,000 to 7,000 feet.

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A goal of county government during the coming years will be to help secure funding for a bridge over Tonto Creek. Currently when the river flows, students must be bussed to Tonto Basin School in a U.S. Army surplus transport 10-wheeler.

The elevation differences provide for a wide variety of economic activities including ranching, agriculture, mining, construction, some lumbering, tourism and recreation.

Today, agriculture and ranching contributes almost $9 million a year to the economy, according to the county's website.

The southern portions of Gila County are a great source of mineral wealth -- both copper and silver.

History books will always mention the county as the home of the legendary Graham-Tewksbury feud near Pleasant Valley. It began in the 1870s, lasted 15 years and claimed dozens of lives.

Gila County was established in 1881 from portions of Maricopa and Pinal Counties and now includes parts of both the San Carlos and Fort Apache reservations as well as all of the Tonto Apache lands. In fact, reservations make up 37 percent of Gila County; more than 58 percent of the county is federal lands and only about four percent is private.

On those lands are a variety of attractions including Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, the Besh-Be-Gowah Indian Ruins near Globe, the Shoofly ruins near Payson, the Salt River Canyon and Roosevelt Lake.

Gila County also is the home of several unincorporated towns, including Christopher Creek, Strawberry, Gisela, Punkin Center and Rye. All depend on the county for government and services.

The board of supervisors

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Tommie Cline Martin, District 1 Gila County Supervisor

The responsibility for governing the county is shouldered mostly by the board of supervisors. In 2004, voters elected not one, but two women to the board of supervisors -- the first women to hold the county's highest elected office.

The board consists of Chairman Jose Sanchez, District 2; Vice Chairman Tommie Cline Martin, District 1; and Shirley Dawson, District 3.

As the District 1 supervisor, Martin represents Payson and most of the surrounding area. Prior to her being sworn into office this January, she said her focus would be on trees, tangible wealth and education.

"I have an agenda about healthy forests and bringing industry back and using it as a part of the solution for healthy forests," she said. "I want us to jump-start industry at every opportunity."

One of Martin's goals is also to make county services more readily available to those in Payson and other portions of northern Gila County.

The facility she envisions in Payson would be "a one-stop shop that includes a new jail with a secure, attached courtroom," she said.

Martin also would like to see citizens take a more active role in their government.

"I want people re-engaged," she said. "Whatever we do should give them faith and trust and a desire to becoming involved. Our most important infrastructure is a partnership with the people."

Martin and her fellow supervisors also will face the challenge of helping northern Gila County maintain and develop a firm water supply for years to come.

The supervisors can rely on the Northern Gila County Water Plan Alliance Strategic Plan that began at a Sept. 19, 1997 Town Hall meeting organized and directed by then District 1 supervisor Ron Christensen.

From that meeting, a water plan was developed that is intended to serve the county through 2050.

In addition to the water plan, the board of supervisors will benefit from several other accomplishments of their predecessors. Among them is an "Equity to Road District Funding" edict, an overhauling of the county jail system, paying off the county's debt and closing the Gila County Hospital.

As much as previous supervisors were able to accomplish, there are new challenges Martin and her fellow supervisors will have to overcome.

"(The new board) is going to have to go down there at the legislature and fight for rural issues up against Maricopa and Pima counties all the time," Christensen said.

In making Gila County's case known to the legislators, the board has an able aide in county liaison Lionel Martinez.

"He has so much experience and he knows how to help us with our issues and the legislature," Christensen said.

County government in northern Gila County

In Payson, Gila County has a number of departments. They include a justice court, sheriff, constable, superior court, health, assessor, treasurer, fiduciary, attorney, probation, community service and others.

The sheriff's substation is manned by an area commander, 14 deputies, two detectives, four dispatchers and six jailers. The jail also is used by the town of Payson Police Department, Department of Public Safety and the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Also in the northern Gila counties of Payson, Young and Tonto Basin, the county helps maintain two public libraries and contributes to parks and recreation departments.

For businesses wishing to expand or relocate, the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation has been working since 1987 to improve the economy of northern Gila County. The organization's goal is to recruit new businesses, retain and expand existing ones and increase tourism and recreation.

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