Mayor Says Meeting Will Put Pressure On County

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Elected officials who represent northern Gila County say their constituents need better services and improved funding to accommodate the area's growing population.

That's why a consortium of entities: the Payson and Star Valley town councils, Gila County, the Tonto Apache Tribe and representatives of surrounding communities will meet Monday.

Mayor Bob Edwards said this meeting -- a followup to a planning session held in late August -- will put pressure on the county to work in tandem with local communities.

Although county supervisors Tommie Martin and Joe Sanchez have other commitments, Shirley Dawson, who represents Star Valley, is expected to participate.

Martin's administrative assistant, Jo Johnson, said the supervisor and the mayor will meet later in the week.

The town councils also expect answers to questions posed during the last meeting.

"That should send a message that we are paying attention and that it's time to sit down and work," Edwards said.

Excise tax

Back in 1994, voters approved a special half-cent tax to fund road projects within unincorporated areas of the county. Since then, incorporated areas have received little or none of this money.

In 2004, the deputy town attorney sent a memo to the Surface Advisory Transportation Committee regarding the application of this tax. He outlined a plan for changing the county's resolution: Pass a new law that replaces the tax with a new one, and explicitly defines what percentage of that new tax will go to towns.

Edwards said local communities are missing out on approximately $1 million worth of revenue each year. During the meeting, the group will discuss how it can recapture some of these funds and apply it to local projects, especially the proposed alternate bypass route.

Alternate bypass route

During the August meeting, the long-planned alternate bypass route found its way into the discussion. With a proposed timeline of at least 25 years until completion -- if the projects happens at all -- the councils are seeking ways to expedite the process. Town Manager Fred Carpenter, who has extensive experience on bypass routes, said a good faith investment on the town's behalf could speed up the process. But first, the Arizona Department of Transportation must accept the project on its five-year plan, and even if that does happen, the estimated 10-mile bypass could cost as much as $20 million a mile. The councils will explore funding options, including the application of the county's excise tax.

Public safety facilities

The court, jail and juvenile holding facilities in this part of the county are increasingly unable to accommodate the increase in cases and crimes.

During a Tuesday session of juvenile court, county staff processed 30 cases in three hours. And when minors are arrested, they have no place to go -- the Payson satellite jail lacks a juvenile holding facility.

Meanwhile, the staff works on top of each other.

The councils are looking to funnel more financial resources north to change this. In doing so, they will consider a letter sent to them by Judge Robert Duber. The Superior Court judge has asked the councils to work with the county to provide better, bigger facilities. He also proposed a satellite court and jail facility in Star Valley.

Johnson, speaking on behalf of Martin, said local communities would have to resolve water issues before the county can consider building new public safety facilities in Payson.

A new, state-of-the-art jail could not operate under water restrictions by law.

Voting

The processing of ballots entails several trips to Globe for Town Clerk Silvia Smith and her staff. The Payson Town Council will meet with attorneys and county officials to streamline the ballot approval process.

Strategies

To ensure progress on these issues, especially county participation, the councils have proposed several options. The most extreme includes moving the county seat, splitting the county and adding more supervisors. The latter two alternatives are nearly impossible because of population limits. But they could move the county seat if a countywide vote approves such an action.

Rose Harper of Pine, who is attending on behalf of Pine/Strawberry, said she looks forward to the opportunity.

"The people of northern Gila County, including the other communities around here, would like better facilities to support them," she added. "I like to know what's happening."

The joint council meeting occurs at 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 23 at the Payson Public Library, 328 N. McLane Road. To download an agenda and other pertinent documents, visit www.ci.payson.az.us and select "agendas and minutes."

-- To reach Felicia Megdal call 474-5251 ext. 116 or e-mail fmegdal@payson.com.

Joint meeting of Payson Town Council, Star Valley Town Council, Tonto Apache Tribe and Gila County

When: 5 p.m. Monday

Where: Payson Public Library, 328 N. McLane Road

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