New Task Force Created

Joint Task Force instructed to determine county services needed

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A newly created Joint Task Force is charged with the assignment of determining the county services required in northern Gila County to accommodate its growing population.

Mayor Bob Edwards said he and a consortium of elected officials and civil employees will provide this committee with a list of priorities in the coming month, and expect answers sooner rather than later.

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Superior Court Judge Robert Duber and Justice of the Peace Dorothy Little say small courtrooms and a lack of jail and juvenile facilities hinder their ability to administer the law.

The decision was made during a joint Payson and Star Valley town council meeting Monday where a group of more than 35 representatives from the Rim Country discussed its needs with two county supervisors.

The Joint Task Force members -- yet unchosen -- will include judges, residents, public safety officers and county employees.

"This task force will explore the opportunities to improve county services available to us in northern Gila County," said Payson Town Manager Fred Carpenter.

The group considered four issues: county probation, juvenile, jail and recorder's facilities.

"At some point you reach critical mass," Superior Court Judge Robert Duber said.

As the years pass, the issues of security, space and services will worsen.

Since moving to Gila County in 1980, Duber has consistently listened to the same concerns.

"If this problem has existed for 26 years, how come nothing has gotten done?" asked Payson Town Councilor Mike Vogel.

"Because nobody wants to pay for it," Duber answered.

The judge presented a preliminary breakdown of the construction costs to build two courtrooms, additional staff space and a three-cell juvenile detention area in Payson.

"It's not a matter of land," he said. "It's a matter of money."

The estimate of a no-frills project, according to Duber's research, adds up to a $4 million to $5 million price tag.

To raise the funds, he recommended the issuance of a bond.

"It seems to me there are opportunities here, but I don't know how to do it without a bond," he said.

Expanding court services, however, creates its own problems, additional expense and in some cases, state statute could hinder services.

"Our people are aware of the problems," he said. "It's not as simple as saying we're going to change things."

For instance, the increased caseload generated by bigger courtrooms will impose a strain on the existing two full-time judges -- Duber and Judge Peter Cahill -- and the part-time judge.

Hiring a third full-time superior court judge will involve a minimum $600,000 investment, a change in the state's population requirement, and a nod from the county supervisors.

There would also be the cost of adding and staffing a jail and a juvenile detention facility, rather than what are now simply holding cells.

Justice of the Peace Dorothy Little expressed further concern about the local magistrate court. By law, the Superior Court isn't obligated to provide services anywhere in the county except Globe.

If the county pulled its presence out of Payson, all Superior Court matters -- from murder trials to speeding tickets --would be handled 90 miles south.

Other members of the consortium suggested contracting detention services to better-equipped facilities; purchasing property and utilizing county and Forest Service property in Star Valley; implementing a prisoner and jury transport service; and building a facility and leasing space to the county.

The joint councils also discussed the possibility of reallocating the county's excise tax to roads within town limits. Edwards said the Rim Country provides more than half of this revenue -- a little more than $1 million out of the $3 million the tax generates a year. The money is allocated throughout the county, but Edwards said northern Gila County isn't receiving its fair share, and he wants to repeal the tax.

But County Supervisor Tommie Martin said the county has put the funds to good use.

"That money paves the roads, because the citizens passed it," she said. "We could not arbitrarily turn it back and go against the will of the people."

Meanwhile, Chris Tilley provided a brief presentation of her task force's progress on the alternate route bypass.

"It's not a question of if we get a bypass," Tilley said. "It's a matter of when."

Edwards asked the county to draft a resolution, promising to help northern Gila County raise the money. Martin said they'd add it to their next meeting agenda and discuss the proposal then.

Martin said the bottom line amounts to money, and it's a matter of priorities.

"We can do anything that folks are willing to pay for," she said. "It's not up to us."

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