Candidates Debate How County Uses Its Money

Candidates for county commissioner spots face off

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Ted Thayer

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Shirley Dawson

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David Cook

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Tommie Martin

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Dan Haapala

The feisty debate at a recent county supervisor candidate forum pitted incumbents who defended the steady rise of the county’s budget against challengers who attempted to debunk what they called excuses.

Monetary policy defined the conversation, and bled into every topic, including county services and whether a new jail should be built in Payson.

The District 3 candidate, non-partisan Ted Thayer, criticized his opponent, incumbent and Democrat Shirley Dawson, for overseeing “out-of-control” government growth and accompanying budget increases.

Thayer says the entire election condenses to money.

“We can get growth under control and still maintain services,” he said. He and Dawson were the only two candidates visibly recording the forum with digital recorders.

Republican David Cook, the third District 3 candidate, complained of his property values’ incessant rising, even amidst a national downturn.

“My taxes have gone up a lot,” he said, adding that property values are projected to increase another 9 percent next year. “Now, how can that be?” he asked.

Although this year’s tax rate decreased, many homeowners saw an increase in their property values, which equated to a higher tax bill.

Cook said he requested a meeting with the county assessor that never occurred and he said Dawson laughed at him when he protested his tax bill, telling him he had a nice view. Dawson later denied the accusation.

Dawson said, “I am telling you honestly, Gila County has done a pretty darn good job with your tax dollars.” She said the county tax rate has decreased every year since she’s been in office, and said Gila County residents should be thankful that their home values have not declined.

Invoking the title of her husband’s law school textbook, “How to Lie with Statistics,” Dawson brushed off complaints of wasteful spending. Dawson had previously mentioned the title at a county budget hearing after Thayer complained that the county’s budget has inflated 34 percent in four years.

Thayer, who had a baseball cap reading “Git-r-done” perched beside him, railed against the high cost of government. “There’s no reason for it.”

Thayer said government employees often waste time talking and not working. “These kinds of things can stop.” Instead of layoffs, Thayer said the county should ask employees to figure out ways to streamline business and cut costs.

Deflecting Dawson’s earlier criticism about manipulating statistics, Thayer said, “surely I do know my statistics and I read the book.”

Cook, noting “I didn’t read the book,” promised “You will get Macy’s service at Costco prices.”

Roughly 40 citizens attended the Citizens Awareness Committee sponsored event in Payson for candidates in Districts 1 and 3.

The Democratic incumbent in District 3, Dawson, faces challenges from Thayer, a retired, non-partisan Globe resident, and 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 his position for the election.

After an attendee asked Haapala what his credentials were besides “reading the news,” Haapala said he was a police officer in Scottsdale for four years and sits on various boards including the East Verde Park Fire Board.

Martin defended the county’s budget, saying that the county determines only a small percentage. Close to 50 percent of the average homeowner’s tax bill funds schools, and nearly 20 percent funds special districts like those for street lighting and water.

Those districts’ elected boards determine those tax rates, Martin said. This year, the county received roughly 30 percent of collected property tax.

Martin said that roughly 30 percent of that 30 percent funds county government. “We have about 30 percent of 30 percent of 30 percent that we decide on.”

General government expenditures decreased in this year’s budget, and Martin said grants are paying for new services. “That is not coming out of your pocket,” Martin said, adding that the county has $22 million in reserves.

Thayer, the District 3 candidate, earlier disputed that, saying the county has approximately $9 million in reserves. This year’s budget shows $22.5 million carried over from last year, including $2 million from the general fund.

The county is “maxed out” because of its high percentage of untaxable, federal land, Martin said.

Haapala said attributing increased taxes to the small amount of taxable land was just an excuse. Families must live within their means, and so must counties, Haapala said. “The bottom line is I don’t support raising property taxes.”

He also said budget deliberations weren’t public enough, and that there weren’t enough work study sessions.

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