County's Justice Centers On Ballot

A breakdown of the facts

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According to documentation from the first volunteer Jails Committee meeting, Gila County's population grew by more than 22 percent between 1990 and 2005. Population projections expect growth trends to continue in the future.

With increased population comes an increase in crime rates. The demands on current jail and courthouse facilities exceed their design capacity.

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Clerks of the Gila County Superior Court are crammed into one small office at the Payson county complex.

The jail in Payson was constructed in 1964. It currently has 27 beds and is 7,300 square feet.

The Superior Court in Payson is 12,000 square feet and was built in 1980.

The facilities in Globe are similarly outdated. The jail was built in 1962 and renovated in 1982 and the courthouse was erected in 1975.

Both sets of facilities are far too small for current and future needs, Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin said.

After months of research and review, the 13-member volunteer committee representing different areas of Gila County proposed to the Gila County Board of Supervisors a set of expansion figures for both the jail and courthouse facilities in Payson and Globe to accommodate current and future demands.

The committee determined that 96 jail beds would be adequate for current trends and would leave room for future growth in Payson. The jail would increase in size from 7,300 square feet to 31,630 square feet.

The jail in Globe would be fitted with another pod to accommodate 96 more beds as well and increase in size by nearly 2,000 square feet, to 28,553 square feet.

The committee researched square footage needs for office spaces, administrative needs, court and jury rooms for the judicial facilities as well.

The square footage of the Payson Courthouse would be more than doubled from the current justice center's size to 26,350 square feet, based on the committee's recommendations, which were approved by the board of supervisors in May.

The current Globe Courthouse would likely be used for office space and a new criminal courthouse with added security features would be constructed. Its capacity would be increased to 35,600 square feet.

The cost for the proposed renovations for the jail and courthouse in Payson totals about $18 million.

The Globe project is estimated at about $14 million.

The total project then, is around $32 million.

Per the recommendations from the jails committee, registered voters in Gila County will decide two things on Nov. 6.

One ballot measure, if approved, would establish a jails district and likewise dedicate a revenue source of a half-cent sales tax on discretionary goods to the jails half of the project.

The other measure, if approved, would allow the county to purchase General Obligation bonds using primary property tax for the construction of the courthouses.

Martin cautioned voters the ballot measures are the most cost effective means to pay for the new facilities and as such, the reason why recommended by the jails committee.

"There is no private money out there ready to build this for us and hand it to us for free," Martin said. "Ain't gonna happen. We are going to pay for this with tax dollars, period."

"The bond money is the cheapest possible way for the taxpayer (to pay for the courts)," she added.

"On the sales tax, which is for the jails, you're saying I want to use money that is coming from the population, legal or illegal, in county or out of county," she said.

Deputy County Manager John Nelson put the passage of the G.O. bonds into perspective for the average homeowner.

"On a $100,000 home, property tax will increase $21 a year for 30 years," he said.

The committee narrowed down the possible location for the facilities based on many factors including cost-effectiveness, available infrastructure and time required for the completion of the project.

The committee discussed more than a dozen locations in and around Payson, including the possibility of a joint-complex in Tonto Basin.

In the end of their deliberations, the current county site on Main Street and Highway 87 as well as the current site in Globe were decided upon.

The location, however, is not part of the ballot measures on Nov. 6, Martin said.

"If we can find another location as cost effective, we'll take it," she said.

If voters approve both measures, Martin said that the county would begin the project as soon as possible.

If the measures fail, however, she said the county would likely be forced to use property tax for the project.

"It's going to be tax money one way or the other," she said. "We still have jails to fill and courts to secure and we still have property tax to do it with. It will take longer and it will cost more and cost more for longer but it will get done."

One measure could be approved and one could fail as well. If that happens, Martin said the county would cross that bridge when it comes to it.

"We'll have to go back and re-evaluate the situation," she said.

Check out Tuesday's edition of the Roundup for more stories about the proposed county facilities.

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