County Facilities: Proponents, Opponents Square Off

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Mike Vogel, a Payson Councilor, gestures emphatically during a recent public discussion of the cost of a proposed building complex on Main Street.

The first face-off regarding the hottest topic in Gila County featured a quartet of Payson notables.

Payson Councilor Mike Vogel and former jails committee member Ken Volz represented those in favor of the justice center on Main Street and Highway 260 and the half-cent sales tax method of paying for the facilities.

Payson Councilor Ed Blair and Leon Keddington, former campaign manager for Mayor Bob Edwards, represented the opposition to the funding method and location of the proposed facilities.

The quartet deliberated and answered questions for nearly two hours at a meeting of the Northern Gila County Democratic group Wednesday night.

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Ken Volz, a member of the Citizens for Improved Public Safety committee, holds up four fingers to stress a point about the reasons for choosing the site for the proposed justice and jail complex.

The brouhaha featured a five-minute opening argument for each side, followed by an alternating response period.

Volz, who is a member of the political action committee Citizens for Improved Public Safety, opened the discussion first, reciting the recommendations that the volunteer jails committee proposed to the Gila County Board of Supervisors in May.

He reminded the Democratic club that the jails committee recommendations, which were accepted by the board of supervisors, included the "town square concept" as well as the expansion of the current site on Highway 87 and Main Street. The recommendations also included the half-cent sales tax and general bond method of paying for the renovations.

In Keddington's opening remarks, he said that he and members of the political action committee, of which he is part, Citizens for Fair Taxation, are in favor of new justice facilities. He said he doesn't think taxes should pay for the project.

He proposed that the county needs to readjust its budget to come up with funding.

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Leon Keddington, head of the Citizens for Fair Taxation committee, makes a point in favor of finding alternate funding for a new justice complex.

"The county must live within their means," he said, also citing a "lack of long-term planning by the county."

Volz admitted that, while unfortunate, raising taxes is the only way the facilities can be paid for.

"The only way we're going to have these facilities is a ‘yes' vote on the referendum," he said.

Keddington said Gila County would have one of the highest tax brackets in the state.

"Only two financing options were looked at -- taxes and more taxes," he said.

After some back and forth between Volz and Keddington, Vogel and Blair spoke up.

Vogel downplayed the effect the proposed taxes would have on daily lives.

"I just bought a truck," he said. "Do you think $125 would've stopped me from buying that truck? No. It costs me 90 bucks to get to the Valley and back."

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Town council member Ed Blair, who is a member of the the Citizens for Fair Taxation committee, listens to comments from other panel members.

Vogel said the taxes are miniscule, in comparison to the need for the facilities.

Blair proposed a different site for the location of the facilities -- Tyler Parkway and the Beeline. He said the 14.6 acres there is available for $2.8 million.

Volz quickly pointed out that the $2.8 million didn't take into account the high cost for site preparation and installation of necessary infrastructure.

He said after four months of study by the jails committee, "there was no other viable alternative."

Moderator Chris Tilley asked questions of the panel, which were submitted by audience members for the final half-hour of the debate.

Judge Peter Cahill answered a question regarding jury duty. He said it is feasible that with better facilities in Payson, jurors from Payson would be chosen for Payson court matters.

Jail Commander Jim Eskew of the GC Sheriff's Office addressed the group at the end of the debate, urging them to consider the need for new facilities for the safety of the town, as well as employees of both the jail and courthouse.

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