Forest Off-Road Ban Overdue

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Gentlemen, start your engines. Let the furor begin.

We expect that some off-roaders will get all revved up about the long-delayed, urgently-needed plan to control cross-country travel on the Tonto National Forest.

The draft plan will ban almost all cross-country travel and restrict Jeeps and quads and mountain bikes to the thousands of miles of existing roads and trails.

We have certainly bumped and rattled along many a rutted road, eager for the treasure around the next bend. So we understand the joy of off-roading. But really, guys, let’s be honest: We’ve got some yahoos out there, packing more beer than common sense.

You’ve seen it — the fools who gun their quads straight up the side of a hill, leaving a track that will become a gully with the first rain. They go screaming through the forest, shattering the silence, skittering the wildlife and filling the streams with silt.

The popularity of quads has resulted in a seven-fold explosion of use in the past decade. The Tonto now has more ORV users than any other forest in the country.

Forest officials had no choice but to try to contain the carnage, and every responsible user must support that effort.

Mind you, we haven’t seen the details. But that’s why the Forest Service has started a 30-day comment period, to refine the details. We’ll study the plans and report in greater depth.

But for the moment, we just wanted to celebrate the release of the draft plan, after such a frustrating delay.

And we urge responsible ORV users to stretch their legs, turn off their engines and take a long, quiet, careful look at the proposal.

Get college budget facts out

It’s beyond imagination how Eastern Arizona College can ignore the requests and pleas of an elected Gila Community College board member when it comes to any matter, much less the school’s finances.

But obtaining the details of the Gila Community College’s budget from the distant administrators who run the system may require the service of Sherlock Holmes. Despite repeated requests, the budget figures remain a deep mystery. That’s especially galling since the district had to furlough employees and raise tuition to the highest level in the state.

Now, Gila Community College has a bill from EAC for $1.6 million, although it has only $1.5 million in the bank. GCC will pay EAC nearly $6 million this year to provide services to GCC, except board members can’t extract even basic information — like how much tuition income the school gets.

Eastern officials will not return even a board member’s phone calls, much less the media’s. At least one GCC administrator, technically an EAC employee, and one GCC board member also refuse to answer questions from the media. Are bad habits contagious?

For this great service, Gila County taxpayers pay EAC 25 percent overhead for expenses.

Many of GCC’s elected board members have no true idea about the financial footing of the college. At one time, EAC administrators insisted the college had a $2 million deficit, then $500,000. Now, who knows? One million dollars? Pick a figure.

Either way, Eastern isn’t telling. The refusal adds bureaucratic insult to the injury of the overhead charge.

A budget breakdown presented to the GCC board and published in this newspaper as a legal document did not list income. Board members’ efforts to get regular financial reports have been ignored.

How do you run any institution without a proper accounting?

The GCC board recently raised tuition, changed its policy on free tuition for seniors and now wants voters to approve a secondary property tax to pay for school operations — all without telling voters exactly how big the financial hole is, was and will be.

GCC is a valuable asset to Gila County and Payson. Even with the possibility of a four-year college coming to town, many students will still need to take their first two years of college classes at GCC. Having a community college and maybe a four-year college in town raises the value of the Rim Country for employers and families.

This community must understand the college’s finances before they’re asked to approve a $1.2 million increase in property taxes to benefit the college.

EAC’s intransigence suggests GCC’s future depends on freeing itself from the shackles of its relationship with that distant and seemingly indifferent institution. If the school can’t get the legislature to change state law allowing it to control its own future, then maybe it’s time to see if another school, like Northland Pioneer College or maybe Arizona State University, will adopt it.

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