Roads throughout Gila County have been improving over the past 10 years since Gila County voters elected to increase sales tax by a half cent in November 1994.
In exchange for passing a half-cent sales tax, the county's property tax was reduced and a separate fund, the Regional Road Improvement Fund, was created for all county roads, Gila County Manager John Nelson said.
There has been, however, a dispute over whether or not the county was to share a portion of the Regional Road Improvement Fund with the incorporated municipalities of Payson, Globe, Hayden, Winkleman and Miami.
Prior to the election in 1994, voters were told the tax was "to raise funds specifically for the maintenance of county roads," according to reports published at the time.
On Feb. 18, the Roundup reported that according to former mayor Craig Swartwood, the town was led to believe that the county was supposed to share those funds, estimated at $1.4 million annually, but the county has spent the money entirely in unincorporated areas.
"Revenue sharing was not part of the conversation," said Gila County Director of Emergency Services Steve Besich, then county manager.
Nelson, who was then in the county finance department, said he recalled that the municipalities were invited to participate with their support, but they declined.
"The proposition was worded (to indicate the money was) for only county roads," Nelson said.
He said, one of the blocks to making improvements is the fact that very few roads in the unincorporated areas of Gila County match their legal descriptions. Often the roads wind into private property. This is the case with Pine Creek Road and with Fossil Creek Road.
Nelson said the county does its major road projects where there is the most need.
Additionally, a single county road department was created rather than allocating road funds to the individual road departments in the different supervisor districts.
"We have benefited from that change," said District 1 County Supervisor Tommie Cline Martin. "When we substituted the sales tax for property taxes, more money came in for roads," she said. Previously between $900,000 and $1 million of the county's general fund was allocated to the roads; with the road sales tax approved, between $2.2 and $2.4 million has been generated annually for road maintenance and improvement.
"You can see it with improved roads," said Martin.
Among the northern Gila County roads upgraded with the sales tax money: Houston Mesa Road, Fossil Creek Road, Gibson Ranch Road into Round Valley and Moonlight Drive in Star Valley. Martin said the money also allowed the county to make improvements to the Control Road.
"To improve a road in this part of the county is a tougher endeavor than in the southern part," Martin said. "It's a more complex issue with our soil conditions and rougher country."
"We have already started survey work on Pine Creek Road," Martin said. Pine Creek Road is slated for improvement in the coming months.
"Pine Creek Canyon is possibly the biggest fire hazard in the state, if not the West," Nelson said. "The road is too narrow." He said they can either evacuate the residents or send in emergency vehicles, but they can't do both. County officials hope the improvements will make responding to emergencies possible with both measures.
Gila County voters approved the the half-cent sales tax increase 53.7 percent to 46.3 percent.
(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts on the state of roads in northern Gila County. The first part appeared in the Feb. 18 edition of the Roundup.)