They’ve been going steady for 30 years, but Pinal and Gila counties’ differences might make for a breakup. Pinal County Supervisor Bryan Martyn pushed Friday to create a group to study whether the two counties in the Central Arizona Association of Governments should stay together.
Several Gila County officials spoke strongly against disbanding the group.
“You can’t leave out rural communities and that’s what I believe dividing this will ultimately lead to,” said Supervisor Shirley Dawson. “Rural Arizona is rural Arizona. You need us.”
Councilors voted 13-4 for Star Valley Mayor Bill Rappaport’s motion to table the question. The regional group met Friday in Payson.
Martyn said the issue warranted study because Pinal County’s rapid growth may have outdated the regional council’s model. “The intent is not to harm any entity,” he said.
The tabled proposal involved forming a seven-member committee to study the costs, benefits and drawbacks associated with divorcing CAAG.
The council, which includes elected officials from both counties and towns within those counties, also considered a list of three pros and 13 cons. CAAG Executive Director Maxine Brown said the list was difficult to formulate because of the myriad unknowns.
Ultimately, nobody knows what would happen if CAAG splits up. The executive order that created the six regional planning groups in 1970 — four rural and two urban — has no process for amending the boundaries.
Pinal County’s population in 2008 was 327,000, compared to the 52,000 in Gila County.
CAAG compiles growth-related data for planning purposes, works on regional transportation issues, and helps communities with job training and social services.
A lot of alimony — in the form of federal grants — is also at stake. For instance, Gila County is the official grant recipient for the Workforce Investment Act, which helps low-income people with job training, among other things, in both counties. Over the past fiscal year, the program helped 136 adults and 117 youths, while bringing in $848,000 as of April 30.
Still, some question whether the existing boundaries serve modern interests.
“Nineteen-seventy was a long time ago,” Martyn said. “Things are very different. Is this the best model for the growth of these two communities?”
Payson Councilor Mike Vogel agreed that things could change, but said the council could use more technology, especially for meetings.
“When I get home from Hayden at one in the morning, I’m not in a good mood,” he said, adding that the trips cost towns money.
Possible solutions listed on the pros and cons sheet included using videoconferencing, creating more subcommittees, accepting their differences and making up, or weighted voting by population.
“No more annual meetings in cool, beautiful Payson,” was one of the cons listed. Others included the question of where Gila County would go, or the threat of the two urban regional councils swallowing Pinal County.
Also, the region could lose its Economic Development District status, which has resulted in $900,000 for an industrial park in Superior, and wastewater projects in Coolidge and Eloy. Development districts must consist of at least two counties.
Pros included less travel, no more shared funding and agenda items would be more tailored to the county.
Brown said this issue has arisen before, usually when elections bring new faces to the council. New members don’t fully grasp the group’s history or the importance of the relationship, she said.
While Brown said that research is good to make an informed decision, “I personally think the organization needs to stick together in unity.”