County Wants To Avoid State Cuts

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The fewer times state lawmakers hear the words “Gila County,” the fewer chances arise for them to cut its funding, Deputy County Manager John Nelson told supervisors Tuesday.

“If the word ‘county’ never came up in this legislative session, I’d be very happy,” he said.

Nelson outlined his philosophy after denouncing most of the state County Supervisors Association’s 2010 legislative goals as unimportant. In seeking federal funding, however, county management urged supervisors to pick three to five projects countywide to push. Officials discussed the topics during a work-study session and made no decisions.

Gila County submitted no proposals to the state counties association because of its concern about cuts.

Most proposals from other counties sought to change laws for either reducing costs or raising revenue. For instance, counties want the authority to ask voters for a half-cent sales tax increase.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jan Brewer unsuccessfully bid lawmakers to place the same initiative on the November ballot.

Nelson singled out a proposal by Cochise County that would make public records available through a self-serve kiosk as marginally important.

“Nice touch, but I don’t think this is the time or the place,” he said. Arizona faces a $1.5-billion deficit for 2010. Public agencies are bracing for cuts.

Gila County so far has avoided layoffs, but has frozen salaries and hiring to hold down expenses. The county expects to hold nearly $5 million in general and rainy day fund balances by the year’s end, down from $7 million in the bank at last year’s end.

Nelson has said the county can maintain services despite the downturn until 2012.

Other legislative proposals in the package of 17 included expanding county authority in land planning, allowing counties to publish their budgets solely online and not in newspapers, and requiring more budget scrutiny for county water improvement districts.

Nelson also warned against creating unnecessary enemies amid turbulence. Backing a bid to stop publishing budgets in newspapers, for instance, could draw ire from the industry.

“We don’t need the opponents this year,” Nelson said.

Nationally, County Manager Steve Besich said successful supervisor boards pick three to five top priorities to push. Past successful bids included funding to start the community college. He quoted Nelson: “Find issues that are small enough to win, but big enough to matter.”

Supervisor Tommie Martin said finding funding to build a bridge over Tonto Creek marked her top priority, followed by supporting a land exchange that will allow Resolution Copper to expand business and finally, paving Young or Control roads.

Supervisor Mike Pastor said he supported both a Tonto Creek bridge and the land exchange, although he didn’t definitively order priorities.

Supervisor Shirley Dawson pushed both the mining deal and also building a Job Corps in southern Gila County, which she said is pivotal because of elevated high school dropout rates countywide.

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