Whether to retain an existing lobbyist or hire a grant writer to optimally position Gila County as millions of federal dollars shower down has supervisors divided.
Supervisor Tommie Martin says lobbyist Patty Power’s help is invaluable, and it amplifies the voice of small, rural and heavily forested Gila County, which does not have the constituent base to shout.
Supervisor Shirley Dawson says Power is a good lobbyist, but the county doesn’t need a lobbyist. It needs a grant writer.
Not only is the federal government disbursing money from the $787 billion stimulus package, but Congress will soon debate appropriations, as well as a highway bill that only arises every five years.
The county’s $6,500 monthly federal lobbying contract will arise for discussion next month because it’s three years old and out-of-date, Martin said.
Power, with the Washington D.C.-based Bose Public Affairs group, has helped deliver $10.6 million to the county since 2006, according to a letter she wrote to the county. That includes money for forest thinning, a reduced county matching of federal funds for a bridge over Tonto Creek, and an influx of money earmarked for other forests that those forests failed to use.
Dawson wants, “someone who does the legislative work and understands more in depth the stimulus package, what’s there and how to apply apply for and obtain stimulus money.”
Dawson added, “We don’t have anyone doing that.”
Supervisor Mike Pastor, who is new this term, said he was gathering information and asked for documents outlining Power’s results. He added that he would like to increase communication between the board and the lobbyist because historically, it has been limited.
Power traveled to Globe recently to meet supervisors and discussed with them various methods of federal funding including appropriations.
The Roundup also asked for county records of lobbying results and received the letter Power wrote.
The letter outlines a successful effort to reduce the county’s federal match on a bridge across Tonto Creek from 20 percent to 5.7 percent. The change came in a technical corrections bill that followed the last federal highway bill.
Power also wrote that she procured $2.3 million for various thinning projects and $125,000 for operating the brush pits and water bladders in a fire prevention and management program.
Under Power’s tutelage, Gila County has also received more than $3 million reprogrammed from other forests because those districts failed to use all their earmarked funds, according to the letter.
“We have been able to keep the county’s thinning needs a top national funding priority,” by lobbying, Power wrote.
The original contract lasted two years, but automatically renews every July 1 unless either the county or the lobbyist gives 30 days notice.
In January, Dawson had proposed altering various county managerial positions, including the addition of a legislative manager to serve as chief lobbyist. The legislative manager would have not only worked at the state level to ensure the county’s solvency amidst potentially devastating budget cuts, but also at the federal level to attract money from the recently passed stimulus package.
Supervisors only discussed the proposal once.
Martin said Gila County’s first successful lobbying endeavor came in 2005 after firefighters in Pine asked former Rep. Rick Renzi for money for a small firebreak.
Previously, Martin said, federal money filtered in for projects like roads. However, the county hadn’t asked legislators directly for money to solve public problems, she said.
“Lobbying isn’t just about lobbying Congress,” Martin continued. “It’s becoming the squeaky wheel,” which she said means loudly and consistently representing the county’s needs to various federal agencies. Power also helps keep the county abreast of legislative developments, like the technical corrections bill that reduced the match for a bridge over Tonto Creek, Martin said.
Dawson agreed that it’s important to have legislative and congressional contacts, but said a lobbyist isn’t necessary for that.
“I think that we’re blessed with congressional people who listen to their constituents’ needs and respond, but they can’t respond if we don’t have the grant (applications),” she said.
Of three other Arizona counties roughly Gila’s size — Apache, Graham and Santa Cruz — the first two direct their county managers to lobby the state and have no federal lobbyist.
In Santa Cruz County, County Manager Greg Lucero said they recently contracted with a federal lobbyist for the first time because of the onslaught of federal funds simultaneously available.
Santa Cruz’s contract costs $7,000 each month, Lucero said.
Gila County submitted three appropriations requests this year to Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick’s (D-Ariz.) office. They included $2 million to partly pave Young-Heber Road, $3 million to help pave Control Road, and $4.3 million for fuel reduction in the Tonto National Forest.
Kirkpatrick has decided to back four projects in Gila County — $588,000 for helping Globe doctors improve medical records, $1 million for Young Road, $5 million to start a Job Corps in Globe, and $423,000 for Gila Community College’s nursing program.
Rep. Ed. Pastor (D-Phoenix) requested $400,000 for sewer system upgrades in Miami, a priority project for Supervisor Pastor. The men are cousins.
According to Power, Gila County could receive $36 million in stimulus funds, and wrote, “I look forward to continuing to find fruitful pots of money,” in the stimulus bill.