While members of the Board of Supervisors recognize the need for new jail and court facilities, the decision is not in their hands. The decision to move forward must be made by voters, because voters will ultimately be the ones footing the bill.
The costs of improvements to court and jail facilities in Payson and Globe would be paid by a proposed countywide, half-cent sales tax.
For the sales tax to go to voters in November 2007, the Gila County Board of Supervisors must first approve the measure.
The sales tax would be an extra 50 cents on every $100 that is spent in the county.
On Tuesday, the board took a few steps toward this measure when it approved the citizen's advisory committee, authorized staff to procure a facility for this process and appointed a county financial advisor to look into it.
Gila County manager Steve Besich said the advisory committee will begin looking at the possibility in late December or early January and will study it for about six months.
He said the committee will then make a recommendation in May or June to the Board of Supervisors who can call for a special election on the half-cent sales tax.
District I Supervisor Tommie Martin said she is adamant and determined that the county will have better jail facilities.
She said the board agreed Tuesday to look into this possibility.
There is one supervisor who would probably like for this to be pushed back to the November 2008 election, she said, which she strongly opposes.
"I want to vote on it in 2007, so it does not get hidden in the politics of the day," she said, meaning the presidential election in 2008.
She said all three supervisors are in support of a jail district, though their time frames may differ.
The half-cent sales tax would generate about $3 million a year, said Deputy County Manager John Nelson.
Martin sad the half-cent sales tax would last 20 years. The first half of the funds would be to build the facilities, while the other 50 percent could be used to run the operations of the new buildings.
As an example, Martin pointed to the $1 million a year it costs to operate the juvenile detention center in Globe.
"It certainly is time to (create) a jail district," she said.
The District I supervisor envisions Globe having the larger facilities, because that town has the land and the affordable housing over Payson.
Martin said one of the things the county needs to do is to get the public on board with this project. She encourages residents to visit the facilities to make up their own minds before going to the polls.
Martin believes her two colleagues on the board, Shirley Dawson and Joe Sanchez, want this to move forward.
What the county has, she said, is obviously not working and it could be facing sanctions in the near future.
"We are on the verge of being out of general compliance," she said, adding it would take millions of dollars to solve the problems if that were to ever happen.
"This has to be fixed," the supervisor said. She added that she has been told officers drive 250,000 miles a year to transport prisoners back and forth to Globe and Payson as well as transportation for picking up supplies. She said what is also troubling is how inmates are being transported to the court, which is across the street from the jail in Payson.
"We shackle them and haul them across Colcord Road through witnesses and visitors," she said, adding that it is sometimes hard to believe that is actually happening.
She said he likes the idea of having an open house for the jails in the county, so residents can see the conditions for themselves.
While a half-cent sales tax could be used to build jails, Martin thinks there would need to be a property tax to fund general obligation bonds to build courthouses. This would also require voter approval.
Supervisor Joe Sanchez said he agrees with Martin.
"It is something the board is seriously looking at," he said, adding that it has taken the first steps to look at the overall process.
"I think a new jail here and in Payson is much needed," he said. "We are developing a matrix that will get us to this point."
He said the half-cent sales tax proposal is in response to some of the concerns on the lack of facilities in the county.
"I think this is a very important thing for our residents so they can make an educated vote when this is placed on the ballot," Sanchez said.
Attempts to reach Dawson were unsuccessful.
Editor's note: See Tommie Martin's guest comment in this issue of the Payson Roundup.