Praise For County Action, But With One Reservation

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The Gila County Board of Supervisors and county staff have moved with wonderful speed to act on the Rim Country Educational Alliance’s request to buy land north of the highway for the first, 1,000-student phase of a university campus.

County staff, after first thinking any sale of public land would need many rounds of public hearings and notices researched the sale and found that since the sale of the land would be to another public agency — the college and the SLE — there is no need for all the hearings and special notices.

Supervisors after an initial round of head scratching recognized the enormous stakes involved and moved quickly to clear away barriers to the crucial sale especially after hearing the news from county staff.

We applaud them for that energy and creativity.

Now, we’ve been strident on the need for just such energetic action — so we know this will sound strange.

But we’re hoping the county doesn’t overdo, when it comes to the land sale.

Certainly, the county should move quickly to sell the Alliance the nine acres it needs — and maybe even another 11 acres the Alliance doesn’t need, but which will not do the county much good if it sells the necessary nine acres.

After that, things get complicated.

Gila County has about 54 acres held in trust to support the future growth of Gila Community College. The land ended up in county hands as a result of a complicated series of transactions.

Now, the county is considering taking advantage of the sale to also turn the roughly 24 remaining acres over to Gila Community College — together with the $300,000 annual cost of maintaining all the until-now county-owned buildings on the existing, five-acre GCC campus.

GCC board member Tom Loeffler has rightly raised concerns about the potential impact of such an abrupt transfer of land and responsibility on the struggling, but still-growing college.

For instance, currently GCC remains shackled by a contract with Eastern Arizona College (EAC) that could turn the sale of the land to the Alliance into an unearned windfall for EAC.

GCC gives 25 percent of all its revenue to EAC. We would hate to see EAC get 25 percent of the sale price of the land for no reason.

Mind you, GCC is finally ready to take the first unsteady steps toward both achieving independence and freeing itself from some of the more onerous provisions of its contract with EAC. At minimum is there a way for the the county to hold onto the money from the sale of the land to the Alliance long enough to understand the implications of the windfall?

Moreover, we hope the county won’t abruptly dump on GCC the cost of maintaining the until-now county-owned buildings. Granted, GCC should ultimately assume full responsibility for its facilities and its destiny. But the college at this moment faces a bleak budget compounded by the near-abandonment of community colleges by the state Legislature.

So there is good news in the land sale — but also a problem for GCC. We would hope the college is able to use some of that money from the land sale to benefit programs at the school or perhaps finance its push for independence, instead of just giving EAC 25 percent off the top. So we hope the county and the college can find a way to squirrel away that windfall and use it creatively.

Gila County has long spent the lion’s share of its resources in south county, although it gains most of its tax revenue from north county. We don’t think the supervisors should compound that imbalance by abandoning GCC at this moment of crisis, with the economic future of the region hanging in the balance.

Time for a new dance partner

The more we hear about the dance card involving Payson and Arizona State University, the less we think of the process.

At one time the two had the makings for strong, long-term commitment, but ASU keeps putting off the marriage. Payson Mayor Kenny Evans has been keeping his exclusive agreement with ASU. How much longer can Payson college supporters and the SLE hold to this exclusive arrangement?

Any deal is always a multi-way process — we think it is time to put the word out to other public schools like the University of Arizona, and maybe even to private schools like Grand Canyon or Brigham Young or Harvard universities and see who else is interested and what they will bring to the table in exchange for being in Payson.

These other schools would be a good match for Payson, some even better than ASU. So maybe the time is near for those other schools to visit Payson.

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