Fire Safety, Financial Help And A Bridge Point To County's Progress

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Gila County Deputy Manager John Nelson has been seeing to the county's business for a number of years. When asked to share what he thought were the highlights of 2005, he cited three things: fire safety, getting help on the cost of indigent health care, and a Tonto Creek bridge.

"(Gila County District 1 Supervisor) Tommie Martin is leading the charge for fire safety," Nelson said.

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Dan Oltrogge, Type 1 Incident Management Team commander, addressed a packed house of concerned Pine and Strawberry residents when the Cave Creek Complex Fire threatened their communities in June 2005. Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin believes mismanagement of the national forests by the U.S. government has put the Rim Country at risk. She plans to ask Washington, D.C. for funds to fire-proof our communities.

Martin's background in ranching and land- use issues in the Southwest gives her firsthand knowledge of forest health and its role in fire safety. Martin has said on a number of occasions that she believes the mismanagement of the national forests by the United States government is the reason the West is now facing crises.

Armed with that knowledge, Martin is going to lobby in Washington, D.C. for funds to help make northern Gila County communities safe from catastrophic forest fires.

Second on Nelson's list of 2005 accomplishments: a team effort by the entire board of supervisors -- Martin, Chairman Joe Sanchez and Shirley Dawson -- may pay off for the county.

The supervisors have lobbied the Arizona Legislature to change the way it determines how counties repay for long-term care of indigent residents.

Nelson said if efforts are successful and there is a change in the formula, Gila County could save up to $1.2 million annually.

Currently Gila County is paying more than any other county in the state for the long-term care of indigents. Also being hit with a substantial bill from the state are Pinal, Santa Cruz and Yavapai counties, Nelson said.

"We all have a lot of people retiring from Maricopa County, and many of our young people are leaving for jobs in the Valley," Nelson said.

Similarly, Yuma, LaPaz and Mohave counties have a lot of Californians retiring within their boundaries and that will start costing them, Nelson said.

On the other hand, counties with a large portion of their populations on reservations don't pay nearly as much, he said.

The goal is to have an average per capita cost formula created, so all counties pay relatively similar amounts.

"We're a mobile society, so using county boundaries (in the formula) doesn't make a lot of sense," Nelson said.

Rounding out Nelson's top three points of progress for Gila County is the money secured by Congressman Rick Renzi for a bridge across Tonto Creek.

"It looks like we will really be getting a bridge," Nelson said.

The county and others have struggled for decades to find money to build a bridge across Tonto Creek in the Tonto Basin area to provide a safe crossing during times of flood.

Renzi won approval for $3 million in July 2005 to begin the planning phase of the project. The planning portion includes public meetings on design and location, engineering, mapping, surveys and structural analysis.

Additional funding will be needed for construction.

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