Regarding the upcoming vote on enlarged, modernized jail and courtroom facilities for Gila County: It is my recommendation that we vote no, and send the whole package back to county officials for restudy and reduction of county costs.
For two reasons:
A.e can't afford an accumulation of capital expenditures.
B.e shouldn't have to afford this one.
As to item A:
In the Payson School District, we have already committed ourselves to some $33 million.
In the same general geographic area, we are faced, over the next few years, with a large debt to secure additional water.
At Monday's CAC meeting, Buzz Walker's best current estimate for this was $30 million. I will bet serious money that when time, interest and inflation are factored in, that the figure will be closer to $60 million.
If you then add in this same geographic area's share of $31 million for jails and courtrooms, you come up with a total of about $13,000 debt, per family, for the people living in the Payson School District.
You can each factor in what your personal debt situation is and see if you feel secure with the total.
As to item B:
Gila County has been a comparatively high cost county for the 20-plus years that I have been following county costs.
As recently as the 2005-2006 budget year, Gila County was the fourth-highest cost per capita of the 12 rural counties. Of particular note is the fact that Gila County spent $1,063 per capita that year, while Graham County, next door, spent $613 per capita.
If Gila County spent at the rate Graham County does, we would have $24 million per year to spend on courts, jails, etc., or to be used to reduce taxes.
It should be clearly understood, by everyone, that the high spending in Gila County is not the exclusive responsibility of the county supervisors. For a number of years, the other elected officials of the county have pretty much set their own budgets.
Years ago, I wasted a lot of time trying to make comparisons, department by department, with lower spending counties. Nobody paid any attention to this, so now I just periodically report total county spending.
The point is that no one at the county level, seems interested in finding how the lower-spending counties are doing so, in the areas of law and justice. If so, we should be determining what Gila County can do to replicate what the less expensive counties are doing.
The study for the jails and courthouses did not do this. The study asked the county officials, in charge of law and justice, what they needed and then tried to find the most economical way to satisfy these recommendations.
I would recommend that a serious, thorough study on best, most economical practices on a national basis, for law and justice practices, be completed before we commit Gila County to $31 million.
Why do we have so many people in jail?
How do we compare nationally?
What can we do to lighten our court load?
Enlarge jurisdiction for small claims?