State Must Cancel Prisoner Transfers

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So, let’s say that a gully has formed behind your house — threatening the foundation. Should you put up a wall of sandbags to divert the next flood through your neighbor’s living room? And would you then nominate yourself for a good neighbor award?

Well, that’s more or less what the Arizona Legislature did when it came to balancing its budget.

Lawmakers cut taxes, spending, bragged that they avoided the financial gimmicks of years past — and went home. Now, cities, towns and counties will likely have to pay the tab for the Legislature’s “no gimmicks” budget.

Consider the plight of Gila County, which may have to cope with the transfer of 81, long-term, often-violent criminals — a $2 million cost shift from the state to the county.

That threatened $2 million hit next year comes on top of nearly $1 million in cost shifting this year.

Stubbornly high unemployment and the Legislature’s game of musical budgets will likely exhaust the last of the county’s tenaciously protected reserves. Unlike the state, Gila County has for the past five years acted with responsibility and restraint — saving money in the boom and doling it out to prevent deep service cuts during the recession.

Now, we certainly appreciate lawmakers’ argument that state spending rose much too quickly during the boom, leaving the Legislature with nothing but bad choices when revenues collapsed in the face of the recession.

But that doesn’t excuse awful ideas like the state prisoner transfer.

Bear in mind, most of the people in the county jail are awaiting trial or serving short sentences for minor crimes. The county jail cannot readily separate prisoners and has a limited high-security area. As a result, mixing in 80 hard-core, often-violent criminals serving long sentences will wreak havoc on the already struggling county jail system.

The counties just barely convinced lawmakers to put off the prisoner transfer for one more fiscal year. Hopefully, state revenues will continue to rise and lawmakers will quickly reconsider an idea that reeks of awful — even for them.

So instead of acting responsibly, the state seems willing to save its basement by washing away the foundations of the neighbor’s house. Normal people call that reckless and irresponsible. State lawmakers just call it politics.

Airport board should study options

We are heartened to see the way the airport users have rallied and wish them well as they seek a way to continue operating the airport relatively independent from the town. That effort will spur a year of work and uncertainty — but could yield benefits no matter what decision the airport board makes.

Payson handed the day-to-day management of the airport over to an independent airport board four years ago, hoping to cut public costs and smooth tense relations between the town and the pilots.

The move saved Payson $100,000 in operating costs, which the new Payson Regional Airport Authority covered by taking advantage of the volunteer efforts of airport users. Payson retained ownership of the land and legal responsibility for the Federal Aviation Administration grants that have paid for most of the improvements.

Now the airport board has grave concerns about their ability to continue making money on airport operations, given the legal complications of operating the airport without owning the land. The airport makes a nice profit at present, mostly from tie-down and hangar rental — but also as a result of a $70,000 annual Arizona Department of Transportation grant that’s funneled through the town.

However, rising runway maintenance costs and the eventual loss of that ADOT grant money could push the airport into the red in future years. If the board had a different arrangement with the town, it might be able to borrow money for hangars and other money-making facilities.

As a result, the airport board has proposed handing operations back to the town. Stunned airport users raised thoughtful objections to the plan at two recent public meetings. Most support the responsive, pilot-friendly management of the airport in recent years.

So the airport board decided to set up a committee to find a business model that would allow the airport to maintain its independence. That committee might well discover the board was right — the airport needs the town’s bonding authority to reach its potential, but it could find new options, either the way, the one-year delay is a smart move.

The delay should promote more conversations involving both town and airport officials. The recently annexed land around the airport remains crucial to the region’s future, since it includes most of the big blocks of light industrial and apartment zoning in Payson. So we hope the airport and the town in the next year will forge a closer relationship — no matter what the airport board ultimately decides.

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