Grants, not waste boost spending
While defending her fiscal credentials in what’s shaping up to be the year of the fiscal diet, Gila County Supervisor Shirley Dawson has been on both the receiving and throwing ends of an ensuing food fight.
The District 3 incumbent Democrat said, “people talk about the overall amount of increase in the budget. That increase is looking at grants that the county has received.”
One of Dawson’s opponents, the non-partisan Ted Thayer, has criticized the supervisors for what he considers reckless spending.
Thayer circulated an e-mail after the supervisors passed the tentative county budget, blasting Dawson for attending a press conference instead of the supervisors meeting.
“It appears that Shirley Dawson felt a press conference and a photo op were more pressing than her most important duty to county taxpayers!” Thayer wrote.
Statistics he circulated claimed the budget has inflated by 11 percent, which Dawson attempted to debunk by noting her husband took a class about “lying with statistics.” Numbers can be presented in numerous ways, she said.
Thayer, in another e-mail, then wrote, “She (Dawson) also called him (Thayer) a liar because of his manipulation of the budget statistics.”
Dawson has said she attended the press conference to support her constituents. The conference was essentially called to support one company’s bid for the mining company ASARCO in a bidding duel. She participated in the county meeting by phone, hanging up shortly before the budget passed but after affirming her support for it.
“I was present and I probably put in a (lot) more hours than is statutorily expected of a supervisor,” she said at the final budget meeting.
The third opponent, Republican David Cook, has not publicly said the county spends too much money, only that it doesn’t appropriately prioritize projects.
Dawson said the county has been proactively seeking grants, that when approved, are added onto the county’s bottom line.
“We get this money into the county that ups the budget. Well are we becoming spendthrifts or are we addressing problems? I believe we’re addressing problems,” Dawson said in a recent interview.
She supports mining, ranching, and developing solar power. She was one of the first two women elected to the board — the other was Supervisor Tommie Martin, who is also up for re-election.
Dawson has a master’s degree in education and once spent two years with her husband, a retired judge, in Peru as a humanitarian missionary. The couple coordinated relief efforts in times of disaster.
“You look at government bureaucracy and whether they’re in a Third World country or the United States of America, we find coordinating and working together a challenge,” Dawson said. “Especially I find that a challenge with the U.S. Forest Service and talking to them about getting cattle back on the range.”
Dawson also discovered in South America the benefits of influencing feelings of ownership. Domestically, in the Firewise program, Dawson said, “we try to encourage people to raise money and we will match it.”
Besides encouraging ownership, Dawson said she also tries to help her constituents develop leadership skills. “I sponsored a Southern Gila County Leadership Academy,” Dawson said, adding that Cook was a graduate.
Among her highest first-term achievements, Dawson places the establishment of a Southern Gila County Economic Development Corporation, and a decreased, per-person payment to the long-term health care program that serves residents. Dawson said when she took office, the per-person payment cost $1.69. The cost has since dropped to 60 cents.
“We were the highest paying per capita” in the state, Dawson said. The new formula took “true, tenacious lobbying.”
Also important, Dawson says she helped expand the community college curriculum, though she also listed further expansion as next term’s goal.
As for Gila County College emerging from the auspices of Eastern Arizona College, under which it now operates, Dawson expressed confidence that the legislature address that relationship. GCC currently receives less than half the per-student funding as other colleges .
The jail presents what Dawson considers a pressing need. The county has budgeted a $5 million loan for improving the county jail facilities in both Globe and Payson, but Dawson said “we haven’t borrowed that money and we won’t borrow that money until we have a plan.”
She supports the current proposition of placing modular units in Globe for female inmates. Mid-August, 34 women were stuffed into the 18-unit jail.
Regarding Payson’s needs, Dawson said, “The county administration is certainly working on it and Sheriff Armer is very vigilant of this critical need.”
Dawson fervently believes in bringing solar power to Gila County, especially in the southern, more desert-like portion.
Services still lacking
While campaigning door-to-door in Pleasant Valley, David Cook was mistaken for emergency personnel.
A woman greeted the Republican candidate for Gila County Supervisor District 3 after he knocked on the door, saying, “Thank God you’re here, I called them 30 minutes ago.” Her husband, she told Cook, was having a heart attack.
Shortly after Cook’s arrival, emergency personnel arrived. “The 911 system was down and they had to call everybody by telephone,” Cook said in a recent telephone interview.
The man died.
“This is how the outlying areas are not getting the attention they deserve,” Cook said. “Everyone should be treated like it’s an election year every year.”
In debunking what he saw as incumbent Supervisor Shirley Dawson’s “election year tactics,” Cook told of a recent $5,000 check Dawson presented to a Globe elementary school for playground equipment.
That $5,000 could have helped to fund more pressing public safety issues like improving Pleasant Valley’s emergency calling systems, Cook said.
“But we can hold up a check for $5,000 in Globe when $5,000 isn’t really going to do anything,” Cook said. “To me, that’s nothing but a stunt at election time.”
Incidentally, Cook never mentioned Dawson by name but repeatedly called her the incumbent or current supervisor.
Cook, 40, has never run for office before. The rancher from Globe touts himself as a fiscally conservative, pro-business candidate who is environmentally responsible but pro-forest management. He used to work with the Arizona Department of Corrections, and worked his way to sergeant before leaving in 2000 to operate DC Cattle Company, which Cook owns with his wife.
Governments need to collaborate to move policy, Cook said. “The supervisor is there as an agent for the county government to work with other governments.” Cook said his experience ranching has made him adept at such intergovernmental communication. Ranchers must navigate environmental impact statements and land use issues with various government agencies.
Cook is the vice-president of the Gila County Cattle Growers, vice-chairman of Federal Lands and Forest Planning for the Arizona Cattle Grower’s Association, and he sits on the Southern Gila County Economic Development Corporation board.
While how much county supervisors should lobby the federal government regarding land management has been discussed this campaign season, Cook says he has the easy answer to changing forest policy.
“I would almost guarantee you that the county has not responded” to the forest management plans being developed, Cook said. He mentioned environmentalists and said, “those people are commenting and they’re shaping the forest plan for the Tonto National Forest in this county and we’re not doing nearly enough in what we can and should be doing,” Cook added. “It takes a supervisor like myself that understands the process.”
As for jail improvements, Cook said he hasn’t yet heard a proposal he likes. Payson could perhaps build its own jail, Cook said. “A lot of towns have their own jails.” The town would not necessarily be housing county prisoners because a prisoner isn’t the county’s until he is booked into county jail, Cook said.
“Something needs to be done about the jail but something needs to be done with the county jail which is in Globe.”
And if a jail were built? “It definitely would not cost taxpayers $17 million.”
“One of the biggest costs that we have in county government is the cost of the duplication of services.” Cook said that while he’s not opposed to duplication, “anytime you’re doing something twice, or paying twice, I don’t think that’s good.”
He thinks the county could take advantage of technology.
“I think we should identify the duplication of services and I think we should see what we can streamline and make better.”
When talking business development, he said high taxes create hardships for the small business owner. When the economy slows, layoffs are often a business’s first reaction. Employers must match many of the taxes deducted from an employee’s paycheck, which Cook said can be crippling. Expanding business raises more revenue than raising taxes.
He believes tax incentives can help attract business to Gila County. “Somebody’s not going to just call up and say I want to bring my manufacturing business here.” If an incoming business received a property tax break for five years, before phasing the full amount in over the next two years, Cook says the tax rolls would profit from a building, that wasn’t there before.
The county needs to be proactive in asking businesses what they need to relocate here. “Until we do that, we’re going to be darn lucky to get anything.”
Ted Thayer is mad. The non-partisan District 3 Gila County Supervisor candidate thinks the county is hemorrhaging money, and he is running into this election with a bandage in hand screaming for help.
The county recently passed a $91-million budget, up from $74.9 million last year. Not counting the $8 million in rainy day funds, Thayer counted an 11 percent increase. The total increase in four years, he says is 34 percent.
“I’m mad as hell,” Thayer said. County officials attribute much of the increase to proactive grant garnering, which puffs their bottom line with dollars that don’t come from local taxpayers.
“That’s smoke and mirrors. We haven’t had an 11 percent increase in population,” Thayer said. “The fact is, this budget is way, way too much.”
In fact, Thayer believes that part of the problem lies in the county’s accepting grants that sunset. If a grant funds a two-year position at $20,000 per year, he says the county gets stuck with the bill after the grant expires.
When asked how the county should trim its budget, Thayer said he hadn’t examined it closely enough to identify specific excesses. “I have the same gut feeling as other taxpayers,” he said. “What would I spend money on? I like not spending money.”
Thayer, who was once vice-chair of the Gila County Democratic Party, is running as a non-partisan candidate. Since he is running non-partisan, he did not appear on the ballot in the primary election.
“I turned in more signatures than anyone in Gila County history,” Thayer said. However, David Rogers, a county election specialist, said those records are not kept. Beyond ensuring a candidate turns in the minimum number of signatures — for independent District 3 candidates, that number is 51 — the county is not required to keep track of the total number of signatures on a petition, Rogers said.
Thayer ran against incumbent Shirley Dawson four years ago. As he gathered petitions this year, Thayer said, “all I kept hearing over and over was, thank God you’re running, we’ve got to get rid of Shirley.”
Thayer says that Gila County Democrats tend to be more conservative than urban Republicans. He wrote on his Web site that “the District 3 incumbent will win the Democratic Party’s nomination in the primary election because of her well-oiled machine…” and he adds that voters this election will have a “genuine choice” for supervisor.
He once worked for the county as a detention officer, but has also worked in radio, as a manufacturing engineer at Hughes Aircraft, and as a school bus driver. He lives outside of Globe with his wife, Claudette.
Thayer’s anger about what he views as the county’s tax and spend policies inspired his candidacy. “Counties are charged with the health, safety and security of their their residents. That’s it,” he said. “Read my lips: No new taxes.”
Regarding the third District 3 candidate this election, Republican David Cook, Thayer said, “Mr. Cook is a fine young Republican man in my estimation, but he’s too focused on the cattle industry and its relationship to Washington.”
Thayer wants to shrink government, get the state out of the county’s pocket, and lobby to allow private industry into the forests to create more revenue. Are there any other issues? “I had one on the tip of my tongue for an instant there.”
To develop the county’s economy, Thayer said the Southern Gila County Economic Development Corporation’s work should continue. “The government is holding back economic development in Gila County.”
For instance, Thayer decried the rules prohibiting industry from entering the forests. “Why isn’t the forest being harvested?” Thayer asked. “Why aren’t we doing more mining? Because the government is afraid of getting sued by the Friends of the Earth.”
He said the county needs to work closely with state legislators, the local offices of federal authorities and their higher-ups to demand increased access.
Regarding improvements to the county jail facilities, Thayer said that while he found the Globe jail’s structure and infrastructure troubling, the food deserved accolades. “If you want a really good meal, find a way to go to the Globe jail,” Thayer said. “The food is absolutely top-notch.”
As for Payson’s jail, he thinks the building should serve as a 24-hour holding facility. As individuals are arrested, Thayer said they could be processed immediately, and then either released on bail or sent to Globe.
Judges would need to offer continual availability, but “there’s no reason on God’s green earth a judge shouldn’t be available 24/7.”
In other counties, he said, constituents and criminals must drive across the county. Gila should be no different.
County office duplication, while hailed by some as the epitome of service, could quite possibly offer one source of excessive spending, Thayer said. “I think that whole business ought to be looked at.”
In summary, Thayer said, “$91 million. A $20 million increase in four years. Half of the workforce in Gila County employed by government. Out-of-control spending. Ching!”