Impasse Dogs County Stimulus Talks

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More than a month of debate over the politically neutral, alphabetical list of projects for which Gila County hopes to find federal stimulus dollars has reached an impasse.

Supervisor Shirley Dawson advocates for a new jail to take top priority. Supervisor Tommie Martin says too much prioritizing could dent the county’s appropriations chances. And Supervisor Mike Pastor doesn’t see a problem with alphabetizing, but he wants more detail on the existing lists.

Part of the problem, Pastor said, is the number of lists. “I have three different lists. I think that’s part of the confusion of it,” he said.

A work study session Tuesday, during which supervisors discussed how to best position the county for optimal financing in the ephemeral federal stimulus package, yielded little progress because each of the supervisors and the county manager advocated presenting the list differently.

“We ended up handing to (Rep.) Ann Kirkpatrick an alphabetical list of a lot of things without any priorities,” said Dawson. She continued to push for a new jail to top the list. Beyond that, Dawson has said prioritizing projects is good planning.

“How do we narrow our focus beyond, ‘I need this’ to what is going to help us through what looks like four or five years” of economic hardship, she said.

Martin later compared seeking stimulus funds to fishing.

“We do not (want to) prioritize against ourselves,” Martin said. “We need to be ready to say, we have a project that will match that appropriation.” Prioritizing, if it occurs at all, should fall within categories — priorities of roads, for instance, she said.

“I’m not willing to wade into the politics of prioritization. I’m more willing to be a clearing house and a resource,” Martin said.

She’s not the only one.

Gila County Public Works Director Steve Stratton said as much when he presented a list to the supervisors in December. “These are in alphabetical order,” he said at the time. “This is the only safe way to present it to you.”

However, County Manager Steven Besich suggested Tuesday that each supervisor choose three priorities in his or her district.

Martin later agreed that was a good idea. “As long as it’s not pitting one community against another.” She said she sees the county as more of a “bird dog” — pointing out the money and then helping communities get it.

Pastor said the list needs more detail. “It’s just a list with a very brief summary, and to me, that doesn’t impress me as a document that would make any kind of impact.”

Projects on the list include $5 million for a green library to serve Pine and Strawberry, $6 million for high-speed Internet across rural areas and a $21 million Forest Service thinning project for roughly 23,000 acres in the Payson and Pleasant Valley ranger districts.

A $12 million Star Valley sewage facility is listed, as well as $9.5 million in water well and fire pump work for Pine and Strawberry.

Martin said she’s working on a spreadsheet with the county’s lobbyist that outlines projects and possible funding streams. The federal stimulus package is swiftly evolving, and Martin said tracking the progress is vital.

“It’s a very time-consuming process, trying to stay up on the conversation so that we are aligned with it when it happens,” Martin said.

Besich suggested finding “some friendly faces” in the governor’s staff “so we can get our story told.”

Besich also warned against asking for money to build projects citizens might not want. A wastewater plant, for instance, for a community on septic tanks. “It’s not the cost of the wastewater plant,” Besich said. “It’s the property tax that needs to be levied to support the operation.”

He added, “It’s a slippery slope.”

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