The county will continue its $6,500 monthly federal lobbying contract, supervisors decided Tuesday in a divided vote during which one supervisor banked his entire career on building a bridge across Tonto Creek.
The project is one that advocates say the lobbyist’s help will make possible.
Supervisor Tommie Martin also voted for the new two-year contract, with Supervisor Shirley Dawson opposing the measure.
Patty Power, with Bose Public Affairs, has helped bring $10.6 million into the county since she started lobbying for it in 2006, according to a letter she wrote to county officials.
The new contract ends in June of 2011, and replaces the old contract, written with the company for which Power used to work. Power has worked mostly on forest issues and finding funding for a bridge over Tonto Creek.
Supervisors have disagreed whether the county needs a lobbyist. Martin has been Power’s strongest advocate, saying that the lobbyist’s help has been indispensable in guiding federal money into the Tonto National Forest. Dawson wants a grant writer because she said the county doesn’t need a lobbyist. Pastor, until Tuesday, was undecided.
“There are some things we must provide. And there are some things we don’t have to provide. Lobbyists are one of them,” Dawson said Tuesday.
However, last week supervisors tabled Dawson’s proposal to spend $81,000 with a consulting consulting company to help find money for a Job Corps in Southern Gila County, according to Martin — $3,000 more than Power’s contract annually. Dawson did not return a call seeking comment.
She has advocated for Job Corps as a way to offer opportunities to disenfranchised youth instead of continuing to build bigger jails. The county is now designing a new, larger women’s jail dormitory in Globe.
Dawson, who fervently pushed to list a new jail on the list of stimulus projects, said she was dissatisfied that Power told her stimulus money did not exist for one.
Dawson said the conversation with Power then ended, but the need and eventual expense for the county did not.
Martin, whose focal point is forest health and fire protection, said Power has helped protect Rim Country from catastrophe.
“Seventy percent of our assessed valuation is 100 percent vulnerable to fire,” Martin said.
According to Power’s letter, she has helped direct more than $5 million from the federal government into local national forests.
“We have made every small fire into no fire,” Martin said Tuesday. She added that the lobbyist helps broadcast Gila County’s needs to Congress, which requires talking to the various committee and subcommittee staff members who ultimately write the bills upon which lawmakers vote.
“I do not need Patty Power to make an appointment for me,” Dawson said. “I can make those appointments and I can attend those appointments. I cannot write the stupid little sheets of paper which grow into mountains,” she said, referring to grant applications.
Dawson added that an Arizona congressman told her on a recent Washington, D.C. visit that hiring a grant writer was the best way to win federal money.
Martin countered that the county is not seeking grants, but the insertion of a bridge across Tonto Creek into the highway bill.
Congress is expected to pass a once-every-five-years highway bill this year. If lawmakers fail to write money for a bridge over Tonto Creek into this year’s bill, funding would be delayed at least another five years.
Another five years would also outdate the soon-to-begin $3 million design and the required environmental assessments. Former Rep. Rick Renzi earmarked the design money in the last transportation bill.
Pastor said he knows how much the bridge means to Tonto Basin residents, who periodically become trapped when what looks like a dirt crossing turns into a raging river, which has killed at least five people who dared cross since 1995.
“If we don’t lock in funding now,” Pastor said, “then we might as well throw this money away and I’ll resign and let someone else take this position.” He said that he has promised Tonto Basin a bridge, and a bridge he will deliver.
Eight Tonto Basin residents submitted letters in support of the lobbyist contract. Power has already helped lower the county’s match for the bridge from 20 percent to 5.7 percent.
Dawson also worried about the long-term implications of the river changing course due to a dam causing silt to build up on the riverbed.
She said flooding has washed out bridge approaches over the Salt River, and wondered if a bridge over Tonto Creek would experience the same predicament. She also said that not all residents would be happy with the bridge’s final location, which has yet to be determined.