Water consultant Harry Jones has billed the county for 134 hours of work since January, yet some wonder if he even has a contract.
He has toiled 83 hours since January working on a massive regional water study. He’s worked another 51 hours helping the county look out for stimulus funds, understand the potential money available in a federal rural water act, and generally helped with water resource planning.
Jones receives $45 per hour for his services, according to Deputy County Manager John Nelson.
However, nobody seems to agree if Jones has a current contract with Gila County. Super-visors recently tabled discussion of payments the county has made to him, which will ultimately lead to whether the county enters into a new contract.
Jones said the county originally contracted with him in 2003 to help with water issues, mostly involving the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District. That same year, however, the Mogollon Rim Water Resources Manage-ment Study started.
Jones has worked intensively on the soon-to-be-released landmark study that concluded Blue Ridge water was Payson’s long-term water solution, but also examined other sources of water.
Supervisor Tommie Martin said the study identifies backup water, should something happen with Blue Ridge water, and also alternative plans for communities unable to receive the water.
Jones also worked on a corollary study that examined the economics of delivering water to rural Rim communities.
In 2006, supervisors discussed his contract. Representatives from Star Valley said the town wasn’t happy with Jones, according to meeting minutes, and supervisors tabled the decision after lengthy discussion.
Both Jones and Martin said Jones’ old contract still stands. Supervisor Shirley Dawson, however, wonders if that’s true.
Martin said Jones’ help is invaluable with Rim Country’s water issues.
“He has a base of facts. He is the institutional memory (on water issues),” Martin said. However, Dawson said the county manager told her six months ago there was no longer a contract.
She’s since asked for a copy, but still doesn’t have one. The county’s chief deputy clerk said she doesn’t have a copy in her file.
Jones, however, provided the Roundup with a 2003 letter from then-supervisor Ron Christensen that identified Jones as the county’s lead on the Mogollon water study.
He also provided a 2003 consulting agreement, signed by then-county manager John Nelson, for Jones to help run PSWID. The agreement was to last “several months, however, it could be shorter or longer” based on how the problems unfolded. Jones also provided a 2005 agreement that outlines general water consultant work for the county, at a rate of $45 per hour, as Nelson described. The copies Jones provided, however, were unsigned.
Dawson is concerned that Jones is working on the county’s behalf, and attending meetings as a county representative, without explicit authority.
“I’m concerned that there is a contract that the board has not approved,” Dawson said, adding that if Jones is working for the county, his duties should be well defined. She also said she didn’t want the county to be viewed as supportive of one side or another in “the water battle that’s going on in the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District.”
Jones is PSWID’s general manager, but he said he isn’t now working on the county’s behalf in those towns.
Over the years, Jones says he has helped several water boards, including Tonto Village’s and Pine/Strawberry’s, become self-sufficient. Previously, they were not functioning and the county was forced to run them.
Jones has helped win $860,000 in stimulus funding for three different water projects, and, he says, developed working relationships between local water boards and agencies like the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
“ADWR added $20,000 to (the Mogollon Rim water study) when they saw cooperation, competence, and leadership rather than typical infighting, protection of turf, etc.,” Jones wrote in a historical narrative.
Although the county used to pay Jones to help some rural communities with their water issues, this ended over the last two years when the county told the communities they had one last shot at free advice from Jones.
Since then, five of those communities have contracted with Jones, including PSWID and Tonto Village. Although the Mogollon Rim water study is nearly completed, Jones said he would continue to help unincorporated areas of the county with their water issues.
The basic question, he said, is “should Gila County be taking an active role in water issues?”
Martin says it should. The county should pursue water issues as it does fire protection, she said. “He’s the key,” she said of Jones. “We don’t have anybody on staff.”
Dawson dodged the question of whether she would support renewing Jones’ contract, saying it was up to the board.
Community leaders and residents spoke and wrote letters supporting Jones, saying that his water acumen and relationship building were invaluable in dealing with Rim Country’s water issues. Daryl Kilbourne, the chairman of Tonto Village’s water board, wrote that Jones “has been a key resource in the creation and ongoing success of our local” water board.