One Democrat and one Republican are running for the office of Gila County treasurer, making the Aug. 28 primary easy, but the Nov. 4 general election a real contest.
Incumbent Deborah Savage has a lock on the Democratic nomination, but will face a strong challenge from Republican Don Ascoli, who now serves on the county planning commission and wants to “modernize” the treasurer’s office and provide more services in northern Gila County.
Typically, the only contact Gila County residents have with the county treasurer comes when they sign their property tax checks over to Savage.
Savage, a Democrat, has been treasurer for five years, but never before faced a challenger. Prior to her appointment, she worked in the office for 15 years.
The treasurer functions as the banker of the county, maintaining checking accounts for county government, school districts, and special districts.
As with any bank, the treasurer’s office tracks all deposits and expenditures and creates a monthly report.
However, the treasurer mainly collects checks for taxes, which requires a substantial amount of correspondence.
The Gila County treasurer’s office Web site (www.gilacountyaz.gov/government/treasurer) states the office handles 10,000 letters per year and 500 phone calls per month.
Most of the correspondence has to do with collection issues.
Yet, if northern Gila County residents wish to speak face-to-face with treasurer staff, they must drive to Globe. All the employees in the treasurer’s office work in Globe, although northern Gila County accounts for the bulk of the assessed value.
Savage was born and raised in Gila County. Her parents both came from large families with nine siblings each. She and her husband of 40 years have two boys and four grandchildren.
“To be with my four grandkids, at any event they are involved in, means the most to me,” she said.
She enjoys working with the public and wishes people felt more comfortable contacting her office — especially to work out payment arrangements for tax bills too high to pay all at once.
“Our office does everything to help homeowners keep their property a lot longer,” said Savage. “Most don’t realize if they just call me, we’ll make every effort to create payment arrangements.”
Her challenger in the general election, Don Ascoli, a Republican, also wants the treasurer’s office to have a greater presence with the public.
“People don’t understand their tax bill,” said Ascoli. “I want to work with taxing authorities to not have misunderstandings.”
Ascoli’s decision to run for treasurer had its roots in the sharp rise in his property tax bill for his Payson home earlier this year due to school taxes.
Last year, the state Legislature, in an attempt prop up school budgets despite the statewide plunge in property values and big reductions in state spending on schools, forced school districts to raise their primary tax rate.
Moreover, a miscalculation by the Payson School District having to do with the secondary tax rate created a skyrocketing tax bill in Payson, despite a decline in property values.
“My ultimate goal is to take taxes online so each line item has further info on what goes into the tax amount,” said Ascoli.
He also would like to create a northern Gila County office for the treasurer.
He discovered the treasurer has no presence in the north county when he went to pay his property tax. Instead of mailing in the check, he decided to go to where the treasurer told him to go in the north county — the recorder’s branch office in the Payson Courthouse.
“When I took my check in, I received a receipt,” he said. “Then I asked what (the clerk) would do with it. She said she would put it in an envelope with a stamp and send it to Globe.”
Ascoli said he could do the same thing. He feels the treasurer should have a presence in the north county, too.
As a former engineer and business man, he feels he has needed knowledge and experience.
Ascoli moved to Arizona from St. Louis, Mo. He worked for Motorola as an operations manager overseeing a $90 million budget. He has started and run three businesses. Currently he tests water for 15 different wells.
Besides an engineering degree, he has an MBA from Arizona State University with a minor in finance.
He has volunteered to be the treasurer for non-profit organizations for the last 40 years.
Married more than 45 years, he has four children, six grandchildren and will soon be a great-grandfather.
“I’ve been a taxpayer in Rim Country since 1978,” said Ascoli. “This has been my home for 32 years.”