After Years Of Citizen Complaints, County Taking Action

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On Sept. 19, 2006, we ran an editorial about the need for new jail and court facilities in Gila County. The title of the editorial was "Another verse on courts, same as the first," which referred to the fact that we had run a very similar editorial on Sept. 5, 2003.

For years, this newspaper has pointed out the inadequacies of our courts and jails -- they are unsafe and unacceptable.

Finally, after years of pacing on the editorial page, there is an opportunity for change.

The Gila County Board of Supervisors is taking the initiative to solve this problem -- both in Payson and in Globe. Not only do we want to announce our complete support for the process ahead, but we would like to ask the community to step forward and get involved.

On Tuesday, Dec. 5, the Board of Supervisors voted to move forward on the possible creation of a jail district tax and a property tax to fund new jail and court facilities in Gila County. They voted to hire a financial advisor -- Stone and Youngburg -- and to hire a facilitator for a committee being put in place to explore the needs and make a recommendation to the county.

This committee -- which will be beholden to the Open Meeting Law -- will have 18 members. Each supervisor will appoint three members from their district. Each town and tribe in Gila County will appoint one member.

The committee members may not be elected officials or work for elected officials. They will be volunteers, and their expenses, such as travel, will be paid.

These volunteers will commit to one meeting per week for the first six months of the process. These meetings will be open to the public and will be announced in the pages of this newspaper, on the county's Web site and posted around town. We encourage you to attend and get involved in the conversation.

They will travel to every court and jail facilities around the state and county. They will visit with elected officials and listen to the advice of experts. They will be asked to work for the good of the entire county, not just for their home district.

"We need some new eyes in this conversation," District 1 supervisor Tommie Martin said.

At the end of the research period, the committee will bring a recommendation before the Board of Supervisors explaining the needs, what it will cost and what those new facilities should look like.

New jails could be built through the creation of a county jail district -- a taxing entity already in place in most counties across Arizona. According to state statute, a jail district can levy up to a half-cent sales tax or 50 cents per 100 dollars for 20 years. That would raise $3 million per year.

Any taxes, if recommended will appear on the November 2007 ballot.

A new courthouse would be paid for through long term financing and a property tax that would equal $8 per $100,000 of assessed value.

Today, Dec. 12, the Board of Supervisors will be seating several members of the committee.

The ball is already rolling.

Residents need to be involved. Attend the meetings. Express your views. If you have an area of expertise, the committee will welcome your input.

Any questions should be directed to Tommie Martin at (928) 474-2029 or e-mail tmartin@co.gila.az.us. She also has an opinion line if you only want to leave a message with your thoughts. Call (928) 472-5353.

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