In these economically charged times, Gila County Supervisor candidates at a recent forum related every issue from Payson’s jail facilities to a possible biomass facility back to money.
A biomass facility opened in Snowflake earlier this summer, begging the question as to whether candidates would support one in Gila County. The conversation moved into a more general one of alternative energy and increased access in forests.
In a discussion about county jail facilities, candidates stopped short of endorsing a new jail in Payson.
The Democratic incumbent in District 3, Shirley Dawson, faces challenges from the non-partisan Ted Thayer, a retired Globe resident, and David Cook, a Republican rancher from Globe.
The District 1 race pits incumbent and Republican Tommie Martin against challenger and independent Dan Haapala, who works as KMOG’s news director. He has abandoned this position for the election.
In District 3, Thayer said he supported a biomass facility. He also wondered why Gila County couldn’t have its own nuclear plant. Water for cooling might pose a problem, Thayer said, but perhaps a solution could be found.
The county offers rampant alternative energy options, including wind power, Thayer added.
The discussion wandered, perhaps inevitably, to lobbying for the ability to harvest.
“You want the Forest Service to change their tune, you got to go bang some pots and pans in Washington,” Thayer said.
Cook said the idea of biomass is not new. He added that he’s already worked on small-scale biomass facilities. Increased cattle grazing can also help reduce the fuel load, Cook said.
Dawson said Gila County offers striking options for solar power. Dawson brought a corporation commission representative to Globe to talk sun energy, and said she’s already developing solar programs.
In the District 1 race, Haapala said he would support a biomass facility as long as tax dollars didn’t fund it, but he had concerns about the amount of water that could be needed.
Promoting Firewise, a program that helps to mitigate the risk of fire in communities, Haapala opposed traveling to Washington to lobby for increased access.
“I don’t want to spend tax money on plane rides to Washington,” he said.
Haapala also opposed spending tax money on bladders that hold water around the county for fighting fires. The project, spearheaded by Martin, involves water tanks strategically placed around the county for water trucks and helicopters.
Martin said she’s already working to bring a biomass plant to Gila County, and is examining three possible locations.
“We’ve got to start taking profitable product,” from the forest, Martin said, adding that she would keep a presence in Washington, D.C.
Bladders have helped extinguish 18 fires that had catastrophic potential, Martin said.
Discussion surrounding new county court facilities spurred Martin to suggest one building containing Arizona Department of Transportation, Forest Service, town and county offices.
Voters last year decided not to fund new county court facilities.
The need for such facilities could be eased if those arrested could pay fines or even be arraigned via the Internet, Martin said. She suggested finding a three- to 10-year temporary solution to allow time to design a long-term solution.
Haapala said improvement is necessary, but said land shouldn’t be taken through eminent domain. Otherwise, “my mind is still open and I’ll leave it at that.”
In the District 3 race, Cook said he never received an answer after asking the sheriff how much a new jail would cost to maintain.
“That’s not good planning if we don’t know what it is,” Cook said. “Cost to taxpayers is what we have to look at.”
Thayer took the opportunity to affirm Globe’s place as the county seat.
“The rest of the county does not want the county seat in Payson,” Thayer said.
The town doesn’t need a jail, but needs a holding facility, he said, with a justice constantly on-call to immediately process arrestees.
Dawson said she doesn’t like spending money to build prisons. She suggested some drug and alcohol offenders could attend rehabilitation instead of going to jail, and said she supports using metal buildings as long as they meet federal guidelines.
Agreeing with Cook, Dawson said maintenance and operations costs must factor into decisions, besides construction costs. Ultimately, Dawson said, “you the people have the right to make this decision.”
Candidates agreed that the level of county services is adequate.
“We have everything we need,” Haapala said. He acknowledged that duplicating services was not cheap, but he bet that comparable numbers of constituents are served in northern and southern offices. Still, no expansion is necessary. “I don’t think we need a Cadillac when the Chevy will do the job,” Haapala said.
Martin said the county’s constituent services are extensive. “We’re the most duplicated county in Arizona,” she said, but advocated using more technology to increase accessibility.
In the District 3 race, Cook sidestepped the question, instead promising to partner with constituents to provide the services they need. However, he said his unhappiness with the current service inspired him to run.
Decrying election year tactics, Cook said several Star Valley roads that went years without blading were recently bladed three times in three months. He told attendees that they would “be treated like it’s an election year every year.”
Dawson later pounced on that, saying some roads were bladed in an emergency. Blading private roads could leave the county liable in case of an accident.
She advised against voting for a supervisor that would put the county in such a compromising situation.
Dawson said technology has vastly improved available services, and noted that northern county constituents can watch board of supervisors meetings from Martin’s Payson office.
Thayer said he didn’t think it “politically wise” to either upsize or downsize available services. Globe is the county seat, and Globe is where county services should be.
“I want to tell you folks you’re really lucky,” Thayer said, adding that Pinal County residents must travel to Florence for services.
“This election is about one thing — our money,” he added. “I’m more fond of my pocketbook than you can believe.”