Miscommunication Creates Tension Between County, Towns

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Supervisor Tommie Martin said the county's absence from a joint council meeting earlier this week wasn't a snub.

She and fellow county officials were caught between legal liability and political inequity when they opted not to join the mayors of Payson and Star Valley, council members and the staffs of both towns Tuesday evening.

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Mayors Bob Edwards and Chuck Heron say that although northern Gila County generates the bulk of property taxes, it doesn't receive a fair share of services.

To attend a meeting with open-ended agenda items is a violation of open-meeting laws; to discuss policies that affect the entire county without full representation is unfair.

"Maybe with (Mayor Bob Edwards) being so new to the area, he doesn't understand state law and county restraints," Martin said. "There is no way to have a localized solution to water or forest health."

More than 25 representatives from Star Valley and Payson attended a joint meeting at the library Tuesday evening to consider what they said were long-neglected regional issues, including the bypass route; the improvement of county services and public safety facilities, and a possible relocation of the county seat.

"Some of these issues are county issues," Martin said. "Why didn't we have a meeting that included everyone? (The county supervisors) don't care where the county seat is. It's not our decision."

To balance the power, the panel considered splitting the county or creating a referendum to increase the county board by two, but both option are impossible by law. State statute dictates population and tax base requirements, and Gila County doesn't meet either of them.

Edwards said the county's lack of presence was mind-boggling considering more than 75 percent of taxes are generated in northern Gila County.

Martin said she disagreed with Edwards' statements. Gila County has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars toward fire prevention and the Bureau of Reclamation's three-year Mogollon Rim Water Resources Management Study.

Edwards and Star Valley Mayor Chuck Heron directed town staff to send a letter to the county supervisors.

Martin and District 3 Supervisor Shirley Dawson, as of press time, hadn't received the letter.

"I suggested to (Edwards) that we have a countywide summit," Dawson said. "All of us need to understand how big Gila County is. The duplication of services is horrendously expensive."

Meanwhile, Payson and Star Valley officials will continue to seek a partnerships with the county, and Martin and Dawson said they'll work on ironing out the legal logistics.

The joint councils will hold a second meeting Monday, Sept. 25.

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