Gila County Wants Lobbyists To Protect It From The State

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Gila County’s pleas for protection against state raids on its budgets will dominate the agenda when Gila County supervisors attend the County Supervisors Association Summit Oct. 3-5.

“Twenty-five percent of what our property taxpayers pay is transferred to the state,” said John Nelson, deputy county manager.

That includes local payments to the state for the highway patrol, mental hospital treatment for criminal defendants and the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), which provides medical care for 30 percent of the county’s population. Only Graham County pays a higher share of its budget for AHCCCS than Gila County.

“It’s unfair how (AHCCCS) is distributed, with us paying $0.25 (per $100 assessed property value) and Navajo paying $0.03,” said Supervisor Shirley Dawson.

However, Nelson observed, “if we pay less, someone else pays more. I don’t see the state standing up and taking responsibility for this, nor do I see another county stepping up.”

Nelson advised the board of supervisors that this might not be the year to advocate for decreased county payments to AHCCCS because the state might then retaliate by forcing all the counties to pay more for the state health care system.

He reminded the supervisors that Gila County did advocate successfully in the past to pay less to the Arizona Long Term Care System (ALTCS), but an argument to adjust AHCCCS payments would have to be developed more fully. ALTCS pays the bills for medically impoverished nursing home residents and remains one of the most expensive parts of AHCCCS.

Other state changes have also added to Gila County’s budget woes. For instance, the state has suspended payments the county used to receive from the sale of lottery tickets. In addition, the state has diverted HURF gas tax money to support the budget for the Arizona Department of Public Safety. That alone cost Gila County $1.8 million annually. The state intends to cut these funds again this year.

Worse yet, the state still seems intent on transferring hundreds of state prisoners to the county jails, Nelson said.

“According to the state, the prisoner shift is a done deal,” said Nelson.

“It’s very important for us to understand that the prisoner transfer is assumed,” said Supervisor Tommie Martin.

The transfer would cost Gila County about $2 million annually. The county would either have to pay the state to keep the prisoners or accommodate the long-term state prisoners in its jails. That could prove disastrous, say county officials, since it would force the county jails to accommodate many long-term, violent prisoners in a system geared for the short-term incarceration of mostly non-violent offenders. Along with budget issues, the supervisors will also examine a laundry list of legislative proposals including:

• Increasing the number of days jurors serve on the grand jury.

• Establishing a Judicial Facilities District.

• Increasing costs to towns for county law enforcement.

• Adopting monitoring fees for sex offenders.

• Creating an independently elected board for road enhancement/improvement districts.

• Allowing counties the ability to ban the sale of fireworks.

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