Supervisors Discuss Perceptions Of North/South County Divide With Chamber Members

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Gila County supervisors on Thursday stressed their intent to treat the county as a whole, as much as possible.

The desire for county unity was often repeated as Supervisors José Sanchez, Shirley Dawson and Tommie Martin fielded a series of questions during the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce's Eggs & Issues program. The questions touched on a perceived inequality in services, facilities and spending between the northern and southern parts of the county.

The questions came from the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation. The topics were facilities, the budget and economic development. Education also was discussed.

The supervisors were asked if they would support the creation of a work force development facility. Dawson said one is planned in the south, and Sanchez said he would support one for the north.

Attendees were also concerned about a possible tax for the November ballot that is being discussed to fund new jails and courts in Gila County.

Supervisors were asked how the money would be divided between the two ends of the county.

"The services are equal," Sanchez said. "The board of supervisors long ago established that the same services should be provided in both Globe and Payson."

Dawson said she believes Gila County is the only county in the state that totally duplicates services in two geographic areas.

"If you don't have the services, we need to know what they are," she said.

Martin also questioned what services are lacking in this part of the county. "Jury duty is the only thing we have to go to Globe for, that I know of."

Martin said the county's facilities task force is primarily looking at the jails.

"We have to have better jail facilities," she said. "In Globe it's an accident waiting to happen and the one up here is worse."

She said she believes most people don't know what the services of the county are, and don't use them.

"The bad road (between here and Globe) from years ago led to the north-south mindset," she said.

Sanchez said an attempt is being made to arrange meet-and-greet sessions between the board of supervisors and all residents to create a sense of connectedness. He said he started discussing such sessions last June. "So far we have not accomplished that, but I still want to make it happen."

County Manager Steve Besich spoke to the services issue when the supervisors finished.

"There is a general misconception of what counties are and what they can do. We're an arm of the state and when the legislature is in session, the counties are in trouble."

He said the legislature is always trying to shift the responsibility for programs to the counties, and more often than not, state funds fail to make the shift. It is left up to the counties to find the money to provide the programs the state turns over to them.

He said in a county where only 4 percent of the property is privately held, coming up with those additional funds is difficult.

Martin said a majority of the budget is committed to state-mandated services. What remains is used to focus on economic development, economic protection, fire protection and agency assistance.

She said 70 percent of the county's revenue is generated here and is susceptible to wild fire.

"If we lose the forest to a fire, it would bankrupt the county," Martin said.

Dawson said when she was visiting the area a couple of years ago, there was either the threat of evacuation because of fire or smoke in the air.

"So, it wasn't hard to say ‘yes' we need to spend money to protect the communities from fire," Dawson said. "But we also have to think of how to serve Gila County the best. So we listen to the priorities of other elected officials. We can't continue to put the (tax) burden on homeowners and small businesses."

Discussing the economic development issue -- $125,000 was given to the economic development group in the south, while $50,000 was given to the north -- Martin said the communities in the south needed the boost in order to get beyond being defunct mining towns. She said while the north received less economic development money, it also received economic protection funds through fire prevention efforts, and work in water development and water resources.

"For the $600,000 spent, we are receiving $1.5 million from the federal government to continue (our fire prevention efforts)," she said.

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